Tom Runnells
Ohio Life

Tom Runnells Turns His Passion for Baseball Into Art

The former Major League Baseball player, manager and coach turns old baseballs into works of art.

Baseball has always taken center field for Tom Runnells — from his first hit in Dodger Stadium for the Cincinnati Reds, to managing a perfect game for the Montreal Expos. Today, this Major League Baseball player-turned-coach transforms old baseballs into one-of-a-kind works of art that celebrate the game. 

Runnells, who lives in Sylvania with his wife, former WTOL Toledo News anchor Chrys Peterson, uses utility knives and shears to cut baseball hides into shapes while preserving their raised seams. He fashions them into numbers or logos and then collaborates with portrait artist Jeff Stone and the local Frameworks shop to assemble custom art pieces that celebrate a particular player from the game’s past.

Runnells donates proceeds from art sales to youth-serving charities such as the Toledo Mud Hens’ Knothole Gang and the Toledo Police Athletic League. We talked with him about his art and the ongoing allure of baseball in his life. 

What is it about baseball that always draws you back? 
Growing up in Colorado, I loved playing baseball. I played all sports — football, golf, tennis, basketball — but baseball was my niche. I guess because I was small. My name was “pipsqueak” all through high school. I was a walk-on in college. I really do believe that it was my passion and work ethic that did it for me. There were others that were bigger and more talented than I was. I was so determined that this was what I was going to do in my lifetime. 

You’ve created different works of art from baseballs. What are your favorite pieces?
I love creating a piece to honor someone. I’m a huge New York Yankees, Mickey Mantle fan. My Mantle art hangs in a doctor’s office in Toledo. I just finished a piece that’s probably my favorite — it’s a Moses Fleetwood Walker. He’s the first Black [Major League Baseball player], known for being a Toledo Blue Stocking. 

Where does your baseball art end up and where can people see your work?  
They’re like my babies. Sometimes, it’s hard to sell them. My wife won’t let me sell a few. I donate a lot of them to fundraisers. I’ve had a couple of art shows in Sylvania’s Fuller Art House. A gentleman called me from England who bought some Negro League pieces to display in the Royal Air Force Museum London. I’ve become very interested in the Negro League history and players. Those were really the players that paved the way. 

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