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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

January 16, 1994|Kenneth Turan

BASEBALL'S GOLDEN AGE: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon by Neal McCabe and Constance McCabe (Harry N. Abrams Inc.: $39.95; 198 pp;). Baseball has a concern for and connection with its history that other sports cannot manage, and these 205 images, extracted from a collection of 8,000 and newly printed from original negatives, bring that past to life with a dignity and gravity that is something to see. Taken by Charles M. Conlon, a newspaper proofreader whose hobby it was to photograph the players for Spalding baseball guides from 1904 to 1942, these pictures exude an immediacy and naturalness that makes us feel that we've actually met the legends who stare out at us. Though his shot of a baleful Ty Cobb sliding into third is considered one of the greatest of sports action photos, Conlon's forte was the portrait and through his lens we can glimpse the self-confidence of Lou Gehrig, the mythological strength of Honus Wagner, the gravity of a business-suited Connie Mack and the mad gleam of Rube Waddell, facing the world with a tiny glove and a smile. Co-author Neal McCabe, who wrote the excellent captions, may sound hyperbolic when he likens Conlon to the great French photographer Eugene Atget because "like Atget, he left us the definitive visual record of the place he loved," but turning the pages of this haunting book makes the comparison seem Conlon's due.

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