‘There Is Only One’
A New Art Series Hits It Out of the Park
Trading cards have been a popular collectible for more than a century. Adorned with images of athletes, cruising ships, flowers, animals, actors and actresses, historical scenes and nearly every other subject imaginable, these pasteboard products have been found in bubble gum packs, on the backs of cereal boxes, in cigarette packages, on popcorn cartons and nearly every type of retail product one could purchase. Cards are simply a massive part of popular culture and it is difficult to put into words just how much these little pieces of cardboard mean to us.
How much these little pieces of cardboard mean to us... That is a funny thing about these trading cards, they are very small. They’re also easily damaged. To top it all off, the ones we love most are often frightfully expensive. As a result, our most prized collectibles are submitted to PSA to be authenticated, graded and secured in tamper-evident cases. Then they are typically stored away in boxes, which are stashed away in closets or even in off-site safety deposit boxes. The result is that it can be a difficult process to even enjoy the cards we already own, let alone acquire the ones that have surpassed our own personal budgets. There are a lot of roadblocks that could keep us from appreciating and collecting cards.
However, there is new hope springing forth from the confluence of size issues, high prices and the inability for the majority of collectors to enjoy many of the most stunning sports cards in the hobby. Joe Drelich of East Coast Sports Marketing (ECSM) and artist James Fiorentino have combined to produce a new series of paintings entitled, “There Is Only One, the Most Iconic Trading Cards of All Time.”
Fiorentino is a world-class painter whose work spans many genres. He is also a former college baseball player with a keen appreciation of America’s favorite pastime. He has painted most of the game’s greats, and his work has been used on trading cards, team and league exhibits and as the focal point for displays in the Baseball Hall of Fame. For nearly 30 years he has contracted with teams, athletes, trading card companies and Major League Baseball to produce some of the game’s greatest artistic representations.
A longtime hobbyist, marketer and show promoter, Drelich founded ECSM in 2000 and together with his wife, Betsy, runs some of the biggest sports and memorabilia shows in the country and represents many of the greatest athletes, scheduling player appearances and conducting private signings. Drelich and Fiorentino have known each other for decades, and it was a simple chat between friends that led to the creation of “There Is Only One...”
“Back in 2019, I had purchased from James a large 30 — 40 painting of a majestic Lakota Sioux Chief Native Indian sitting cross-legged, holding a gun,” Drelich said. “The piece is truly a stunning work of art that I feel lucky to own. It then dawned on me, I could reach out to James and talk to him about painting some of the cards I love.”
Fiorentino, a shortstop-turned-artist, was immediately on board with the idea. “From the days when I first started painting my first Topps set in 1999, trading cards have become art in their own right and are considered by many collectors to be miniature sports-art masterpieces. Some of the Mona Lisas of the card world are in this collection, and what’s most noteworthy is that I will never paint any card that size again in my career.”
The teasers on their website (www.thereisonlyonetradingcards.com) are certainly enticing, but what exactly does this project mean for collectors? It’s simple; Drelich and Fiorentino are selecting many of the greatest trading cards ever produced to be recreated in beautiful watercolor by Fiorentino. These pieces will measure 22” x 30”, which means that loupes and eyeglasses will not be necessary to enjoy these works of art.
The selection process for which cards would be represented in this project was not unlike any of the great sports discussions of our time – Willie, Mickey or the Duke? Tyson or Ali? Who takes your last shot in the NBA Finals? What if Bo Jackson was never injured? It consisted of a couple of knowledgeable fans and collectors, in this case Drelich and Fiorentino, debating the best of the best. As one would expect, the first 10 cards are massive hobby favorites and favor a certain centerfielder for the New York Yankees:
- 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle
- 1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle
- 1953 Topps #82 Mickey Mantle
- 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan
- 1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays
- 1996 Topps #138 Kobe Bryant
- 2011 Topps Update #US175 Mike Trout
- 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey, Jr.
- 1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth
- 2000 Playoff Contenders #144 Tom Brady Championship Ticket
Some of the original 10 paintings were first presented to the public on MLB Network’s morning show, MLB Central, and the Philadelphia Sports Card & Memorabilia Show in September marked the first time the public was able to view them in person. The response from collectors was fast and furious. In fact, all 10 paintings were sold prior to their completion and early showings. The next 10 were equally popular. That Fiorentino’s work was highly acclaimed was a surprise to no one, but the combination of incredible watercolor art, popular subject matter and the idea that in hobby terminology they are all one-of-ones (and no prints will be produced), made these pieces highly desirable to card enthusiasts.
But in addition to simply selling well, the project began to morph a bit. While the first 20 paintings were predetermined subjects and sold quickly, requests for specific cards to be painted came flooding in.
“The first 20 subjects that James painted were all-time hobby classics,” said Drelich. “They have an almost universal appeal to collectors. But then some of our customers wanted to add one or two of their own favorite cards to the paintings they had already purchased. In essence, they wanted to curate their own personal ‘Most Iconic Trading Cards of All Time’ galleries in their homes or offices. The response has been truly overwhelming.” And so Drelich and Fiorentino will continue to produce the Most Iconic series but will balance it with independent commissions as well.
This dynamic duo of the sports art world is still unsure how many pieces will ultimately be included in the Most Iconic series. Fifty? Maybe, 100? Perhaps. But one thing that is certain is their desire to have as many works as possible in one show to allow collectors the opportunity to appreciate these works of art and celebrate the hobby we all love. The location and details of what will be one of the greatest sports art exhibits in history are still in negotiations, but Drelich has been planning this from the beginning.
“Something that we negotiated into the sale of each piece is the ability to temporarily take them all back at some point for a public exhibit,” he said. “The new owners have all been on board with the idea and are looking forward to the show. We may do this at an upcoming National or another large show, but we’re also open to other appropriate venues.”
Collectors who want to stay informed about the exhibit or might be interested in purchasing one of the pieces can find all the information they need on the project’s website: www.thereisonlyonetradingcards.com.
To view more of James Fiorentino’s artwork, visit www.JamesFiorentino.com or follow him on Facebook @JamesFiorentinoArt or Instagram @fiorentinojames. If you are interested in a custom painting, he can be reached at [email protected].
Please feel free to contact Todd Tobias at [email protected] if you have any questions or comments. A special thank you to James Fiorentino for providing the images for this article.