Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unknown Treasure: Another View of Babe Ruth's Farewell

Tonight is the opening game of the 2010 World Series, and in honor of that I thought we would take a look at what many people consider to be the greatest baseball picture ever taken,  Nat Fein's photo of Babe Ruth biding farewell to fans at Yankee Studium. the house that he built.

"Babe Bows Out," by Nat Fein
Ruth, 53 and mortally ill with cancer—he would be dead two months later—put on his pinstripes for the ceremony that day, June 13, 1948. Fein, a photographer working for the New York Herald Tribune, was kneeling on the third-base side of home plate when he shot the black-and-white image. Somebody somewhere gave it a title, "Babe Bows Out." (If anyone has info on who wrote that, let me know!) The following year Fein's shot became the first sports photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Back in 2002, when I was editing a photography magazine, I got a call from my friend Neil Leifer, who besides being one of the great sports photographers of his time is also an avid student of sport photography history. He let me know that there was another great shot of Ruth's farewell taken that day—a shot that no one had ever seen. Was I interested? Oh, yeah. The picture was taken by Ralph Morse, one of Life magazine's cadre of renowned photographers. You can actually see Morse in Fein's photograph—he's kneeling along the first-base line, the second photographer from the right. His position meant that his picture would feature something that Fein's did not: the Babe's face. And one other thing: Morse was shooting color. And here's what he got:

Babe's Farewell by Ralph Morris
Leifer discovered Morse's photo while researching a documentary on sports photography he was co-producing for HBO. "I teased him about being in Fein's great picture," Leifer told me, "and Ralph said, 'Wait a minute, you should see my shots. They're not bad!" In fact, Morse said he preferred his own shot to Fein's because "I didn't get a bunch of the press in my shot." There is also the gaunt, joyless face—we can see in Morse's photo just how sick Ruth was.

Which shot do you like better, Fein's or Morris's?

So why didn't Life run the Morris shot? Probably because the photographer was shooting Ekachrome with his Rolleiflex camera. In 1948 color printing was very expensive and even big magazines like Life used it sparingly. It wasn't published until Sports Illustrated picked it up for an anthology some years later. Then it was forgotten again. Today you can find a series of Morse's pictures from that day at, but not this shot. (At least I couldn't find it.)

For you National League fans, I should point out that Morse took another great picture that did indeed go on to become famous—the picture of Jackie Robinson stealing home against the Yankees in the 1955 World Series.

Jackie Robinson steals home, 1955 World Series, by Ralph Morse
Good luck tonight to the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants. Especially the Giants.

1 comment:

  1. The Nat Fien's photo of Babe Ruth appeared in a 12/31/99 centerfold of one of the NY newspapers. Does anyone know which one?