To other photographers, especially those jaundiced old warriors from the newspaper ranks, it was as if he were a Martian. Who was he? Where did he come from? And: How did he do it? Neil Leifer had finagled photo assignments from SI when he was only a 17-year-old delivery boy, and by the early 1960s, barely into his 20s, he had become the magazine's most prolific shooter. Short, redheaded and young for his age in every way except when he pointed a camera, he looked like somebody who hung out with Archie and Jughead in the funny books. But he was indefatigable and creative, absolutely the real deal. In 1978 he went to work for Time magazine, but when he turned 62 last December, Leifer asked if he could come back and troop the colors one more time for SI. So off he headed to try to show with his camera what was new in our games and athletes and sporting culture.
The World Series
LOS ANGELES, HOUSTON
In 1963 Leifer caught the usually phlegmatic Sandy Koufax celebrating at the moment the Dodgers completed their sweep of the Yankees (left) in Los Angeles. At the fourth game of this year's Series, in Houston, Leifer positioned himself in hopes of getting the same sort of shot should there be another sweep, and sure enough, Bobby Jenks of the White Sox cooperated (opposite). Notwithstanding free agency, multimillion-dollar salaries, playoffs, drug suspensions and the end of daytime World Series games, baseball can retain its lovely rhymes and joyous rhythms.
Following tradition, President John F. Kennedy (with Vice President Lyndon Johnson) threw the first pitch on Opening Day in Washington in 1961. Last April, when baseball returned to the capital after 34 years, George W. Bush--a former team owner who once aspired to be baseball commissioner--did the honors, and chatted with Nationals manager Frank Robinson.
FORT LAUDERDALE, TAMPA
Before SI there was Sport magazine, a monthly known in part for the work of Ozzie Sweet, whose classic posed photographs are as timeless as ever. "Ozzie re-created double plays-- Jackie Robinson jumping over the sliding runner--always lit perfectly," Leifer says. So this spring training he decided to shoot Sweet shooting the Yankees, just as Leifer caught a newsreel photographer capturing Joe DiMaggio in 1967 (left). "All the Yankees loved Ozzie," says Leifer, who photographed Sweet photographing shortstop Derek Jeter and manager Joe Torre (above). They still do.