When photographer James Drake set out to shoot the photo essay that begins on page 38, he had something special in mind. Instead of conventional baseball photographs depicting players hitting, pitching and running bases, Drake was after a subtler means of expressing the pressures and frustrations affecting first-place Boston and the AL East teams that were chasing the Red Sox. Through the course of a hectic August, managers and veterans—those who perhaps know tension best—would receive special attention from Drake's long lens.
And extra special are photographs like that of 47-year-old Cleveland pitcher Phil Niekro, whose walk to the dugout seemed, says Drake, "so expressive of the old-timer, yanked out, disappointed, bent and fatigued." Or that of 33-year-old Red Sox leftfielder Jim Rice, barely out at second. "He got up so slowly and painfully, it must have taken him over a minute," Drake says. The portrait of retiring Baltimore manager Earl Weaver, alone before a game in Cleveland as his Orioles began to fade, is a Drake favorite. So is the shot of Indians skipper Pat Corrales tipping his hat to Sox manager John McNamara after winning a game from Boston.
Drake tipped his lens cap particularly to the stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit and Baltimore. It seemed appropriate to him to be concentrating on some of baseball's more experienced men within the warm, rambling confines of some of its older stadiums. These were also Drake's favorite vantage points, because, among all the major league parks, only in those three stadiums can a photographer walk about the field as inspiration leads him, rather than being restricted to a pit beside the dugout. Drake shot every one of 105 rolls of slide film in the natural light of hot summer afternoons. The daylight and the freedom to roam afforded him the opportunity to take the close-up of a frustrated 30-year-old Oriole first baseman Eddie Murray preparing to hit and a picture of an intent Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, perhaps recalling the Tigers' halcyon days of 1984.
It also gave Drake the less agreeable chance to lug his 50 pounds of equipment everywhere he went for nine innings. Says Drake, "By the end of the game I could barely crouch with all that stuff. It was a physical endurance test."
September 21, 1986
Drake took his first photograph for us way back in 1960. Among the soft-spoken photographer's many accomplishments are a Page One Award, and he has about 80 SI covers, including such landmark shots as the one of new New York Jet Joe Namath in Times Square—he was known as Broadway Joe after that—and a toothless Leon Spinks grinning ecstatically after defeating Muhammad Ali. And yes, Drake has photographed conventional baseball scenes also, such as Doug DeCinces sliding in the 1979 World Series. DeCinces was safe, and Drake's slide was perfect, as usual.