Friday, March 29, 2013

Baseball card stories from photographer Tom Priddy

Tom Priddy is Digital Products Manager for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S.C. and a veteran minor league baseball photographer whose images have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and on baseball cards. Check out his website and blog. He kindly shared with me some baseball card stories.

"My dad taught me about baseball when I was very young, and he took me to my first game in 1959 at Yankee Stadium. For years until I went to college we went to several games each year, at Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds and later Shea Stadium. I came along too late for Ebbets Field.

I collected cards in the late '50s and early '60s, and still have many of the most valuable ones in a safe deposit box. Kind of defeats the purpose of having cards not to be able to look at them, but I feel better this way. My best card is probably a '54 Bowman Mickey Mantle.

I grew up seeing faces on the cards. This was, of course, back when very few of the cards were actual action photos. That was fine with me. I couldn't really tell what the players looked like on TV, so seeing their faces was a big plus. It made me feel closer to the game. Most were posed, tight images. Not too surprisingly, my favorite cards today are those that clearly show faces.

Unlike those early card photos, almost none of my photos are posed. I think I may have asked a player to pose maybe twice, only on assignment. That's not my thing. It's a challenge to try to get a good, tight, head-and-shoulders candid shot, and I like a challenge. Although most cards today feature full-length action shots, my favorites are still the close-ups taken candidly before a game, mainly during warm-ups. Or tight shots of a player in action. My favorite time of day is the 20 minutes before a game, when players are warming up.

I think my favorite assignment was when a card company asked me to shoot pitcher Pat Venditte, from the Yankees' organization, who throws both left and right-handed - the only modern player to do so. They wanted photos of him throwing both ways on the same card. As a reliever, he might or might not come into a game on any given day, and even then usually late in the game when the light was lousy. (I rarely shoot after the sun goes down.)

So I planned to shoot him during long toss before a game. Of course, you also don't know for sure when a pitcher will be throwing, because they have very specific training schedules. But I was fortunate he was throwing the day I was there, and as a bonus he was wearing a game jersey. I was pretty lucky that day. The card turned out great.

My favorite story about a card was with Kelly Johnson when he was with the Braves' organization. I was proud of the card the team made of him from my photo in 2003 or 2004. But the next year when he saw me again he needled me: "They have me bunting," on the card, he complained. Every player really wants a card showing him hitting a monster home run. Oh, well. I liked it, anyway.

I like to say that every night when I was a kid I prayed to God bless mommy and daddy, and please put my picture on a baseball card someday. Well, I never made it to pro ball, but in a strange twist of fate a lot of my pictures are on cards these days. And as a photographer, I'll have a longer career than most players. I like the way things turned out."

Thanks! He also shared this cool image with a Topps card of Garin Cecchini next to the original picture.
In addition, he took the photo for this Bowman card of Andrelton Simmons that I happen to have in my collection.