The photo archive of the man responsible for the images on a lot of the baseball cards we saw emerge from Topps packs from the 1970s through the mid-1990s is at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall is hoping to raise money so it’s more accessible to fans and collectors.
Doug McWilliams was hired by Topps in the early 1970s and spent time behind his camera shooting photos of just about everyone who wore a uniform and might wind up on a card.
In 2010, McWilliams traveled to Cooperstown to donate more than 10,000 negatives from his collection to the Hall of Fame’s Photo Archive. Digitizing those images is the Hall’s goal but it’s a long and expensive process. The collection “needs to be reorganized, rehoused and conserved,” according to the Hall. The process will reduce handling of the original and will one day make the collection available to fans on the Hall’s website and make it easier for the Hall to use them for exhibits and other projects.
“Since their donation, these have become some of our most requested images from researchers and enthusiasts alike,” said Hall of Fame Director of Digital Assets/Photo Archivist Kelli Bogan.
The Hall’s fundraising effort seeks to raise over $77,000 with a little over $2,300 committed so far.
Topps kept McWilliams busy and he made sure to do what was necessary to ensure the company continued to buy his photos. Still, he typically worked on a retainer, not knowing if he’d be heading back to spring training until he got the call from the company.
“I was required to take six posed images of each player at camp: two head-and- shoulders, two from the waist up with the player posed and kneeling, and two full-length posed of the player kneeling or standing,” he recalled for a Q&A. “I had no input as to what was used. Just what the poses were.
“When I first started, I was given one day per team to do all that work,” he told the Hall’s Bill Francis in an article on his career and collection. “I would generally get to the Spring Training site around 8 AM. Some sites required me to leave my Sun City, Ariz., house at 4:30 in the morning. Later on toward the late ‘80s, I would go for three weeks because of so many players and teams as well as the requirements for the eight or 10 different sets being done by Topps.”
The process was a cooperative effort between Topps’ photographers and the company’s staff in New York.
“My first 10 years I had to have the film processed and identify everyone, then send in the processed film to Topps in Brooklyn. In later years, I would send my exposed film to a lab in New York City every three days via FedEx.”
His favorite image of all time is the 1989 Harold Reynolds card.
McWilliams, now an octogenarian, was a popular figure during his time working in baseball and rarely encountered difficulties getting players, coaches and managers to cooperate. Part of that was his professionalism and personable nature.
“I always extended my hand and told them my name, who I was with, and what was needed,” McWilliams said. “Being nice and creating friendships was the most important thing that I brought to the ballpark, my work, and to Topps. And not just the players, managers and coaches, but the batboys, the people in the front office, etc. It would take me about one minute to take the portraits. I was required to do two headshots, two waist-up poses, and two full-length poses. Simulated action, generally, of just have them being casual, I would know before I shot what I was going to ask of them.
His work with Topps led to additional business.
“I got to know some of the players very well,” he told the Hall. “I was asked to do their family pictures, weddings, and bar mitzvahs, etc. Of course that did not have any connection to Topps baseball cards – just friendships I developed along the way.”
In 2021, McWilliams was selected as the winner of the 2021 Jefferson Burdick Award, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the baseball card hobby, by SABR’s Baseball Cards Research Committee.
— SABR Baseball Cards (@SABRbbcards) November 8, 2022