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Original Issue

The Way They Were

A forgotten photographer's work puts a face on the game

By day, Charles M. Conlon was a newspaper proofreader in New York City in the early 20th century. By ... well, also by day, since there were no night games back then, he was a baseball photographer. Between 1904 and his death in '45, Conlon produced 30,000 pictures, including some of the game's most iconic images. (His most famous is a '10 shot of Ty Cobb barreling into third.) But Conlon, who was rarely credited when his photos ran in papers around the country, also turned his lens on the sport's rank and file, the Everymen who, like him, reached the big leagues but never gained much fame. With The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon's Golden Age Baseball Photographs, edited by Neal and Constance McCabe, the photographer gets a well-deserved day in the sun. The more than 200 portraits here capture the soul of the early game—whether the subjects be stars or, like the three below, something less. The players have been long forgotten. Conlon's photographs should not be.

Red Lucas (as a Pirate in 1936) pitched for four teams between '23 and '38. He won 157 games, but it was as a pinch hitter that he made his mark: His 114 career pinch hits stood as a major league record until '65. As a youngster, Lucas said, he "wasn't regarded as a pitcher. I didn't have time to acquire this present-day 'complex' of pitchers being unable to hit."

Guy Bush (as a Cub in 1929) isn't in the Hall of Fame, but he did have a 176--136 record over 17 big league seasons, and he did something no man alive today has done: He appeared in two World Series for the Cubs. No wonder he liked to brag. "I was one of the cockiest players in the game," Bush once said. "And that ain't nothin' but confidence."

Benny Kauff (as a Giant in 1919) was the best hitter in the Federal League before jumping to New York. He spent five years in the NL, but his career came to a sudden end in 1921 when he was banned from baseball after being accused of auto theft—even though he was acquitted of the charge. Kauff is the only player to get a lifetime ban for reasons other than gambling.