Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates signing autographs in 1957. (Peter Wagner, Peter Wagner )
Homer Osterhoudt was born and raised in Cooperstown, N.Y., site of the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1939. Every summer, when the immortals of the diamond visited for the annual induction ceremony, the longtime mail carrier was waiting on Main Street, camera at the ready.
His photographs capture shards of hardball splendor: a dapper Babe Ruth giving his induction speech, Dizzy Dean warming up on the sidelines. "You read about these big-time players in the newspapers," Osterhoudt said, "and here I am taking photographs of them. It was a thrill because you could get so close."
Now 94, Osterhoudt and his black-and-white images have achieved their own form of immortality in "Baseball Fantography: A Celebration in Snapshots and Stories from the Fans" (Abrams Image), a new book that features vernacular photography from the bleachers.
FOR THE RECORD:
In an earlier version of this story, Topps baseball-card photographer Doug McWilliams' first name was incorrectly given as Todd.
"Fantography" was conceived and curated by Andy Strasberg, who worked in the San Diego Padres front office for more than 20 years and co-wrote "Baseball's Greatest Hit," about the song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Strasberg was also a consultant on the HBO film "61*."
Several years ago, he came across a photo of himself with his boyhood idol, home run king Roger Maris, awkwardly posing together in Yankee Stadium when Strasberg was a teenager. How many of these "Roger & Me" moments, he wondered, were buried in fans' scrapbooks and shoeboxes?
Strasberg set up a website (fantography.com) and got the word out through his baseball contacts. No game-action pictures or work from professional photographers was allowed. He was "surprised and delighted" to receive about 7,500 amateur photos, spanning nearly 100 years. He winnowed that to 300-plus pictures for the book and added several essays (including one by longtime Topps baseball-card photographer Doug McWilliams).
"Fantography" features familiar faces, but with a home-movie patina: Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson in the dugout during spring training; a clean-shaven Roberto Clemente signing autographs; Nolan Ryan pitching for the Angels.
Oftentimes, it's the background that resonates: advertising signage ("Gem Blades") and architectural details of stadiums that no longer exist. "The variety is overwhelming," Strasberg said. "If a picture is out of focus, but it's personal and poignant, it works."
Several photographs taken by Tom Larwin, a San Diego-based transportation engineer, made the cut. "They come from different times in my life," he said, "from when I was a boy going to games with my father to when I was a father of two young children. At the center is baseball."
Strasberg, still soliciting snapshots, envisions that "Fantography" will be the first in a series. Future editions will surely embrace images from the ubiquitous cellphone-cum-camera. "It's not about the technology," Strasberg said. "It's all about the fans and the stories their pictures tell."