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Little Man with Big Camera
Jeff Pearlman
October 06, 1997
Izzy Kaplan took pictures in an era when buffoonery was practiced as an art
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October 06, 1997

Little Man With Big Camera

Izzy Kaplan took pictures in an era when buffoonery was practiced as an art

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In his time Kaplan "was often cheered more lustily than the athletes when he made his appearance in Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium," his New York Times obituary said. His trademark salute, "Hrrayah, kid," reflected more than just an immigrant's poor speech. Kaplan was a symbol of the newspapers' golden age: a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking photographer who wouldn't just shoot the athletes but would also form a bond with them. He wasn't big—no more than 5'7"—and baseball players loved to imitate both the ducklike way he strolled onto the field and the jagged edges of his words. ("Vot's all aboud it, annahull?" Kaplan would ask.)

On the same spring training trip to New Orleans during which he was tricked into photographing the Klan, Kaplan was convinced (actually, ordered) by some of the Yankees to try on the uniform of James (Truck) Hannah, a man whose hugeness befit his moniker. For an hour the Yanks hammered fly balls to Izzy, who tripped over his three-sizes-too-large outfit every step of the way.

Most of all, however, those who knew Kaplan told stories. To understand Izzy is to understand that he didn't quite get things. Kaplan went on assorted snipe hunts with sportswriters, always winding up holding an empty bag in the empty woods. At a hotel once he appeared for a phantom banquet supposedly arranged by other photographers in his honor, then returned to his room and slipped into bed, where he found a snake and a baby alligator.

Then there were the ghosts. In another Izzy tale recounted in the same Collier's article, Kaplan, while on a trip to Georgia, bolted from his dark hotel room screaming, "Halp! Halp!" In the lobby he told the night clerk, "It's full from ghosts, mine room!" Together they returned to the room, where—with the light flicked on—they found the floor, bed and bathtub full of white ducks.

A bit suspicious, Kaplan returned to the lobby, where he encountered Damon Run-yon, the famed sports scribe. "Were the windows open?" Runyon asked.

"Yas!" Izzy said.

"Well, a flock of wild ducks probably flew in."

Kaplan looked at Runyon, his eyes piercingly mad. "Oh, yeah?" he replied. "Well, mabbe de docks is toining on de water in de bathtub, too, ain't it?"

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