What you see: A baseball transformed by the late self-taught artist George Sosnak. SCP Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.
The expert: Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.
How prolific was Sosnak? Has anyone done a count or a census of how many balls he decorated? I’ve read in the past that he completed roughly 800 to 1,000 baseballs, but he started roughly 3,000. And he was definitely prolific in the sense of his following and his admirers. His baseballs have been exhibited in many museums, including folk art museums.
He was born in 1922 and died in 1992. Do we know how long he was active as an artist? I definitely think he was most prolific in the 60s and the 70s. In fact he donated some of his work to Cooperstown [The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York] in the early 70s.
What do we know about his creative process? How did he choose his subjects, and how did he create these baseballs? He was definitely focused on notable figures and milestones. He was not confined to players, as you can see by the Grantland Rice baseball we have. He celebrated figures from all facets of the game. In most cases, he started with an autographed ball and built around that–stats, historic data, combined with colorful scenes.
Did Rice autograph it? That’s not the case with this ball, but many Sosnaks I’ve seen have autographs on them.
If a Sosnak has an autograph, how does that factor in to its value to collectors? I think most people collect Sosnak balls for the artistry. That’s where the value is. If the autograph was Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, it might be more valuable, but it’s looked at for its artistic value more than anything else.
Do we have an idea of how long it would take Sosnak to complete a baseball, and how long it might have taken him to finish this one? We can only make an assumption by looking at the detail of his work, the thoroughness of it. If you look at the Grantland Rice ball, every centimeter of the ball’s surface is covered and well thought out and almost tells a story. I imagine it took many hours of work to produce the typical Sosnak ball.
Do we know what media he used to produce this–markers? Paint? From what I’ve read, the media was India ink.
Do we know why he chose Grantland Rice to showcase on this ball? Sosnak was an aficionado of baseball and all baseball facts. He himself was a minor league umpire. He had a lot of experience in the game, and a lot of passion for it. What inspired this ball is appreciation for the great historical figures of the game. Grantland Rice was as prolific as it gets in his field.
Did Grantland Rice commission this ball, or ever see it? We don’t know that, but Sosnak was known to give balls to subjects as gifts. We’ve done a lot of athletes’ estate sales, and we see Sosnak balls received as gifts.
How might the fact that Grantland Rice appears on this ball affect its value to collectors? Or does the … decorative intensity matter more? All the factors combine to contribute to the value–subject matter, graphic quality. This one in particular has a dual subject, a dual purpose. It acknowledges Grantland Rice and also memorializes the 1921 World Series.
Forgive me as I don’t know off the top of my head, but why was the 1921 World Series significant? The 1921 World Series might be acknowledged as the first broadcast World Series.
Is that why Sosnak uses the word “Aircaster”–a word I’ve never encountered before? I think it’s a primitive term for “broadcaster”. Grantland Rice telephoned the play-by-play. It was a very primitive broadcast via telephone over four New England radio stations. That ground-breaking aspect is being celebrated on this ball.
Is there a date on this ball? Do we know when Sosnak made this? There’s no date. The only thing we have to go by is a very faint Rawlings stamp on the baseball. It looks like it was probably late 1970s, based on the type of ball it’s on.
What details do Sosnak collectors want in a baseball, and does this one have them? First, I would say great imagery. One panel has a wonderful image of Grantland Rice broadcasting, and you have the Yankees logo and the Giants logo, the two World Series combatants. It has great titling, and a complete, complete play-by-play of the game. It’s just covered. The decorative quality and historical content is just fabulous.
Where does this Sosnak ball rank on the scale of information-density? It’s on the higher end of the scale, I would say. But there are many like it.
And collectors prefer Sosnak balls that are thoroughly jammed with text? Absolutely. The greater sampling of his work, the better.
Do we know about the provenance of this ball? We really don’t. There’s no long chain of custody here prior to our consigner. He’s had it for many years and we can’t trace it beyond that.
What condition is it in? This one is in relatively high grade for a Sosnak ball. They are susceptible to wear and chipping. This one shows very little of that. He’d typically put a coat of shellac over the ball to protect the ink.
That has to be a problem with Sosnak balls–you want to pick them up and turn them over, to see everything on them. Yeah, there’s something to see on all sides. If you want to fully digest it, there’s a lot of reading to be done.
How many Sosnak balls have you handled? How often do they tend to come up? We’ve had probably a dozen in our history. In various auctions, half a dozen to a dozen per year come up. They’re very collectible, and there’s not a lot of turnover. When collectors acquire them, they tend to hang onto them for a while.
Have you handled it? What’s it like in person? I have. It’s stunning, it’s gorgeous. The colors are very, very vibrant. They don’t seem to have faded or changed much since it was created. He used high-quality materials and on top of that, it’s very well-preserved.
What’s the world auction record for a Sosnak? The highest price I could find is $15,500, a Stan Musial, part of his personal collection, sold in 2013.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Sostak balls are all unique. Every time you see one, you have to be in awe. It will stick in my mind because I got a history lesson about Grantland Rice and the 1921 broadcast. I not only appreciate the artistry of the ball, I got an education as well.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.
Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.