Some one-of-a-kind photos of baseball players taken by fans could soon give us a new look at the game and its personalities.
Dozens of books have been published with an eye on telling the history of baseball through a photographer’s lens.
Andy Strasberg’s goal is to tell it through the lenses used by baseball fans.
For over a decade, he’s been quietly accumulating copies of baseball-related photographs taken by regular folks. His goal is to show the game from the perspective of its fans by putting those rarely seen and sometimes forgotten shots into a book.
Fans who’ve learned of his project have responded with enthusiasm. He now has about 3,000 snapshots, all of which tell a story. They date back decades. His website, Fantography.net, serves as the clearinghouse.
“I want to preserve photos taken by the baseball fan who takes their camera to a game in hopes of capturing a special personal baseball moment,” Strasberg told Sports Collectors Daily. “It may sound corny but this is about baseball from the fans’ point of view from the last 100 years.”
NBC sports commentator Bob Costas said Strasberg’s project reminded him of a still photo version of HBO’s ‘When it Was a Game’ series, which captured baseball through never-before-seen home movies taken by fans and players.
Strasberg says fans began taking pictures of players on a regular basis in the late 1940s and early 50s when photo day became a minor league promotion that was picked up by big league teams. Fans were taking cameras to the ballpark in larger numbers as they became more portable.
Some may not be perfectly focused and many are in black and white, but what Strasberg is looking for are the stories that come with the pictures.
“A snapshot that captures a poignant moment in professional baseball,” Strasberg explained. “The snapshot could be of a player, a ballpark or a mascot. It could be before or after a game. I’m not looking for game action shots. There are professionals who take those every game.”
Some photos are taken from the stands. Others as players enter or leave the ballpark. Some are captured away from the park as players relax outside the realm of traditional photographers. There is Mickey Mantle at a golf tournament. Roger Maris, standing in the outfield with the famous Yankee Stadium stands as a backdrop. The young man in the photo is Strasberg himself. Before his professional career led him to a long career as a promotions executive with the San Diego Padres, Strasberg was a fan who loved Maris. He’s still a fan, happily sharing memories of the game with others around the country.
“My favorite shots are those that are not posed. It’s a player being themselves before or after a game. I enjoy the player in street clothes more than in uniform.”
Strasberg has been seeking baseball fan photos since 1997 but not until technology enabled easier sharing via the internet has he been able to accelerate the process. His project is aimed at preserving t
hose candid shots that have often been tossed away or sit in a folder on someone’s computer.
“Every day hundreds of baseball snapshots taken before the digital age are lost as the original owners pass away and their belongings become trash” he said. “Ironically, for different reasons, the same fate is happening to today’s digital baseball pictures. Once a snapshot is taken by a fan with a digital camera or phone they are downloaded to a computer, never printed, and almost always forgotten.”
It’s been a labor of love for Strasberg, and picking out a few of the best is almost impossible.
“I have many favorites. A very young Roberto Clemente. A lanky Frank Robinson as a Red, Bill Dickey walking into Yankee Stadium, Burt Shotten in a Cardinals uniform, Hank Aaron walking in Milwaukee County Stadium as seen from a four and a half-foot tall kid taking a snapshot.”
In addition to finding a publisher for the book he plans on piecing together, Strasberg would also like to share more of the photos he’s collected online. As important as the images, though, are the circumstances related to the pictures. He insists that anyone submitting photos be able to tell its story.
Some fans send one photo; others have a box full. One man in Arizona who spent Opening Day 1960 as an excited youngster attending the first-ever game at Candlestick Park sent that photo–and 200 others. While baseball fans embrace the images, Strasburg hopes his project will have a wider appeal.
“This will truly be an American story, with the focus on our national pastime.”
Watch him on San Diego’s Fox TV affiliate: