Ah, you've got the idea! What next?
About the Tarot de Cooperstown
Beginnings    |     The Paintings    |     This Game of Baseball    |     The Decks
Paul and I met at The Cooper Union School of Art in 1975. While there, we were both introduced to Arthur Corwin's fascinating and compelling theories of prehistoric time-keeping. Corwin taught sculpture, but it was his "Math in Art" course that was especially engaging, and through it we got to be familiar with the tarot in some depth.

We came up with the concept of the Tarot de Cooperstown in early 1983. Paul told me one evening that he wanted to design a deck of playing cards using bats, balls, gloves and bases as the suits. We then talked about how that might be extended into a tarot deck -- with much more opportunity to visually expand upon the baseball theme -- and became enthused about collaborating on that. Using one of the Tarot de Marseilles decks as a guide (hence the name of ours), we started discussing the images that could appear on the picture cards.

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The Paintings
I don't think either of us questioned why we decided to make fairly large paintings, when we could just as well have made card-sized illustrations. Maybe we just thought that all those canvases would be impactful as a group. We should have been considering the issue of storage, too, though...

Anyway, once we decided on our baseball iconography, we did small drawings. I worked them up larger, then stretched 78 canvases, each one 14" x 26". I mixed and applied a gesso that made the canvases look weathered, made eight different colored batches of acrylic paints and drew outlines on the canvases in dark brown Prismacolor. Since I was minimally employed that year, I spent a good part of the rest of 1983 painting the Tarot de Cooperstown.

They have spent most of their existence in wooden crates in my apartment. In earlier years, I'd take a few of them out and hang them on a wall, just to see them again. But that's happened more rarely over time. Actually, the only time they came out recently was the day that I photographed them for making these decks. While I was there with the photoflood lamps and the camera on the tripod, the phone rang. It was Art Corwin ~ the first call I'd gotten from him in many years. Cue the eerie music.

Three of the paintings were featured in an exhibition cleverly entitled "Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball," that was put together by the Smithsonian Institute in 1987. That show toured the the U.S. and then the world from '87 through 1992, including a stint at the stately and revered main branch of the New York Public Library.

Then in 1999, the Seafirst Gallery in Seattle (which later became the Bank of America Gallery) agreed to hang all 78 of them as part of their exhibit celebrating the opening of the (then new) major-league ballpark, Safeco Field.

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This Game of Baseball
Making decks from the paintings remained beyond our means (more about that below). But we did make one special set that functioned as a slightly oversized deck. We took color print photos (for those of you who recall the world of photography in its pre-digital era), glued a stiff backing sheet onto them, and hand-cut them with an Xacto knife, so that they were all exactly the same size. The cards were a bit large and their colors were a bit dull, but more importantly, we now had what we needed.

With this proto-deck, we were able to begin formulating a way to play baseball. Tarot decks already have a natural split in them, and that was a first place to start. Twenty-two of them are collectively called the major arcana -- picture cards that are named and numbered 0-21. The rest are called the minor arcana; they belong to suits, and they equate with more familiar playing cards. This major/minor arcana split made for a natural defensive/offensive division in the TdC. The 22 major arcana cards would serve as the defensive deck for both teams. Dividing the 56 minor arcana cards into two separate offensive decks was a natural next step.

The hitting chart was a crucial bit. We did have to overcome our shared aversion to violating baseball's "1=pitcher, 2=catcher, 3=1st baseman" scorekeeping canon (offsetting them by 4, so that "5=pitcher, 6=catcher, 7=1st baseman"), but it was so useful that we adapted to it quickly. It allowed the aces and deuces (and yes, the threes and fours) to have special significance. This seemed right. It also allowed the offensive picture cards to be the break point where hits went to the outfield rather than the infield, and that also felt right.

There was some tinkering involved in getting results that would parallel real baseball. Within the realm of chance that all card games enjoy, we kept in mind that a .250 batting average was a kind of standard. So about 3/4 of the at-bats in our game result in outs. There were other niceties to be considered, such as the fact that home runs are far more common than triples. So an AllStar's at-bat with a weak defensive card in rightfield was made a home run, rather than the triple that might have been expected from the way hits to leftfield and to center are interpreted.

We really liked the rule preventing players from looking at their offensive decks. The line-ups are meant to gradually reveal themselves over the course of the game. Usually by the third inning or so, you can tell if Fate assigned them to the two teams with relative balance. Sometimes it has, and you can sense that you're in for a white-knuckled affair that won't be settled until the final out. Sometimes, the distribution of offensive wealth is just plainly out-of-whack, and it's clear that one team will have the living tar beaten out of it, while the other gets to enjoy a surfeit of hits and runs. And on occasion, there are those magical contests in which an inferior line-up unexpectedly manages to wrest victory from its better-endowed opponent. Those are the most fun.

And besides, isn't it refreshing to just live an app-free existence for an hour or so?

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The Decks
Of course, there had to be decks.

We knew that from the start, but this was 1983, don't forget. We were art school graduates -- a segment of the population not known for having disposable income. Despite that, we valiantly investigated the process of creating physical decks, so that the World of TdC Enthusiasts would number more than the two of us.

What we discovered was daunting. All offset print shops had to have a minimum "run" to justify the set-up of their presses for any job. For card decks, it was usually a 5,000 run minumum. This meant that we were looking at a project that would cost us roughly the same as a new Volvo. As mentioned, we were more in the used-bike economic stratum. Then there was the prospect of having to store 5,000 boxed decks of cards, certainly in the short-term, and in the likely event that we could not figure out how to actually sell them, perhaps in perpetuity.

It seemed hopeless. And it remained that way for decades. But since this site exists, and you, dear Reader, have the opportunity to purchase a deck through it, something must have changed.

Of course, what changed was technology.

In November of 2014, my lovely, talented and perpetually investigative wife convinced me (by sending me some URLs) that it was no longer necessary to spring for the equivalent of a year's education at a prestigious university in order to have a deck printed. So it is not. There are printers, some of them 12,000 miles away, whose minimum run for a boxed deck of cards is one (1), and whose charge for this object is roughly equivalent to the cost of a meal for two at a diner.

So with that, voilà — the Tarot de Cooperstown finally became a reality. Production was handled with professionalism and skill by JS McCarthy printers, in the State o' Maine. 100% of their electricity purchases are derived from wind power, and they are conscientious recyclers of paper and cardboard.

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