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Gods With Dirty Faces

March 2023
1min read

Baseball’s Golden Age The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon

by Neal McCabe and Constance McCabe, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Charles M. Conlon worked most of his life as a newspaper proofreader, but he spent his summers from 1904 to 1942 as the pre-eminent photographer of baseball. His portraits of players appeared year after year in The Spalding Base Ball Guide, Sporting News , and elsewhere, and several of his pictures, such as one of Ty Cobb making a vicious, dirt-spattering slide into third base, are familiar but anonymous masterpieces. Conlon’s finest art lay in his still portraits of players standing around the field, looking like dirty farm boys. There is so much waiting in baseball, and he exploited this for beautiful studies of Honus Wagner’s strong, grimy hands gripping a bat and of the umpire Silk O’Loughlin solemnly demonstrating his (now universal) “safe” call. His portrait of a pouty Babe Ruth seems a commentary on the game’s pressures until you realize he’s just waiting to get back to the gum wad stuck on his cap.

The publisher has made an elegant art book out of these revelatory baseball pictures; the 1913 series showing Eddie Cicotte’s right hand in its knuckler pose around a baseball belongs in the Museum of Modern Art as much as does any photograph of French peasants.

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