Charles Conlon Captured Baseball's Greats : The Picture Show It's baseball season! And there's no better way to celebrate than with vintage photos of baseball's golden age.
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Charles Conlon Captured Baseball's Greats

Professionally, Charles Conlon was a proofreader. Photography was just his hobby. But his hobby produced the stuff of legends, and his work from 1904 to 1942 earned him a reputation as "The Baseball Photographer."

With a camera set up on the first of third base line, Conlon captured iconic images of the greats, from Ty Cobb, to the DiMaggio brothers to Babe Ruth. Sports photography in those days was done right on the field with large-format cameras using plates and slow shutter speeds — and occasionally the help of managers. According to a column Conlon wrote for Sporting News, Giants manager John McGraw said on one particularly unlucky day, "I'll give you a picture, be ready" before signaling to his player to steal second base. The player was out, but Conlon got his picture.

By 1937, Conlon had been photographing for 33 years and the game was already undergoing major changes. His images preserve one of our greatest American pastimes during an era when stadiums went from wooden stands to steel, Babe Ruth made $80,000 a season and stars left the game to serve in World Wars. Unfortunately, hundreds of images were lost when, overrun by the massive amount of image plates cluttering his house, Conlon destroyed them.

Fortunately, Sporting News has a digital archive of some of Conlon's work, and you can see more of his photographs on their site. As the 2010 baseball season begins, "The House That Ruth Built" is now a pile of dust, and our present-day greats make upwards of $21 million. But Charles Conlon's take on baseball continues to ring true: "It's a grand game," he wrote, "and he [or she] who can enjoy its thrills to the full and those who give the thrill, is thrice blessed."

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