If you collected in the 1980s, then you’re familiar with the work of Dick Perez. The artist has been ubiquitous for years in the baseball card world. Perhaps best known for his art on the Donruss Diamond Kings insert sets, Perez also worked on a series of postcards for the Baseball Hall of Fame, which are still popular items today. When I was a kid, Diamond Kings sets were my favorite to collect with my grandfather, so when Mr. Perez agreed to answer some questions for this blog, it was as much of a thrill for me as talking to one of my favorite baseball players would have been.
In the 80s, I was always enamored by the artistry on the Diamond Kings cards. They felt like the art I would see on the vintage cards I assumed I’d never be able to afford. But I always did wonder whether he was more of a baseball fan who happened be an artist, or an artist who happened to be a baseball fan. It turns out that Perez styles himself as the latter. “I wanted to be a professional baseball player as a boy, and in my teens I realized that was a futile dream,” he told me. “But I could draw, and eventually I was lucky enough to paint my dream.”
His career, Perez says, was a matter of “serendipity.” As he explained to me: “I began as a graphic designer and by chance wound up doing design work for university sports information departments and befriended a fellow who was the Sports Information Director of Villanova University. He eventually became general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles. My work for the Eagles caught the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies for whom I created a massive amount of publication designs and illustration. These successes led to meeting baseball memorabilia collector Frank Steele, who was smart, connected, and a marketing genius who loved my work. My willingness for hard work and Frank’s talents and aspirations, led us to a successful venture we named Perez-Steele Galleries. Frank had connections to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was friendly with the president of the Hall of Fame, and with the HOF imprimatur created the Perez-Steele Baseball Hall of Fame Art Post Cards. The success of that project led to full fledged career in sports art. I became the Hall’s “official artist” for a number of years.”
In addition to those Hall of Fame works, Perez rose to prominence by working with Donruss from 1982 to 1996, designing the artwork for its Diamond Kings cards as well as other insert sets, such as the popular puzzles, Gallery of Stars, and Masters of the Game cards.
“Donruss was new to baseball cards at the time I had reached some success in creating sports art. The company was looking for a way to separate themselves from the other card companies. I provided a way to bring art back to baseball cards by painting Diamond Kings,” he explained. “It exposed my work to a massive audience and elevated it to a National level. And, I believe, it placed Donruss in a considerable position on the playing field.”
On this point,I would absolutely agree — I opened Donruss products solely with the hopes of putting the puzzles and the 26 (later 28) card Diamond Kings sets together.
After many years of notoriety with Donruss, Perez started working with Topps in 2006, creating a 30-card “Dick Perez Collection” insert set that mimicked the Diamond Kings sets of years past, with one player per team. Perez’s contributions to Topps productions continued with the beautiful 2007 Turkey Red product. Making the jump from being associated with Donruss for so long to having his name on Topps cards was a big goal for Perez.
“I have always felt that Topps was and is the true baseball card company,” Perez told me. “When Topps called I responded knowing that if I was to be associated with baseball cards, Topps had to be on my resume. In addition, Topps has an understanding of the baseball trading card legacy and has emulated the great cards of the past.”
My personal favorite Dick Perez set was 1989 Diamond Kings. The red border of that year’s issue combined with the bright funky background designs just drew me in.
For a similar reason, I also always loved the 1994 Diamond Kings set; the shading on the players’ faces and the colors and style used were a departure from the previous decade of Diamond Kings cards. But the artist has a different list of favorites. “I have four favorites in this order,” he told me. “1995 Donruss Diamond Kings, Perez-Steele Celebration Set, [Perez-Steele] Hall of Fame Art Post Cards, Topps Turkey Reds.” For someone who has so many favorite sets and has painted hundreds of subjects, I assumed that perhaps Perez had a favorite player or two to paint. Perhaps he does, but if so, he wouldn’t let me know. “That would be like picking your favorite child,” he pointed out.
Though his work has provided him with a wide array of employers — from a team to the Hall of Fame to various card companies — Perez says his employers had one thing in common. “They were similar in that I was treated with a substantial level of respect by all,” he noted, “which gave me an ample amount of latitude in treating the subject matter.”
Despite being synonymous with cards to an entire generation of collectors, he isn’t working on cards much these days. “I keep busy with private commissions and the paintings I am doing for the update supplement to my book, The Immortals,” he explains. He also sells custom artwork (both commissions and pieces from existing collections) on his website, www.dickperez.com.
I mean it when I say that emailing with Mr. Perez was as exciting for me as doing the same with Gary Sheffield, my favorite player of the era, would have been. I’m grateful he obliged my questions, and I do hope to meet him someday — though he did mention, “I don’t often get recognized, which is a good thing.” Perhaps he doesn’t get recognized much in person, but he certainly deserves to be recognized as a titan of the industry.