Have to admit I got caught up in it. Home run race, Big Mac, the whole nine yards, to mix sporting metaphors. I never said a word to him, because at the height of the whole shebang, he wouldn’t say zip to the media. Shut it down. No interviews or photo sessions. I was following him down the visiting dugout tunnel when he passed Walter Iooss, who is about the most connected sports shooter I know. Walter called out, camera in hand, “Mark, two minutes.” McGwire moved past without a word, like an ocean going freighter in a small canal, people, cameras, pens and notebooks spilling off to the sides, left bobbing in his wake.
If Walter wasn’t gonna get time, damn straight I wasn’t. So I shot the whole cover without ever saying a word to my subject.
I kept watching him make every move, and noticed, as with many ballplayers, he had an on deck ritual. Like clockwork, the bat went across his back during his stretches, right across his name and number, and the motion tensed up his massive arms. Went off the field and into the stands to shoot it, ’cause I couldn’t get an angle from the photog pit.
I suggested to the magazine that I shoot most of it in B&W, just to keep a continuum of sorts with the historical pix that had been shot of previous home run kings. They liked that notion, and turned me loose to intersect with, as he is billed for the story, the perfect home run hitting machine. Back then, giddy with baseball, and summer, nobody wanted to really know what was fueling the machine.
I concentrated on his power, a pretty obvious thing to do. Made this with a six as he waited on the ball. It was pretty cool, watching him wait on a pitch. Big cat, ready to pounce. Made me nervous, on assignment, ’cause any pitch he was thrown he could make disappear into the night sky. A picture like the above is risky. If he goes yard on this swing, I miss it, basically. Makes for a tough conversation if your editor asks, “Did you get him hitting that home run?” “Uh, well, I got a piece of him, ya see.”
But you gotta take risks during a coverage like this. For a mag like the Times, you are not there just covering. The wires do that, and do it well. You’re supposed to come up with something nobody else is looking at, which is hard to do when every swing is being seen by several million people.
Shot some color, too. Hard not to when the sun is strong and the uniforms are red.
Again, long lens, through the batting cage mesh. Takes the edge off the sharpness, and pushes the picture away from a simple snap of a swing towards something, anything, that might be more about mythology than batting practice.
It was cool, even though pretty much everybody knew that even out there in the bright sun, there were shadows. More tk….