Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Last images from the 1977 Royals - Yankees playoffs; the fans are part of the spectacle, and being a grandpa with tickets is obviously a very big deal

The 2011 playoffs are over so these are the last three images I've printed from the 1977 Royals vs. Yankees series. I shot this little guy over his grandpa's shoulder as they walked down the isle to their seats in the upper deck. In this image he is looking at me.

In the next instant, he looked at Grandpa. This is a look of pure adoration.

Do you suppose he remembers? After all, he is in his late 30s now -- pretty close to 40-years-old. I have no idea who he is, this far removed. But I wish I knew and I could ask if he remembers his grandpa and this big game in the big stadium.

If you want to know what baseball means in America you need only look at those two photographs.

And, just to end the set, here is the beer man. Notice the price of a brew at the stadium in 1977 and we thought that was outrageous.


Photographs: John Lofflin

Friday, October 14, 2011

How big and grand is baseball: A line drive to left, perhaps, off George Brett's young bat in 1977

I've always been intrigued by the sense of space in baseball. Visually, the expanse of grass and dirt seems to go on forever, especially if you're a hitter in a slump or an outfielder chasing down a ball in the gap. So, in 1977, I rambled up to the press box and shot a few frames looking down on the field. This is one of those images.

What I saw from there that I liked was the cool interplay of lines and circles. This game was played on carpet, not grass, which seems more obvious from this perspective. Look closely and you'll see it's George Brett at the plate, Thurman Munson catching and Greg Nettles at third -- all three plus the pitcher, in the throes of action-- the kind of orchestrated motion that composes a baseball game.

Looks to me like a line drive into left from Brett. If it is, this is probably Game Four, bottom of the fourth inning and this was a line out to Lou Piniella to end the inning. It is Sparky Lyle on the mound. The Royals scored two runs in the inning, battling back from a 5-0 deficit, though the effort proved futile.

I took my mother to a Royal's game a few years before she died. She was in her mid-80s at the time. She had watched a lot of baseball, from the wooden stands at Klamn Park to metal bleachers at Stony Point... and a lot on television after I discovered girls and got too old -- 17? -- to play. She followed the Diamondbacks when Randy Johnson was there and she followed Curt Shilling to Boston because his pitching motion reminded her of mine. You should always be a hero to your mother, if no one else.

We helped her down to her seat in the right field bleachers at Kauffman stadium and she was quiet for a while, just looking around. "John," she whispered in my ear, "It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be."

That put a tear in my eye. What she meant, I think, was that watching baseball on television all those years sort of put a little box around the game. But in person, well, it was expansive, beautifully so, and it was grand -- so much more grand than what you could see in your living room.

I sure wish I had taken her to the park more often.

Well, the Tigers are fighting back now. It's 9-4 in the fifth. For some reason I don't think this game is quite over. And I realize that even in high definition on a big screen television, the size of which my mother could not even have imagined, the game is smaller and less grand than it would be in person. I hope this image captures just a little bit of the size of the game.


Photograph/ John Lofflin

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Subjective journalism

Flipping through the channels, I landed on Larry Moore of KMBC 9 News talking about the 75th anniversary of Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. I didn't catch the full report, only the last few seconds, including this (paraphrased) wrap-up statement from Mr. Moore:

"Municipal Auditorium is, of course, one of the most famous buildings in America."

I'm not making that up. Really, Larry? One of the most famous buildings in America? That's a bit subjective, isn't it? In fact, I would venture to say it's not even one of the most famous buildings in America NAMED MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM. A Google search of the phrase finds references to Municipal Auditorium in Nashville higher than a link to the Kansas City facility, and slightly below that are links to Municipal Auditoriums in Shreveport, La., and freakin' Harlingen, Texas. Not that a Google search is an appropriate indicator of popularity, but it's sure as hell a better indicator than KMBC used.

And the fact that it's bad reporting doesn't even bother me too bad - every human listening to that broadcast, if they gave it a half-second of thought, would know the statement was bogus. But I'm offended by the laziness of the statement.

Just because you're on TV doesn't mean you can phone in your facts and make wildly subjective statements.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Another from 1977: The moment you knew the real Yankees had arrived and the Royals were doomed

This is another flawed negative. I remember clearly making a print of it in 1977, refocusing the enlarger, swearing, making another print, focusing the enlarger with the grain magnifier, making another print, swearing…

Royals’ first baseman John Mayberry apparently didn’t focus on this ball any better than I did. Even mighty, mighty, Photoshop couldn't save this one.

There are moments in games that break your heart. Not just fans, either. Some moments break a team’s heart, its spirit. That three run homer in the 11th tonight in Detroit may have been one of those moments. Thinking St. Louis, Game Six of the 1985 World Series is a perfect example. Game Seven was a foregone conclusion.

Well, in 1977, it seemed the young Royals might just beat those damned Yankees. They won Game One 7-2 in Yankee Stadium behind Paul Splittorff. They lost Game Two by nearly the reverse score – 6-2. A split at Yankee Stadium: Was it an omen? Had the Royals come of age?

Maybe. Just maybe. The Royals took Game Three by the reverse score – 6-2 – at Royal’s Stadium. One more victory… one more…

But Game Four was awful. The Yankees became the Yankees and the Royals became the A’s of the early 1960s. Farm team. Little brother. Poor relation.

And the moment you knew it was happening – the moment you knew in your heart the Royals would not go to the World Series in 1977, was the moment John Mayberry dropped this pop-up a few feet foul of the bag. It was the top of the fourth, Marty Pattin on the mound, Yankees ahead 4-2.

Willie Randolph reached on a throwing error by George Brett at third. I will never forget that error either, the first of two in the inning, because the ball took off like a rocket over Mayberry’s glove and ticked my vulnerable right ear as it sailed through the photo bay. I stood no chance because I was focused on Brett in a 300 mm lens and looking through such a lens you have no sense of distance. An inch to the left and it would have hit square in the middle of the lens and killed me. I have no doubt.

As I tried to catch my breath and summon courage to raise the camera to my eye again, Bucky Dent sacrificed Randolph to second. But Pattin induced Mickey Rivers to pop up. Whew! Two down. We’ll get out of this inning yet.

Not so fast. John Mayberry simply didn’t catch the ball and he would never have an easier chance. He should have caught it. He was there. He looked up, raised his glove and, unbelievably, the ball fell unmolested to the ground. My memory is his glove never touched the ball but this image is inconclusive.

In truth, it didn’t matter. Rivers grounded out to short on the next pitch. Greg Nettles singled Randolph home and the lead was three. The Yankees would have scored that run whether Mayberry caught the ball or not. The Yankees won 6-4.

But the moment Big John missed that pop-up was bigger than the scorebook says it was 34 years later. At that moment, standing in the photo bay no more than 20 feet from the play, it was impossible not to know the magic had been all used up. The real Yankees had returned and the pretenders would soon go fishing.

More to come...


Fuzzy photograph/ John Lofflin

Sunday, October 9, 2011

More photographs from the 1977 playoffs to commemorate the playoff season -- Here the un-decisive moment of an in-decisive hitter

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.

-- Lofflin

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.

Nolan Ryan watches his Rangers win -- another righty from 1977 on the bump: Dennis Leonard

Dennis Leonard
in full stride in 1977. Love the mutton chops.

Pitchers work on a big stage in the middle of the theater. Nothing happens until they throw. They are part athlete, part actor, part magician. Good pitchers rule the bump -- the way K-Rod did last night despite having almost nothing to throw. The pitch in Dennis Leonard's hand at this moment looks like a two-seamer.

And if you think about fastball, you think about Nolan Ryan, the Express. What a moment last night when the television camera caught Nolan Ryan nervously watching his Rangers through the screen, in suit and tie, gripping and re-gripping fastball and curve on the baseball in his hand. It never goes away, does it?

Has anyone who ever stood at the top of the hill under all those eyes -- from the three decks of a major league ballpark to the single layer of wooden stands under tin roof, like Klamn Park or Heathwood Park in Kansas City -- ever forgotten the grip? Who among that little brotherhood of baseball pitchers isn't most comfortable with a baseball in his hand?

This was Game Five, Oct. 9, and Leonard took the loss. He had won Game Three 6-2, a masterful nine-inning two-hitter. Both Hal McRae and George Brett were 2 for 4, and Darrell Porter was 3 for 4 in Game Three. But in Game Five, despite McRae's 3 for 4 night, he lost in relief, replacing Steve Mingori in the ninth. The White Rat sent him out to the hill for the ninth on just 48 hours rest to protect a one run lead. He gave up a single and walk, left the game, and both runners scored after his departure. Damn Yankees. Heartbreaker.

More to come...


Photograph/ John Lofflin

Friday, October 7, 2011

From my dusty archives: more images from the 1977 playoffs on a big playoff night for the Brewers and Cards...

Doesn't seem like
the playoffs without the White Rat holding forth, does it?

The man looks like he was born under that ball cap, doesn't he? Especially in the late afternoon October sun... Afternoon sun in October has a special quality.

More 1977 Royals-Yankees playoff photographs to come...

By the way, did you notice the opposing shortstops, Brewers vs. Diamondbacks, were castoff infielders for the Royals last season?

And you know the networks are weeping tonight. No Phillies, no Yankees. At least they have Texas -- but in Texas, football is king by now. Prediction: Lowest television ratings ever; most hard-fought, most entertaining, league series games in recent memory.


Photograph/ John Lofflin

Monday, October 3, 2011

Some images of playoff games in Kansas City -- file under ancient,heartbreaking but wonderful history

With major league baseball playoffs
in full swing, I thought I'd go through my archives (boxes) looking for photographs I took of the classic heartbreaking Kansas City Royals -- New York Yankees playoff battles of the late 1970s. This image of Fred Patek laying down a bunt is from 1977, I think. Who can you identify on the Yankee bench in the background? Wonder if you can recognize anyone in the stands.

This was Game Five. Patek batted lead-off but went oh-for-five.

I'll post some others later this week.