There is a scene in the movie The Natural in which the hero, Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, slides safely across home plate to the accompaniment of an explosion of flash bulbs. Like many of the background baseball scenes, the look is authentic. Photographers were indeed present on the playing field in those days (the scene takes place in 1939), and it is entirely probable that they would be waiting around home plate to record Hobbs's dramatic slide.
Today, in some older American League parks ( Cleveland, Detroit and Baltimore), you may still see photographers walking along the fence or dugout area, or shooting pictures from there. There is no such freedom in the National League, which in 1954 banned photographers from the field during games.
There were several reasons for the National League action.
One was that better cameras, with greater flexibility, were being manufactured, and with the improved enlarging and processing equipment, it was felt that photographers no longer needed to work from such close range. And then there was the Cincinnati incident.
During a game with St. Louis at Crosley Field in 1954, Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts engaged in a spirited argument with umpire Bill Stewart at second base on a ruling against the Reds.
The next day the exchange, expletives deleted, appeared in a Cincinnati newspaper. It was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed nationally.
"You're a lousy umpire," said Tebbetts. "You blew it in the World Series [a pickoff play in 1948 involving Boston's Phil Masi]; you blew it in the All-Star Game, and you blew it here. Why don't you quit?"
Ejecting Tebbetts, Stewart responded, "Get out of here. You blew a four-run lead and you're trying to blame it on someone else."
Tebbetts was mortified when his harsh assessment of Stewart's umpiring ability appeared in print. Stewart had been something of a mentor to Tebbetts in his minor league days, and their relationship had always been a good one. But Tebbetts was angry, too. In his view, what was said on the field was often hyperbole, spoken in the anger of the moment. He accused the umpire of reporting the exchange.
For his part, Stewart was furious with Tebbetts. He thought the Reds manager had confided in the press.