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Jan 13

In history, Rambling at 9:56am


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….

Richard Cave says:

on January 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

Its so easy shooting long to full frame your pictures it harder especially on sports to remember the details. In television these are called pick ups or cutaways, you need to give yourself some room.

I have been concentrating more on these and getting a more rounded contact sheet to hand in, thanks for sharing Joe.

Next time in the UK get in contact as you have a beer waiting for you,


Ghislain Leduc says:

on January 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

Sad story but hey at least the guy came clean at the end. Great story at least for the photoshoot!

by the way, tks for being on, I love them all! Almost done them all too :)


Peter James Zielinski says:

on January 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

Great post Joe.

Feels like i was behind you watching you shoot.

Jeremy Wade Shockley says:

on January 13, 2010 at 10:09 am

Very nice post here Joe, I feel like I learned a little something here about taking on difficult assignments- the thought process of creating something unique is invaluable!


art meripol says:

on January 13, 2010 at 10:10 am

i too was totally caught up with it…and on top of that I am a Cards fan so I was doubly focused on the record chase. I’m really sad for him and that he got caught up in the steroid wasteland. I find it rather easy to empathize with the pressure to perform better, be bigger than life, be the star, the stud, and quietly do what you think has to be done to maintain status. I’m sorry to see so many sports ‘hero’s” falling from the heights we raised them to on our own expectations. I do hope that he finds his way into the Hall one day. No matter what, he still deserves it.

Doug Luberts says:

on January 13, 2010 at 10:21 am

Hey … Hard not to not get caught up, and very sad.

BTW, “The whole nine yards” isn’t a sports metaphor. It’s a reference to the nine cubic yards of cement in a cement mixer and pouring “the whole nine yards”.

I was amazed when I found that out as well. 😉

Jeff says:

on January 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

I was leery of him and Sosa that whole season. Here in Chicago it was pretty obvious that Sosa was up to something. How do you get that big in the off season? I would be shocked if McGwire ever gets more than 30% of the vote for the HOF. It’s that little thing called character.

Mark says:

on January 13, 2010 at 11:07 am

Gorgeous shots. Few more weeks till pitchers and catchers…

reg says:

on January 13, 2010 at 11:17 am

Sadder for the stars that were honest and got left behind.
At the end of the day he used drugs to enhance his reputation.
Then he waited till his career was over coming clean and even then only because he was going to be outed by his brother
He has no place in the hall of fame.
Great images tho Joe

Dan says:

on January 13, 2010 at 11:19 am

I have several of his rookie cards floating around here somewhere.

Paul Gill says:

on January 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I saw Mark in 1988 hit a homerun at the Oakland Coliseum that went out of the ballpark as a line drive in what seemed like less than 2 seconds. I can’t imagine a ball being hit any harder.

And that is the “dangest” part about it…he didn’t need the stuff.

john jackson says:

on January 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Great post Art exactly what I was thinking.

I love the pics Joe your best stuff always winds up being the stuff thats not setup

André Weigel says:

on January 13, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Sad… but pretty nice blog post… thank you !

William Chinn says:

on January 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Good pictures and presentation. Ever better story concerning how the pictures “developed”.

Polgara says:

on January 13, 2010 at 3:58 pm

He looks scary strong. Great shots as always. The details tell so much story

Boston Wedding Photographer says:

on January 13, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Yeah, in the late 80’s has was also strong. It’s a sad day. Nobody out there is clean it seems. Mcgwire and Conseco were the dream team of Oakland and look what has happened to both of them…

Brandt Steinhauser says:

on January 13, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Nice post Joe. I was at mile marker 62 on the Garden State Parkway heading home when he hit #62. 1998 was a wild year.

Iden Ford says:

on January 13, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Really great photos Joe but I grew up watching Roger Maris and I will be damned to ever think Maguire either broke his record or is in the same category of human being.

hasi says:

on January 13, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Great shots, Joe. Too bad the greatest shadow of all is that he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, being a drug user and all. So he came clean, goody for him. That will reserve him a place in heaven, providing he stays clean for the rest of his life. Not likely to happen though. He’s a drug addict, plain and simple. He’ll do anything, no matter how morally reprehensible, that will get him what he wants, regardless of the long term consequences…. after all, he can always come clean and apologize for it later. Right?

Ranger 9 says:

on January 13, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Re the “hands” shot: I hate it when I have to choose between an option that’s fairly sure to yield a pretty good picture… or gamble on another option that might yield either a REALLY good picture or NO picture! That’s a real gut-check, so I’m glad to hear that even pros, with all their resources and access, sometimes have the same problem!

I suppose you could even say that Mcgwire faced the same dilemma. He still would have been a really good hitter if he had stayed off the juice, but he gambled on the other option and now his reputation is trashed.

David Sargent says:

on January 14, 2010 at 4:51 am


Another great post. Does it ever get boring churning out this greatness time after time??? :-)

@Doug Luberts – I think you’re wrong about the the nine yards thing. It refers to the length of a chain of ammo in P51 Mustangs – I gave him the whole nine yards – takes on a darker meaning doncha think.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on January 14, 2010 at 9:19 am

Great pictures, as we all think how the steriods issue has affected sports. As a kid growing up, Mickey Mantle was the best to me, but I wondered why he was sick and on the bus at West Point when they played an exhibition. He did bat, when they were losing to Army, and he hit a home run, and I saw him stagger around the bases. Different type of juice I came to learn. It is dissapointing when it comes out, but Mickey did alot for organ donation at the end.

As to a ball being hit the hardest, Frank Howard hit a line drive for the old Senators that the shortstop jumped for, and it hit the left field wall on a straight line. If it was any lower, it would have killed someone. Hondo didn’t juice, he was just huge. Never saw anything like his shots.

When our heroes are sports figures, we have to be prepared for losses. How many kids idolized Tiger?

Maybe Charles Barkley had it right when he said that athletes are not role models.

Bill Bogle Jr.

Girish says:

on January 14, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Wonderful photos. Love the second one.

Ron McKitrick says:

on January 14, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Oh, no tell me it ain’t so Joe. I confess I did not read everyones comments. But you being in the upper level of photographers today. And the work you presented in the blog is great and something we all want to aspire to. Howver, this is mistimed blog. Please esplain to your daughter why a drug user is being help up as an icon. I hope he never even gets close to the Hall, which this time holds true. He should not have gotten the job for many reason. Everyone has an opinion. But why hold up a drug user as something special. Maybe are reallity baseball show for drug users is warrented, like we have for wrestling. Keep up your blogs, training and inspirational photography.

Ed Morris says:

on January 15, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I’m from St. Louis and was very much caught up in the same frenzy as everyone else. That was the entire topic of conversation just about anywhere you went in St Louis that summer. Joe, these images are great and especially meaningful now that we know the full story. You’ve captured in just a few clicks a whole array of emotions from two different decades. Very well done!

I happen to have met Mark many times in different situations around town and although I can’t say we’re friends I can say that he’s very much an enigma. At times he’s very aloof as Joe experiences in the tunnel. Other times he’s very warm and engaging and genuine. I can’t judge him for his mistakes…Lord knows that I’ve got my own to leave behind me. That said, I also don’t feel that he should be in the hall…what kind of message would that give to future athletes…which also happen to be our own children?

“Whole 9 yards” – there were belts of 50 cal. ammo for the P51 Mustang that were 27 feet long.

Keep clicking!

RonnyMills says:

on January 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm

McK: Please re-read the post … including the title and first line. Also look up “irony”…

Charles says:

on January 15, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Another view on the subject:

Jack Thompson says:

on January 15, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Great photograph’s, particularly the one showing his arm lined up for swing!

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