James Hartzell, 93, Sun artist who drew first Orioles logo

April 02, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

James A. Hartzell, a retired Sun artist who drew the first Baltimore Oriole cartoon logo for the baseball team and made it a front-page fixture of the newspaper for more than a decade, died Monday of an infection at a hospital in Williamsburg, Va., while traveling with the Towson University baseball team. The Towson resident would have been 94 next week.

"Growing up in Baltimore as an Orioles fan, you knew to rely on the front page of The Sun," said Mike Gibbons, the Babe Ruth Museum's director. "You didn't need to see the score. Jim's cartoon was the first thing you looked at. It would tell you everything you needed to know about the game."

Born in Baltimore and raised near Druid Hill Park, Mr. Hartzell grew up playing baseball there. After attending Polytechnic Institute, he refined his artistic skills as a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He also sketched with the Charcoal Club.

A Baltimore & Ohio Railroad advertising artist in the 1920s -- when he used his employee rail pass to attend New York Yankees games -- he was attired as a Confederate soldier on a Fair of the Iron Horse float in 1927.

He joined the Sunday Sun on May 12, 1930, but after three years was laid off during the Depression. After a stint at the old Washington Times Herald, he returned to The Sun in 1934 -- and remained for 45 years.

Mr. Hartzell drew his first cartoon Oriole for the franchise owners as the major league team arrived in Baltimore in 1954. His bird, and successors that evolved, were reproduced on ashtrays, cigarette lighters, lamps, admission tickets, pennants and uniform caps. Mr. Hartzell's Orioles drawings began a 12-year stand in the newspaper April 12, 1967, as the Orioles defeated Minnesota, 6-3, in the home opener.

"This feathered friend of Mr. Hartzell and countless thousands of Oriole baseball fans was a feature of The Sun's front page during the baseball season and was looked on as eagerly as the daily weather forecast," said an article on the artist's 1979 retirement.

"A joyous bird at the bottom of Page 1 and you knew the Orioles had won last night's game. A bird about to jump off the end of a dock, a weight attached to his feathers, and you knew the game hadn't gone well," said Orioles historian James H. Bready, a retired Evening Sun book editor and editorial writer. "All his drawings on Page 1 were done with a wonderful whimsy. He could talk fiercely but he drew gently."

While his Oriole Bird had the limelight, Mr. Hartzell also drew countless newspaper maps pinpointing the sites of train wrecks, car crashes, murders and the like, and retouched and airbrushed thousands of photographs.

Friends said Mr. Hartzell had an extensive firsthand knowledge of the sporting events he attended throughout his life. Despite his affection for baseball, Mr. Hartzell considered the greatest sports contest he witnessed to be the horse race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit at Pimlico on Nov. 1, 1938.

Mr. Hartzell was also a circus fan, and for many years rode the circus train for several weeks each summer. From his backstage vantage point, he drew sketches of circus performers for the paper that appeared the next spring. He befriended performers including clown legends Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs.

Mr. Hartzell also turned up at countless press parties and conferences, where he smoked his cigars and told stories from his vast repertoire. He attended every presidential inauguration from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. He recalled watching President Warren G. Harding's funeral train, and observed departing President Calvin Coolidge in his rail coach leaving Union Station in 1929.

He once worked his way into the Oval Office and observed President Franklin D. Roosevelt holding a news conference.

"What impressed me was Roosevelt's hands," he said in a 1979 interview. "They were huge."

In recent years, feeling that major-league salaries had grown too high, Mr. Hartzell focused his baseball loyalties on the Towson University team -- at home and away games.

"Everybody loved Jimmy. Twenty years after the kids graduated, they call back and ask about him," said Towson baseball coach Mike Gottlieb.

"Jimmy was one of the those guys who never had a bad word to say about anyone. He could stagger you. He'd talk about the first game he ever saw -- Walter Johnson was throwing to Tony Lazzeri" in a 1920s game of the Washington Senators vs. New York Yankees.

"He had a terrific sense of humor. Jimmy didn't get cheated in life. He enjoyed every minute of it," said retired Sun sports editor Bob Maisel, whose "Morning After" column often was accompanied by Mr. Hartzell's illustrations. "A few quick strokes of his pen, and he'd pick up the whole thread of my column."

Mr. Hartzell was a collector of railroad, sports and circus memorabilia, large advertising signs and art from demolished oyster houses, railway stations and Eastern Shore resorts.

"If you looked at Jim's work, that Oriole had the same twinkle in his eye that Jim had, and his upturned nose, too," said Helen Delich Bentley, a former Sun colleague and congresswoman. "I think he saw himself out there on the field, playing with the Orioles. He was a very special man. In a way, he never grew up."

Plans for a funeral Mass were incomplete.

Survivors include two daughters, Rosemary H. Thompson of Towson and Marylyn Vogt of Westport, Conn.; a sister, Catherine Pearson of Sykesville; 11 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. His wife of 34 years, the former Elizabeth Davidson, died in 1968.

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