Whatever you thought of the recently concluded 232-day baseball strike, chances are you're glad it's over—but probably not as glad as SI's photo staff.
When the strike began last Aug. 12, our picture editors were in the middle of sorting through stacks of slides for a photo essay designed to give readers a fresh perspective on the national pastime. The photo gallery was to take a look at baseball from the vantage point of the first and third base lines—which dictate the fate of batted balls and give the game its unique geometry. "Quite often, plays down the line form the defining moments of a game," says Heinz Kluetmeier, SI's director of photography. "Even when there's no action there, the line constantly comes into play in the positioning of the players and umpires."
Shortly after Opening Day last year, deputy picture editor Steve Fine began dispatching photographers to nooks and crannies in big league parks. The shooting, done from unconventional positions, presented challenges, including stubborn ushers, narrow aisles and sardine-can-like seating. "One time in Yankee Stadium I had to squeeze myself and a camera with a 600-mm lens into a row filled with people to get a shot," says Chuck Solomon, a photographer who worked on the project. "It's a good thing we were shooting straight down the lines because I wouldn't have been able to swing that thing without hitting the guy next to me. Even so, I think I bought beer for everybody in the section."
Fine and Maureen Grise, our baseball picture editor, pored over the results each week for shots evocative of the beauty and symmetry of the game. "We're always seeking new angles," says Fine, who conceived the project while looking straight down the third base line at Busch Stadium in St. Louis during the 1987 World Series. "People often talk about baseball in terms of the game between the lines. Well, why not look at it down those lines?"
Fine and Grise weeded through 30,000 pictures shot in 18 parks by 18 photographers. The top 50 or so photos were submitted for final approval. Whittling down the collection wasn't easy, even with the extra time the strike afforded. "We had enough material for a book," says Grise. "Fortunately, many of the shots that weren't used in the pictorial have found their way into other stories."
As the strike dragged through the winter, our photo editors were as antsy as batters in the on-deck circle. They fretted that a prolonged labor dispute would force the cancellation of this year's baseball preview issue and the accompanying photo act. That worry now behind them, they're pleased that readers will finally get to see—beginning on page 74—our angle on the game.