I was once told that the measure of true change is that which occurs in your life time…consider the concept of Spring Training. In my life time (and I am not that old) it has gone from a time when players left winter jobs for practice facilities in the south in order to exercise baseball muscles and compete for playing jobs; to now leaving personal trainers and competing for commercials and endorsements. They have gone from having a young labor economist named Marvin Miller convince them that the key to success was unity to having their lawyers and agents show up at camp before they do. They have gone from wearing flannels that where years old to wearing spring training only fashions in some cases.
The other side of change is noting what has remained constant. One of these is the photographic work of Ozzie Sweet and this brings me to the topic of this piece:
OZZIE SWEET: The Boys of Spring…Timeless Portraits from the Grapefruit League, 1947-2005 (Sport Classic Books).
I am always on the lookout for references that are heavy in photo content to add to my reference library. Any time I see the words “photograph,” “images,” or “portraits” in the title, it gets my attention right away. The striking color image of Denny McClain in a Washington Senators uniform on the cover didn’t hurt. More about the photos in a bit as the story told by the book is equally fascinating.
Sweet was born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1918 and named for his Uncle Oscar who was killed in World War I. A few years later he moved to the Adirondacks (neat place for a guy who would photograph Adirondacks and Louisville Sluggers) and started going by the name Ozzie. As young adult, he moved again to California and spent time as stunt man and developed an interest in photography. He spent World War II in the Army Air Corps (the book references this as the Air Force, but we know better), and then began working professionally as a photographer for Newsweek. He shot covers including numerous Hollywood stars and also historical world figures such as Albert Einstein. 1947 brought him the spring training in Florida and the rest is history…a history that is chronicled by the images in this wonderful book.
The book features well over 200 striking color photos and the detail is incredible. This is a fantastic reference for flannels and other things as well. Since many are done as portraits (as the title implies) you get close ups of buttons, stitching, and fabrics for the uniforms. There are always some who will downplay staged photographs because players will often pose with another’s equipment, but they are still wearing their own uniforms. However, when you see a player like Billy Martin (page 199) posing with a glove that has his name written in a rather interesting manner, it leaves little doubt about whose glove it is.
Much has changed over the time that Ozzie Sweet covered spring training and captured it for all of us by his form of art. People who had never and may not ever meet their baseball heroes, saw them and may have felt they got to know them through his lens. He captures vibrant men doing something they loved and it shows. If you love baseball and can wean yourself from on-line image sources, take the time to find and review this book for yourself. You will see baseball spring training before it became the father of over- priced fantasy camps and players looking for contact extensions; instead of looking to prove themselves and extend their careers…My how things have changed.
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