I didn’t notch this negative in October 1977, so I probably didn’t print it. Probably I looked at it against a light bulb or on a contact sheet and said, “Shit, pulled the trigger too late.”
This is definitely not Henri Cartier-Bresson’s classic “decisive moment,” the invocation under which all photojournalists toil.
In fact, it is probably a classic un-decisive moment.
And, as a black and white photographic image, it isn’t flawed just because it is late. The subjects are not separated visually from the background by either light or focus. And, just look at the middle. There’s nothing in the middle but the ball, and the ball is traveling in the wrong direction. In fact, everything and everybody in the image is moving in precisely the wrong visual direction.
So, 34 years later, imagine the photographer’s surprise when he prints this image under yellow lights in the last black and white photo-lab on the planet and falls strangely in love with the result. This is the classic moment after. This flawed bit of Tri-X film, too-long camera lens -- these are the very edges of the frame --, and nano-second tardy photographer, captured an eloquent moment of success and failure in a very hard game.
Call it success by mistake.
What you see in this frame is the hitter who watched a third strike cross the plate, his head turned around backward staring at the umpire, his now useless club pointed to the ground; the umpire, back turned from him in theatrical pose – “yer out!” – finishing the call with flourish; the catcher, stepping toward first, already firing the offending ball to third base where it will travel around the horn; and the crowd joyous.
Even the beer man has turned in this moment -- mid-pour -- to watch.
This is probably the top of the second inning, Game Four, Oct. 8, 1977, Larry Gura pitching. If it is, the strikeout victim is Chris Chambliss. The catcher is Darrell Porter. The umpire is Marty Springstead. Chambliss was the second out, but the Yankees would go on to score two runs in the inning on a Willie Randolph single, a Bucky Dent double and a Mickey Rivers single. They would win this pivotal game 6-4.
Oh yes, in the background it looks like Thurman Munson is unloading a big, no doubt disgusting, load of Red Man. Therein lies one of the great -- if sometimes disgusting -- powers of the camera.
Next: "The Pop-up"
Photograph/ John Lofflin
PPS: Think about those Yankee names -- Willie, Bucky, Mickey. Baseball names all. Not, I hestitate to point out, soap opera names like Justin, Shane, Corey, Lance, Max, Zack, Taylor, or Brandon. But baseball names change with the times. Willie, Bucky, Mickey, feel like 1950s baseball names. Modern baseball names would include Prince, Miguel, Jhonny, Ramon, Jose, Tokashi. Add in the interesting Russian first names, perhaps tied to the Russian presence in Cuba and revolutionary Latin America -- Ivan, Yuniesky, Vladimir, Melky -- which is reportedly short for Mikhial --, Alexi. Interesting how names define the period of the game.