Windy City West and the old ballgame

By Bob Hicks

SAN FRANCISCO — The cabbie’s whipping around the corners like a Tim Lincecum curveball, as wild and abandoned as the wind whistling down the bay. We’re heading back toward town from an art studio near the south waterfront, and the driver’s rapping out opinions like a batter playing pepper in spring training. Mr. Scatter checks his lap a little nervously: Yes, his seat belt’s on.

Louis Grant, "Rundown," 2010. George Krevsky Gallery/San FranciscoChicago lays claim to the nickname The Windy City, and it earns it, although Buffalo and Rochester could put in likely claims, too. And San Francisco certainly fits the profile, as anyone who’s ever sat through a ballgame at Candlestick Park can attest. As the cab nears AT&T Park, the compact and nostalgic home of the San Francisco Giants, the chatter turns to sports.

“The Giants,” the cabbie says. “The Giants, they mean something to this town. I mean, that’s history, man. That’s glue.”

The baseball Giants used to play in Candlestick, where the wind blew mighty and the football 49ers still kick around. The 49ers, though, are threatening to leave, pushing to nail down a $937 million stadium deal forty miles south of town in Santa Clara, a long drop kick from San Jose. The proposed new stadium would sit next to a theme park called Great America (“Red, White, and BOOM!” the ads for its Fourth of July attractions shout), and Anaheim and the Angels notwithstanding, that just seems wrong.

The cabbie shrugs. “Whadda they play, six home games a year? The Giants play eighty-one. That’s a significant boost to the economy, man.”

What about baketball’s Golden State Warriors? Another shrug. “They’re in Oakland.”

As it happens, Mr. Scatter has recently paid a visit to the George Krevsky Gallery, which has been hosting Rookies & Pros, its 13th annual “art of baseball” exhibition. It’s mostly lighthearted and, yes, more than a little nostalgic, but there’s good stuff on the walls by the likes of LeRoy Neiman, Mel Ramos (a 1979 litho of the great Rod Carew), several by Louis Grant (that’s his Rundown, pictured above), Arthur K. Miller’s acrylic reminder of Juan Marichal’s amazing high leg kick that must have made batters feel like they were trying to hit a fastball from a power-throwing giraffe, and Robbie Conal’s Grateful Dead-like litho Dock’s Psychedelic No-No, celebrating in grinning-skull form Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis’s 1970 no-hitter against the Padres, which he tossed while on an acid trip: He hadn’t realized he was pitching that day, he claimed he couldn’t even feel the ball, and he walked eight batters. But not a hit.

That’s history, man. That’s glue.


Mr. Scatter is in North Beach, at Cafe Zoetrope, Francis Coppola’s intimate little pie wedge of an Italian restaurant, having dinner with a friend and her friend, a gracious gentleman who long ago played a severed head on the steps of a Buddhist temple in Apocalypse Now.

It’s a World Cup day, and the place is pumped. The manager is Argentinian, and the Argentines have a team. Most of the kitchen staff are Mexican, and Mexico had played an important match earlier in the day, winning 2-0. Much tequila has flowed, and word has it that lunch service was a little slow today: distractions in the back of the house.

Mr. Severed Head is something of a hero. He watched the match from a Zoetrope bar stool, and with the score tied at zero he ordered a tequila. “Here’s to a goal by Mexico,” he said, raising his glass, and almost immediately the ball went into the net.

Hours later, he’s still accepting congratulations. Magic happens.


So who likes football? Not the speeding cabbie so much. And curiously, not so much Theophilus Brown, the still-practicing, 91-year-old San Francisco artist who first came to national attention more than half a century ago for his action-packed black and white paintings of football games.

Brown was a friend of Willem de Kooning, among other prominent artists and musicians, and in his apartment hangs one of those early 1950s football paintings, an energetic piece with the bristling rhythm and intensity of bebop jazz.

What got him started painting football scenes?

“I can tell you exactly what started it,” he says. “I took the Sunday New York Times. And everything was black and white, of course. I kept looking at those grainy game photos the photographers would take, and I just liked the piles of unified action.”

He pauses, and laughs a little dismissively.

“I have no interest in the game at all. Elaine de Kooning really liked the football paintings and decided we should all do sports paintings; we could divide the sports up. I did a few boxing ones, and told her she could have all the other sports for herself.”

That’s history, man. Not so sure about the glue.