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1866 - 2012

Picturing America’s Pastime

A Snapshot of the Photograph Collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

“The greatest of all, the game which seems to breathe the restless spirit of American life, that calls for quick action and quicker thinking, that seems characteristic of a great nation itself, is baseball.”

— Photographer Charles M. Conlon, 1913

Since the 19th century, baseball and photography have grown up together. From the grandeur of the early game to the vibrancy of today’s sport, every facet of our national pastime has been captured in sepia, color and black-and-white.

The Hall of Fame’s collection of over a quarter million images is the world’s premiere repository of baseball photographs, spanning some 150 years of the sport’s history. Accompanied by the words of those who were there, the Hall of Fame presents a selection of timeless photographs, each picturing America’s pastime.

“The catcher … is the psychologist and historian for the staff—or else his signals will give the opposition hits. The value of his headpiece is shown by the ironmongery worn to protect it.”

— Historian Jacques Barzun, 1954

Just months prior to being named American League Most Valuable Player, Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane gazes out from behind his mask at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, August 29, 1934.

“Baseball is a game of inches and split-second reflexes, of making the right play instinctively.”

— Sportswriter Harold Kaese, 1954

Sliding headlong into home, White Sox base runner Alejandro De Aza is tagged out trying to stretch a triple into a home run at U.S. Cellular Field, May 27, 2012.

photograph by Ron Vesely

Freezing the Action

Changes in camera technology have transformed baseball photography over time. Faster cameras and more powerful lenses allowed photographers to move out of their studios, onto the playing field, and ultimately into special boxes and pits. Ron Vesely of the Chicago White Sox and other contemporary action photographers use digital cameras with extremely fast shutter speeds and very sensitive light sensors, freezing the action and capturing the intensity of a moment in the smallest fraction of a second.

Members of the baseball team at Peddie Institute, a private boarding school in Hightstown, New Jersey, gather for a group photograph in front of the main school building, May 1891.

photograph by J.C. Sunderlin

“In the game played May 2 with Freehold Military Institute at Freehold, our boys had an easy time of it. It was thought they would shut Freehold out altogether, and likely could have done so, but under the circumstances they then thought it best to allow them to run up an almost equal score if they wished to part as friends.”

— ‘Peddie Chronicle,’ June 1891

“Baseball is really two sports—the Summer Game and the Autumn Game. One is the leisurely pastime of our national mythology. The other is not so gentle.”

— Author Thomas Boswell, 1982

Energized by the first World Series held at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, baseball fans crowd the corner of Addison and Sheffield as they await the matchup between the hometown Cubs and the Philadelphia Athletics, October 1929.

“I always figured that I had a bat and all the pitcher had was a little ball, and as long as I kept swinging that bat I’d be all right.”

— Hank Aaron, 1991

Milwaukee Braves star Hank Aaron follows through at the plate, c. 1964.

Visiting Egypt in the midst of their around-the-world ball-playing exhibition, tour organizers and baseball players climb the Sphinx for a group photograph, February 9, 1889.

photograph by P. Sebah

“After visiting the big Pyramids and the Sphinx, and having our pictures taken in connection with these wonders of the world, we passed down to the hard sands of the desert where a diamond had been laid out, and where, in the presence of fully a thousand people … we began the first and only game of ball that the great sentinels of the desert ever looked down upon.”

— Adrian “Cap” Anson, baseball player and member of the “Around-the-World” tour, 1900

“There was only one Matty—only one. For Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants was something more than one of the game’s greatest pitchers. [He] brought class and character to baseball beyond all others. For a combined mixture of brains, courage and skill, he stood alone.”

— Sportswriter Grantland Rice, 1934

Twenty-five years before his election to the Hall of Fame, Christy Mathewson stands alone on the field at New York’s Polo Grounds, 1911.

photograph by Charles M. Conlon

Charles M. Conlon (1868-1945)

Charles Conlon served as baseball’s unofficial photographer throughout the early decades of the 20th century. An extremely talented, self-taught photographer, Conlon became the principal photographer for the leading illustrated baseball guides; staff photographer for Baseball Magazine, a popular monthly featuring player portraits on the front and back covers; and a regular contributor to ‘The Sporting News,’ baseball’s premier weekly. Producing an estimated 30,000 baseball negatives in the period between 1904 and 1942, Conlon left an indelible legacy of iconic player portraits, posed action images, and early game-action photographs.

“Players are strictly disciplined, as we cannot tolerate looseness of any kind. We allow absolutely no drinking, no carousing, and we all observe a regular curfew at 11:00. In addition, players must write home at least once a week.”

— Margaret Nabel, manager of the New York Bloomer Girls, 1931

Billed as the “female champions of the world,” Margaret Nabel (far right) and the New York Bloomer Girls promoted their barnstorming tours by sending out team photos such as this picture of the 1929 club.

photograph by Henri H. Davis

“The only comparison is that we both love to hit and hate to lose.”

— Pete Rose on the similarities between himself and Detroit Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb, 1985

Pete Rose kneels in the on-deck circle at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium in 1985, the season he pursued and surpassed Ty Cobb’s 57-year-old mark for most career hits.

photograph by Michael Ponzini

At Yankee Stadium during Game Seven of the 1955 World Series, rival catchers Roy Campanella (batting) and Yogi Berra (catching) spring into action as umpire Jim Honochick looks on.

“‘What is a catcher?’ once asked a cynic. ‘He’s a guy who isn’t clever enough to be an infielder, who can’t run fast enough to be an outfielder, who can’t hit well enough to be a first baseman or who can’t think enough to be a pitcher.’ The catchers’ union should sue that cynical chap for libel. … No one has glamorized an unglamorous task more than Messrs. Berra and Campanella.”

— Sportswriter Arthur Daley, July 8, 1956

“I don’t feel bitter about it. … It’s just one of those things. It just didn’t happen in my time. So I don’t have anything to be bitter about.”

— Pitcher Bill Drake on playing segregated baseball, 1971

The St. Louis Giants and pitcher Bill Drake (standing at far left) pose for a photograph following their June 14, 1920, game against the Kansas City Monarchs in the inaugural season of the Negro National League.

photograph by J.E. Miller

Researching the Picture

Picture researchers use small details and visual clues in photographs to help answer basic questions about the image. For this team portrait, researchers determined the exact date and location using information on the advertising billboards and the scoreboard. The Midwest National Bank and Trust Company, whose ad appears at the right in the background of the photograph, was traced through regional city directories to reveal the location of the ballpark as Kansas City, Missouri. Likewise, partial scores and team match-ups on the scoreboard were cross-checked against known results to provide the exact day the portrait was taken.

“Carl J. Horner, the famous official photographer of the major leagues … intends to continue the photographing of base ball  players as a specialty, and will take the pictures of the new players as fast as the various teams reach Boston.”

— ‘Sporting Life,’ April 8, 1905

In his first season in the big leagues, Cincinnati’s George “Admiral” Schlei sits for photographer Carl Horner at his Boston studio, 1904.

photograph by Carl J. Horner

“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball; and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

— Pitcher Jim Bouton, 1970

New York Yankees pitcher Red Ruffing shows off his fastball grip, c. 1938.

photograph by William C. Greene

“It looked like a ballpark. It smelled like a ballpark. It had a feeling and a heartbeat, a personality that was all baseball.”

— Phillies outfielder Richie Ashburn on Connie Mack Stadium, his home field from 1948 to 1959

Photographer Bob Bartosz snaps a self-portrait amidst the weeds, debris and ruins of Philadelphia’s abandoned Connie Mack Stadium in June 1974, 65 years after it opened as Shibe Park and nearly four years after it hosted its final big league game.

photograph by Bob Bartosz

“Having your photo taken as a major league baseball player was an honor. It meant that you’ve made it to the highest level of the great game of baseball.”

— Bert Blyleven, 2013

Bert Blyleven demonstrates pitching out of the stretch at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, June 29, 1977.

photograph by Doug McWilliams

Lighting the Scene

Photographer Doug McWilliams is known for his brilliant use of light. To make his subjects stand out from the background, McWilliams carefully balances two different light sources: the sun and a strobe. Here he captured Rangers pitcher Bert Blyleven in the late afternoon before a twi-night doubleheader with the lowering sun creating the dappled light and shadows across his back. At the same time, McWilliams used a strobe (a flash unit on the camera), illuminating Blyleven from the front and preventing his face from disappearing in shadow.

Following the 1927 World Series, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth barnstormed across the country, playing 21 games in just three weeks. Here the Yankees’ legends loom large on either side of Kenichi Zenimura and other members of the Fresno Athletic Club at Fresno’s Firemen’s Park, October 29, 1927.

photograph by Frank Kamiyama

“The first time up I got a single. I was very fast and took my usual lead off first. Ruth glanced at me and said, ‘Hey, son, aren’t you taking too much of a lead?’ I said no. He called for the pitcher to pick me off. The pitcher threw and I slid behind Ruth. He was looking around to tag me and I already was on the sack. I think this made him mad. He called for the ball again. This time he was blocking the base and he swung his arm around thinking I would slide the same way, but this time I slid through his legs and he was looking behind. The fans cheered. Ruth said ‘If you do that to me again, I’ll pick you up and use you as a bat, you runt.’”

— Kenichi Zenimura, c. 1962

“Grip the ball tightly whenever you are going to tag a man. … And when you have gripped it and are ready to make the dive for the plate, do not worry about where you are going to tag—tag him, put the ball on him.”

— Mickey Cochrane, 1939

As part of the annual preseason City Series between Philadelphia’s two major league clubs, Athletics catcher Mickey Cochrane dives home and tags out Phillies base runner Pinky Whitney at Shibe Park, April 1, 1933.

“The nicest part about talking about the Yankees is that there isn’t anything else I would rather be doing.”

— Longtime Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen, 1964

Mel Allen (foreground), “The Voice of the Yankees,” calls a game from the booth at Cleveland Stadium, June 23, 1948.

Members of the National Base Ball Club of Albany, NY, many displaying silk ribbons on their jerseys, pose for a group photo, 1866.

photograph by Haines & Wickes

“One or two of the customs of the old game were unique. Such for instance was the habit of the better class of clubs of exchanging, just before each match, silk badges imprinted with the club name. The players wore these accumulated trophies pinned upon the breast, sometimes with startling color effects; and the baseball man was proud, indeed, who could pin on the outside of his deep strata of badges a ribbon from the mighty Atlantics, Mutuals, or Eckfords, attesting his worth for meeting giants, if not mastering them.”

— Former Yale baseball player (Class of 1872), Clarence Deming, 1902

Sitting for the Photographer

In the 1860s, having one’s portrait taken required posing without moving for up to half a minute. Photographers of the era were entirely dependent on natural light, equipping their studios with floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights, and large mirrors to reflect sunlight onto their subjects. To assist the subjects in holding still, photographers often provided head rests and metal stands with horizontal braces positioned behind the sitters to prevent motion. The cast-iron bases of some of these stands are visible amongst the club members’ feet and chair legs.

“I gave my life to the game. And the game gave me everything.”

— Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, 1993

Cuban-born Minnie Miñoso, the first black athlete to play for the White Sox, poses for Look magazine at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, August 29, 1951.

photograph by Bob Lerner

Children raise their souvenir Louisville Sluggers at the second ‘Bat Day’ ever held at Yankee Stadium in New York City, August 14, 1965.

photograph by Don Rice

“My dad used to take me to every bat, ball, and hat day when I was a kid, starting from about 1965—that’s how I got my gear. I distinctly remember the sound the old seats … would make when fans would stand up so as to bang them down during a rally, or when everyone would smack their bats on the concrete on Bat Day. The place would reverberate!”

— Baseball fan Mike Kletter

“As [Tim Lincecum] winds up and fires off the baseball, sports transforms before our eyes into something very much like art.”

— Design journalist Angela Riechers, 2011

Affectionately nicknamed “The Freak,” San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum completes his peculiar pitching motion at Oakland’s McAfee Coliseum, June 28, 2008.

photograph by Brad Mangin

Brad Mangin (b. 1965)

Brad Mangin is a master of photography in the digital age. Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Mangin established his freelance sports photography business in 1993, regularly shooting baseball on assignment for ‘Sports Illustrated’ and ‘MLB Photos.’ An early advocate of internet marketing techniques, Mangin’s online archive contains over 60,000 of his photographs, many posted within hours of a game’s conclusion. Recently, Mangin has combined his skillful eye with Instagram’s digital filters to transform images shot with his smart phone into a legitimate art form.

With the Washington Monument in the background, congressional pages look on as team captains use the traditional method of choosing up sides for a baseball game on the National Mall, March 25, 1922.

“‘Sides for base!’ was screamed out as we broke headlong into the play-ground; and then in a twinkling the two recognized leaders had tossed the bat and were putting hand over hand. One, gripping the scarcely protruding end of the bat with his very nails, managed to whirl it round his head three times and toss it off its own length, or failed to do so, and sides were chosen and positions taken in less than three minutes.”

— ‘The Galaxy’ magazine, July 15, 1866

“That ‘Keep Out’ sign on the Brooklyn Dodgers clubhouse no longer applies to Mr. Robinson.”

— ‘Columbus (OH) Evening Dispatch,’ 1947

Jackie Robinson opens the door to the Dodgers clubhouse on the day Brooklyn purchased his contract, making him the first African-American player in modern baseball history to join a major league club, April 10, 1947.

photograph by William C. Greene

William C. Greene (1901-1963)

William C. Greene photographed sports for New York City newspapers for over 40 years. After receiving training as a photographer in the Navy during WWI, he worked as a sports shooter for ‘The Evening Telegram,’ which later merged into the ‘New York World-Telegram and Sun.’ By the middle of the century, advances in photographic technology, the halftone process used to reproduce photographs in print, and the ability to transmit photographs across wire services, led to an explosion in the demand for news pictures. As a photojournalist specializing in baseball, Greene helped satisfy the newspaper industry’s insatiable demand for images of its national pastime.

“Bats are strange and moody things, and sometimes I think Pete Browning was right when he used to talk to his bats and credit them with human understanding.”

— Honus Wagner, 1918

Pittsburgh great Honus Wagner selects a bat in front of the Pirates dugout, c. 1915.

Credits: Exhibit

Picturing America’s
Pastime is made possible by a generous grant from the Harry M. Stevens
Family Foundation.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum plans to travel the exhibit beginning in 2015.

Credits: All media
The exhibit featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.