The Artist as Athlete
The Early Years
Frank Frazetta could have been a professional athlete. He came of age playing baseball, participating in pick-up games in his neighborhood in Brooklyn, and later, for the local sandlot leagues. When he was around 20 years old, at the end of the 1940s, Frazetta emerged as a talented left-fielder. After leading the Coney Islanders of the Parade Grounds Baseball League with a .459 batting average, scouts noticed Frazetta. Being an athletically skilled and reliable player, the New York Giants made him a professional offer in 1948. Frazetta declined.
It was the folly of young love and the grueling lifestyle of traveling with the farm teams that dissuaded him from entering into the major leagues. In a 1977 interview, Frazetta discussed this, saying “I remember that going to another state seemed like going to the end of the world. They bus you back and forth and it was just one big disgusting hassle. So I said maybe next year…time went by and before you know it I'm too old. It was just my way of letting time go by.” And time went by, but not idly.
While Frazetta was indecisive about his baseball career, he was decidedly pursuing a career in comic art. Opportunities abounded for Frazetta, having already earned some notoriety working and illustrating for comics and publishers such as Bernard Bailey and Standard starting early in the decade.
Baseball remained in Frazetta’s life, though, even as his career in art expanded and evolved into adulthood. “I loved baseball,” he recalled in 1977. “I played it and I still play it and I still draw and paint. So what the hell is the difference? They are two things I love to do.” There was, however, a pragmatic difference between these interests. While Frazetta enjoyed the thrill of competition and the physical demands of the sport, life as a professional baseball player was very different then than it is now. A typical salary was substantial, but nothing extravagant, and accommodations and other provisions were minimal, if at all. “There were no huge bonuses in those days,” complained Frazetta, “most kids were delighted to go down and struggle in the minors.” But not Frazetta.
For Frazetta, playing baseball was an intense expression of his physicality and innate athleticism. “I could really let it all out—run like a wild man and swing that bat,” Frazetta fondly remarked in 1977. “Totally exhilarating! It almost beats sex—almost.” He commented further, adding “It always bugs me when I hear some professional athlete stand around and say that he only does it for the money.” Although money mattered to Frazetta, it was essential that he also gain something beyond the measure of wealth. Frazetta required any serious endeavor to pleasure him more deeply than anything money can buy.
When Frazetta turned down baseball, his success with art was not guaranteed, but his talent, skill, and performance in the field was already proven. He had booked legitimate jobs, accessed artistic freedom, and expression, and received a consistent paycheck. And with art, too, fulfilling his intrinsic need for a greater, more personal satisfaction, Frazetta grew into his adulthood as a man providing for himself and his family, and who simultaneously continued developing, expanding, and honing his craft, even if, as he says, it was more challenging: “I am nowhere near as exhausted playing ball as I am when I paint.”
The above information is from a transcript of Frank Frazetta’s 1977 interview with Armand Eisen published in Ariel: The Book of Fantasy, Volume II, and from the September 1st, 1948 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper publication.
Remember playing softball Saturday’s with “Fritz” as he was known to everyone at PS 209 schoolyard, Ave Z and Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn when I was 15years old.He was a great looking guy with a gorgeous girlfriend, Ellie.Frank was bigger than life like the chalk drawings he’d sketch on the schoolyard concrete between games. We knew he worked with cartoonist Al Capp but his humor, kindness and lithe shortstop range was all we needed to know.Thanks for great teenage memories.
I remember playing softball with frank in the late50s in the PS 209 schoolyard, Ave Z and Coney Island Ave,Brooklyn.My friends and I were 16 and probably 10 years years younger than ’’Fritz" as he was known to everyone.He was a slick fielding shortstop with great"wrists" and power hitting.He drew illustrations with chalk on the concrete field and mentioned he was an illustrator for Al Capp.As 16 year olds our most significant memory was when his “girlfriend” Eli walked across the field in a summer dress and approached him….it was a game stopper. My fondest memory is how nice he was to us.
Very nice to out about his athletic side. Most artists I have grown up with have nothing to do with sports.
Inspiring to us younger painters. I strive to be as such a man as he. A true person.