A free-lance photographer’s vintage photos are alive again thanks to a serendipitous phone call.
Leo Bauby has 30,000 Chicago White Sox photos. It’s an impressive tribute to his favorite team. Like any good collector, though, he’s always looking for more.
"I was looking through some old copies of The Sporting News from the 1960s and 70s and I kept seeing the name ‘Ron Mrowick’ on a lot of the photo credits," Bauby said. "I took a stab at contacting him and he happened to not only still be alive but he lived about ten minutes from where I work."
Mrowick was in his early 80s, long retired and thrilled to hear from someone who remembered his work shooting nearly every pro athlete who came through Chicago from the late 1960s through the 1970s. "He had about 150,000 negatives he’d saved from those years all packed away in his garage and basement," said Bauby. "It had been sitting there for a long time and he didn’t know what to do with them. It was much of his life’s work but it was just sitting there. His wife was ready to donate the stuff or throw it out."
Bauby quickly made an appointment to see what he correctly imagined to be a treasure trove of quality images. After getting his start photographing the eventful 1968 Democratic convention, Mrowick had been contracted by nearly all of the major sports publications to do free-lance work. He sold pictures to The Sporting News, Baseball Digest and other magazines and newspapers from the late 60s through the 1970s. Most were in black and white but many of the photographs had never been seen or printed.
Bauby told Mrowick that his photographs were not only worthy of being saved, they were likely of interest to collectors of photographs, certain teams or players. The two made an arrangement for Bauby to sort through the massive group, pick out some Sox images for his collection and then split the proceeds from items they would pull out for sale.
From the first batch he put on eBay, Bauby realized he had a treasure trove. "It’s great stuff," he told SportsCollectorsDaily in a phone interview. "There are some great shots of Roberto Clemente and most of the other big name stars but there are also some that are probably one-of-a-kind because the player never spent much time in the majors."
Each week, Bauby adds about 40 new lots to his eBay listings. Many negatives are on small strips and include more than one player. He sometimes clips the Mrowick photos and accompanying articles from some of the old magazines and includes them with the original negatives he sells. An image of Clemente and Willie Stargell from 1971 recently sold for $500.
The original negatives are being sold and Bauby also works with certain collectors or dealers off-line from Ebay in locating photos from the massive collection. He spends hours each week sorting and cataloging what he finds as Mrowick brings another batch of material to his home. For Bauby, it must seem a little like opening a time capsule. There are shots of Ron Santo clicking his heels as he did after Cub victories in the almost-magical summer of 1969. Another shows Al Kaline standing around the batting cage at Comiskey Park. There are also pro football shots of players like Gale Sayers, Bart Starr and of course, Dick Butkus, along with NHL and NBA pictures from the era.
The circumstances that put the two in contact have been a triple victory. The collector has found a new friend, Mrowick’s work has found a new audience and the 50-50 split of proceeds has been a godsend to an elderly couple with health issues, living primarily on Social Security. It’s that result in which Bauby takes the most satisfaction.
"He calls me his angel."
Leo Bauby’s White Sox photo collection web site: Chicagobaseballphotos.com
Dealer Adam White is based in southern California. He carries many of Ron Mrowick’s photos, specializing in vintage Dodgers, Lakers and Rams shots. It is through his table at the National that we were able to get the story of Leo Bauby’s find.