Assembling a quintet of baseball's most promising shortstops for a shoot at Miami Beach's Big Time Studio on Feb. 9, 1997, was a logistical triumph for former SI photo editor Maureen Cavanagh. After a day of taking individual portraits, Walter Iooss Jr. set up the session's crowning shot: all five shortstops together. Problem was, their jerseys created a discordant mix of blues—teal clashing with royal clashing with midnight. Iooss had an idea: What if we lost the shirts?
It was ALEX RODRIGUEZ—of course it was—who stripped down first. "He might have taken his pants off, if I'd asked him," says Iooss. Recalls Cavanagh, "The other guys were more apprehensive." Soon, after some cajoling from A-Rod, everyone was topless, and in five minutes Iooss had his shot.
The photograph remains a classic for an obvious reason: Where are these dudes' shirts? "None of them looks superhuman," says SI senior writer Tom Verducci, who attended the shoot and wrote the accompanying story (Feb. 24, 1997). "Just normal, good athletes, the way baseball players used to look." But there are other arresting details, such as ALEX GONZALEZ's so-'90s coif, EDGAR RENTERIA's relaxed lean, REY ORDO√ëEZ's smirk, DEREK JETER's Blue Steel and, of course, all those chains. "It's one of those time-capsule pictures," says Iooss. "The odds are you'll never see it done again."
As with many shots, subsequent events make it all the more intriguing. Gonzalez (then with the Blue Jays) and Ordo√±ez (Mets) lasted awhile in the majors but would never get much better than they were in early 1997. Renteria (then a Marlin) went on to make five All-Star Games and bang out more than 2,300 hits, two of which won World Series. But the presence of Jeter (Yankees) and Rodriguez (Mariners), front and center, is what makes the shot stick. At the time they were baseball's golden boys, 22 and 21, respectively, and the best of friends. Rodriguez even persuaded Jeter to push back his flight from Miami so they could play basketball after the shoot. As Jeter told Verducci, "I'm Alex's biggest fan. I brag on him so much that my teammates are sick of my talking about him."
The vibe between them changed by the time they became Yankees teammates seven years later. But here they are, young and bathed in a golden light, before the clouds of time rolled in. (And, really, where are their shirts?)