PHOTOGRAPHY OCTOBER 31, 2013
A couple of hours after the Boston Red Sox, who finished last in their division in 2012, beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series on Wednesday night, BuzzFeed's sports verticle predictably posted a photo listicle titled "Boston’s World Series Run In 43 Photographs." I found it incredibly boring—and that's coming from someone who grew up in Massachusetts. The fault is not necessarily BuzzFeed's; if that website's viral geniuses can't make a bunch of newspaper and image-wire baseball photos seem compelling, then probably no one can.
You might think the problem lies with baseball itself, that the sport doesn't lend itself to action photos as readily as football or basketball or even soccer. But the opposite is true—you just need to know what to look for.
Yes, baseball lacks the contact of football, the flash of basketball, and perhaps some of the grace of soccer. And photos of the sport, including those in BuzzFeed's listicle, usually fall into one of just four categories: batters swinging bats, fielders fielding balls, pitchers throwing pitches, and runners running around (or sliding into) bases. (There's a fifth category for when a team wins a big game: the player mob.) After a while, the photos all start to look the same.
There are exceptions. No doubt the most unforgettable image from these playoffs—that is, the one most likely to live on—is the viral "bullpen cop" photo from the Sox' series against Detroit. Other notables can be found in The New York Times's gallery of the series, including this funny one of Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina staring at the ball that each of them had thought the other would catch.
But the greatest photo of these playoffs was taken last night. It is not the dull, conventional one that all the newspapers splashed on their front pages, of Sox closer Koji Uehara jumping into the arms of catcher David Ross. We've seen that photo so many times before. No, this one comes from the third inning, when Sox outfielder Shane Victorino doubled with the bases loaded, driving in the first three runs of the game—the third being Johnny Gomes, who barely evaded the catcher's tag while the two baserunners ahead of him, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, and on-deck hitter Xander Bogaerts peered in.
The Times chose a different angle from a moment seconds later, but this photo—which, to BuzzFeed's credit, was in their listicle—is so perfect as to appear choreographed. Ortiz, Ellsbury, and Bogaerts are evenly aligned, each player crouching slightly more than the one in front of him. The umpire's position is textbook: as close to the play as possible without interfering, and in just the right spot to get the best look at the tag. Gomes's slide is equally textbook: one leg extended, the other tucked; one arm bracing his fall, the other raised to avoid the tag. The catcher is this close to tagging him. And the bat that led these players here lies on the edge of the grass, the only object not in motion.
The scene is utterly familiar, to be sure, but it's rare to see baseball's most exciting play captured with such perfection, which is why this photo's a classic. With the exception of a few details—the catcher's equipment, the batting gloves and elbow pads—it could just as well have been taken in 1918, the last time the Sox won a World Series in Fenway Park. All it needs is one tweak: