10 amazing portraits of great Black stars

Artists come together to create some legendary portraits

March 24th, 2021

Last month, to celebrate Black History Month, MLB reached out to 10 prominent Black artists and made a simple request: Could you create a piece of art celebrating one of the game's greatest Black players? The style was up to the artist -- however they felt could best capture the ballplayer and their own unique artistic sentiments. The images were then shared on MLB's social channels and have now been collected in one gallery here.

This time, we asked the artists if they had anything more they wanted to say, either about the player or about the art that they made. Some chose to simply let the work speak for itself and others offered up some commentary. Their quotes, along with their bios and where you can find more of their art online, is below.

Ken Griffey Jr., by Mook Jones Jr.

"I chose Griffey because growing up as a Black kid, nine times out of 10 you either play basketball or football. Baseball has yet to be seen as a popular sport amongst the Black community. When my father would turn on ESPN's SportsCenter, we would see Ken Griffey Jr. highlights. We would see the cap turned back and the cleats that looked like the sneakers we liked. We saw us. He gave us a face in baseball that we recognized. Plus he made it look cool.

"Everything I did in that piece meant something -- the colors and the style. I have him planted in a black mountain-like shape as the base. That was meant to represent stability, balance, and strength. I created Griffey with larger muscles to give a dramatic look and feel for power and athleticism. The colors used in the background; orange with a blend of yellow to depict a sunset-type of feel. Warm colors that are typically used to represent African culture. The cooler color, like the blue, was used to represent water. The unpredictable nature of waves are able to represent struggle and overcoming adversity, but also the fact that he played for the Mariners tied into that detail as well."

Jerry Jones Jr., also known as Mook Jones, is a Division 1 athlete turned artist from Linden, N.J. He graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in Graphic Design. Since then he has worked as a lead designer for many corporations, including Hearst Business Media, Forever Collectibles (FOCO) and Major League Baseball. Much of his work can be viewed across all of his social media. His handle is @MookJonesJr and website is www.mookjonesart.com.

Satchel Paige, by Karabo Poppy Moletsane

Karabo Poppy Moletsane is a multi-award winning illustrator, designer and street artist from Vereeniging, South Africa. In 2019, Moletsane formed part of the Forbes “Africa 30 Under 30” list and was named Creative of the Year by Between 10and5. Moletsane is an artist fueled by her passion to preserve the African aesthetic and represent underrepresented communities. With a degree in visual communication from The Open Window Institute, Karabo uses unconventional canvases to tell a story of contemporary Africa. She has done so by leaving her mark on the iconic Soweto Towers, on Google Doodles over International Women’s Day, on a Times Square billboard in New York, in Grammy Nominated videos, on murals all over the world and most recently on a sold-out collection of Nike Air Force 1’s she and the brand released worldwide in November 2019.

Bob Gibson, by Jaurice Jones

"What spoke out to me about Bob Gibson is the passion and intensity he brought to the game. I felt I related to him based on my career as an athlete. Whatever sport I played, I gave my all and was passionate while doing so.

"The reason I chose to do my Bob Gibson 'The Heat' piece in a pop art-influenced style was to channel the energy he brought to the game. The bright fiery colors I choose to use exemplified the power and intensity of his pitch that intimidated batters."

Jaurice Jones is a New Jersey artist with a style of his own. He was born into a very talented family that is heavily involved in sports, art, music and fashion. Jaurice played almost every sport growing up, and when he wasn’t playing sports, he would create art, make clothing or write music. In middle school he chose to mix fashion with art and paint on his clothing. That’s where he ended up making his first sale of a painted white t-shirt and has not looked back since. While playing high school basketball and football, he sold his custom clothing at Juliens, a hometown store in Linden. After receiving a full scholarship to the University of Massachusetts for football, Jaurice figured out ways to balance playing football, focusing on being a studio arts major while still building his brand. You can follow him on all social media platforms at @JauriceJones and at his website, www.Bourne-Idols.com.

Hank Aaron, by Steeve Verna

"Believe it or not, I was actually lucky to receive Hank as my inspiration for the art. I was informed that I would need to create something for Black History. I said to myself, 'Wouldn't it be dope to get Hank Aaron?' and BOOOOM, I'm asked to come up with something for Hammerin' Hank. I was beyond excited because of his story, the trials and tribulations of a Black man trying to dominate a sport and the hurdles he had to leap over to do so.

"As a kid, I really loved comic books and the cover art was the first thing we saw when we picked one off the shelf. Every superhero had a story and that cover art was the intro to that story. Hank to me was a superhero in real life -- I wanted to create a cover that would introduce you to his story. So, that was my driving force for going that direction."

Steeve Verna is a Haitian/American Artist from Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s been drawing since the fourth grade. He’s also a passionate sports fan and follows the Mets, Knicks, Rangers, Giants and Liberty. Verna loves drawing anything related to sports. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @snd1129.

CC Sabathia, by Matthew Clayburn

"The style I used is my usual style -- it's what I'm known for. In most of my work you will find a heart on the sleeve. This is a common theme in all of my work because that's how I see/feel the world around me."

Matthew Clayburn is a creative born and raised in Raleigh, N.C., and is based in Charlotte. Matthew has always had two loves: sports and art, and when he put the two together, he really started making an impact. He’s created portraits for some of the biggest names in sports combining culture, street art, animation, and a love for his community, all of which have helped make him a rising star. The best way to find his work is through Instagram, @MATTHEWCLAYBURN. His website is currently under construction, but it is matthewclayburn.com.

Josh Gibson, by Ashley Price

Ashley Price was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and traveled the world with her family as a military brat. She is currently living in Houston. Ashley's love for art has cultivated a community of collectors and genuine buyers who appreciate her work. Her art reflects everyday people with a focus on women empowerment and positive affirmations. Her ultimate goal is to make her art accessible to everyone on a greater scale and to spread positivity one art piece at a time.

Mookie Betts, by King Saladeen

King Saladeen is a world-renowned contemporary artist from West Philadelphia whose work is exhibited all over the world. He has collaborated with brands such as the NFL, Nickelodeon, Beats by Dre, Diadora, Mercedes Benz and TOPPS (Project 2020 & Project 70). He is revered for creating "The Money Bear," an homage to his best friend John "JP" Thomson who he tragically lost in 2013. Never losing sight of his humble upbringing, Saladeen is an active philanthropist, who continues to give back to his community.

Rickey Henderson, by J. Cutt

"Although I'm not into sports, I have a great deal of respect for them. Learning about Rickey Henderson and all that he has accomplished is amazing! When they say he has 1,406 steals, I didn't know they meant literally! I truly admire those who, like myself, are extremely passionate about what they love and take it all the way to the top!

"When I was a kid I drew many collages and as soon as this amazing opportunity was presented to me, I knew exactly what to do! I don't usually like to explain my art in such a deep way, but I think in this case I will. This piece represents how cross-hatched the Black experience is through all platforms. And while others may see a Black man playing baseball, the Black community sees Black history right before their eyes."

Sean J. Cuttino, also known as J. Cutt, was born and raised in Philadelphia. He went to college in Delaware and worked his way to New York to pursue a career in the Arts. Around three years ago, he began working freelance full time, opting to “create for others,” rather than a company. His goal is to spread joy and light through his art, allowing viewers to separate from dark places into a world of imagination. Follow him on Instagram @jcuttproductions and check out his website at www.jcutt.com.

Jackie Robinson, by Frank Morrison

"I was honored to be chosen by MLB to be chosen to paint Jackie Robinson. The style in which I chose to paint 'Hurricane Hits Second' is called mannerism.

"The image portrays Jackie Robinson stealing second base. I chose the Cincinnati Reds as the opposing team because at that moment in time they were one of the cruelest ballclubs that Jackie Robinson faced. They would hurl insults, disrespect and racism at him but they could never break him.

"I think my artist statement sums it up:

"Ready set go! Pass the critics, the naysayers, the bigots. He steps on first with his mind on home. Cool as Papa Bell, as smooth as Satchel Paige. His legs are as strong as a Josh Gibson swing. The whispers from our ancestors are now as loud as an African drum. Go! Keep running, past segregation the racism. The Negro Leagues becomes the wind on his back propelling him across the field. There will be no more cotton-picking time to waste, because when the dust settles Jackie is safe."

Frank Morrison started his journey as a graffiti artist in New Jersey, tagging walls with spray paint. It wasn’t until he visited the Louvre Museum in Paris with his dancing group that he realized painting was his true creative path. His work has been featured at Art Basel, Scope Miami and Red Dot art fairs, and shown at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Mason Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta. He is the illustrator of over 20 children’s books, including the Coretta Scott King Award winner R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award winner Jazzy Miz Mozetta, and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor books, Little Melba and her Big Trombone and Let the Children March. Frank was a Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Silver Medal Honoree two years in a row, for The Roots of Rap and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You can follow him at his website www.MorrisonGraphics.com and on Instagram and Facebook @FrankMorrison.

Joe Morgan, by OldeMannWilly

"The thing about Joe Morgan that spoke to me was the fact that he epitomizes the concept of doing anything that was needed in order to win. He didn’t emphasize himself as the focal point in every situation. He also was undersized, so physically he didn’t necessarily fit the description of the position he played, but he outperformed everyone, and that meant a lot to me.

"I chose to paint the piece as detailed as possible, but not necessarily blended all together so you would be able to see every detail or shade applied to it. If you zoom in, it looks abstract, but as you step away you see all the paint brush strokes come together to create one thing, and I feel that’s what Joe Morgan represented."

Witsler Reinvil, whose artistic name is OldeMannWilly, was born and raised in Miami. When he first started his art journey, he felt misunderstood by people around him who felt art was only supposed to be a hobby. For him, this was a way of life and passion. He started working with color pencils and soon began painting. His goal is to create art that people can relate to and create a feeling with his work. Pop art and hyper realistic art are his areas of expertise. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @oldemanwilly.