The Man Behind Fan
Mike Schacht and His Literary and
Art Quarterly, Fan, a Baseball Magazine
The Journal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts
Volume 14, No. 2, 1996
READ ABOUT BASEBALL in magazines and newspapers these days and the articles are more likely to be about the still-unresolved issue of the salary cap than about Greg Maddux's fourth Cy Young Award. The pictures are more likely to be photos of Marge Schott at the negotiating table than of Ken Griffey Jr. at the wall leaping to catch a long one. Mike Schacht's magazine, Fan, on the other hand, may be the last place in America where the game of baseball is more important than the business of baseball.
Fan is about innocent afternoons at the ballpark, slow and lazy. It's about the days when the players were named Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, and they would ruffle a boy's hair after he caught a pop fly in the stands and lovingly brought it to the clubhouse door to be autographed. It's about getting your first glove, pitching a Little League no-hitter, and listening to the World Series on the radio with your dad.
It's also about old-fashioned graphic design and printing. You won't find any stories in Fan about Daryl Strawberry's drug rehab, and you won't find any illustrations done with Ray Dream Designer or Fractal Design Painter. There aren't any deconstructed fonts or indecipherable layouts. The closest thing to modern art is an "homage to" drawing of an L.A. Dodger in the style of Picasso's Guernica. Fan is a labor of love, and reflects the consuming passions of its founder, editor, and publisher, Mike Schacht, former director of the Mead Library of Ideas, salesman for Sanders Printing, and AIGA National board member in the early '70s. Today, Schacht lives in Atlanta, where he paints baseball, writes baseball, teaches baseball, exhibits baseball art, and publishes baseball. He puts people in touch with baseball as the best of America, rather than the worst.
He was recently in New York to meet with the editors at Avon about his new book, Mudville Diaries. "Everybody has a baseball story," he said. "Mudville Diaries is compendium of reader-friendly, short baseball memories by Fan's contributors. And I just came from Chermayeff & Geismar. Jim McKibben there typesets the magazine," he added, pulling a sheaf of galleys from his briefcase. "Look at these illustrations by Elizabeth Williams." He spread out some pencil drawings of the clapboard-house-and-tree-lined streets of Cooperstown, New York. "Isn't the line quality wonderful?"
His enthusiasm oozes from every page of the 52-page-plus-cover quarterly, which is set in a singular type family, ITC Stone Serif, and unslickly printed on 60 lb. white offset in one color (black) with a two-color cover. Now celebrating its 21st issue-publication commenced in 1989 -- Fan's low-tech look amiably reflects its subject matter and the sensibilities of its staff: production manager McKibben, design director Tony Palladino, contributing editor Elinor Nauen (author of the book, Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend), contributing editor Margery Kimbrough, special consultant L.K. Peek, and managing editor John Simonson.
A typical issue, No. 18, Winter 1995, contains eight short "Mudville Diary" reminiscences, six fiction and nonfiction articles, a dozen pieces of black-and white art (line drawings, woodcuts, cartoons, typographic wordplays, photographs), and half a dozen poems ranging from "Read My Stats" and "The Life of Satchel Paige" to Schacht's own "Baseball Haiku," a commentary on the players' strike that ravaged the '94 season, reprinted here in its entirety.
long gone, still
I cheer the game.
I knew a game
long ago that
nothing could destroy.
The game's long shadows
did not move
in October's stadium.
Rounding second, heading for third
they all walked off the field.
Schacht stays on the field every day, editing and creating pieces ranging from short fiction like "Winter Ball," Joel Barr's elegy to a small boy who hit a ball that "simply disappeared," to his own parodies of the work of big-time art-world "Hall of Famers" Matisse, Dine, Giacometti, Picasso, Leger, and Lichtenstein. The centerpiece of each issue is a six- to eight-page portfolio showcasing the baseball-related work of such artists as Robert Weaver, Seymour Chwast, and Ray Gotto, creator of the Ozark Ike comic strip. San Francisco designer and illustrator Michael Schwab is on deck for spring.
Fan publishes the stories and poetry of professional journalists and prizewinning poets, ad agency execs and retired corporate communications directors, high school teachers and college professors. "Everything is very tightly edited," Schacht said, showing me the galleys he will paste up on his drawing table with rubber cement, T-square, and triangle. "We're after the essence. We publish about 25 contributors every issue, about 100 a year." Some of them, like Tony Palladino, had been Schacht's friends and colleagues for years; he met others in the baseball history classes he taught at The New School for Social Research in New York. Still others answered the calls for contributions he ran in Poets & Writers magazine. And of course, subscribers to the magazine continue to send in submissions.
I got acquainted with Mike Schacht's love of baseball in 1981 at a press check at Sanders Printing. We were there for a brochure about a school for disadvantaged women supported by a Fortune 100 corporation. It had environmental portraits of newly trained secretaries by Richard Frank, 200-line duotones on LOE Cream, and Schacht cutting out big faces on a stripping table in the prep room while we waited for the next sheet. "What are those?" I asked. "Oh, just some pictures of baseball players I do for a hobby," he answered. The client and I admired the beginnings of a giant Babe Ruth. The hobby, among other things, has turned into gallery shows and commissions of player portraits for Upper Deck trading cards and the Baseball Hall of Fame. In the meantime, much of the market for corporate good-citizenship brochures in New York has gone up in flames, and, with it, many of the top-flight printing companies, including Sanders. Fan's loyal readers might say that it's no exaggeration to claim that the magazine rose from those flames. And that because of its publisher's background in paper and printing, it's as much a tribute to the graphic arts as it is to baseball.
"When I founded Fan, I wanted to go back to basics," Schacht explained. "Technology was leading printing to feats of one-upmanship. From 200-line screens and six colors it was 300 line screens and eight colors. I wanted to return to the simple strength and power of black and white," he said. "I've found my way home."
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Note: Mike Schacht died in 2001 after a courageous fight with cancer.
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Ellen Shapiro's piece, "Yankee Wedding," appears in Schacht's book, Mudville Diaries, published by Avon Books.
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