Friday, April 6, 2012

LIFE's Best Baseball Pictures

LIFE magazine’s coverage of the American pastime — while always steeped in a genuine appreciation for the nuances, intricacies and thrills of the game — was often as much personality-driven as performance-driven.

After umpire William Grieve issues a walk to a Washington pinch-hitter, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy and catcher Birdie Tebbetts express their doubts about Grieve's judgment, 1949.

University of Pittsburgh students cheer wildly from atop the Cathedral of Learning as they look down on Forbes Field, where the Pittsburgh Pirates are playing the Yankees in the 7th game of a Series that would enter baseball lore when Bill Mazeroski smacked a 9th-inning, game-winning home run. It was Pittsburgh's first championship in 35 years.

Yankee pitcher Don Larsen talks to the press after throwing a perfect game — still the only perfect game in postseason history — against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Larsen, 27, was named the Series MVP.

Brooklyn Dodger rookie hopefuls work out at spring training, 1948.

Jackie Robinson, the great disruptor, dances off of third in the 8th inning of Game 3 of the 1955 World Series.

Roy Campanella (left) talks with a young, awed fan during spring training in 1959 — the year after the great Hall of Fame catcher was paralyzed in a car crash, and after the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Behind the kid, in glasses, is Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, who engineered the move West —earning him the eternal enmity of Brooklynites.

Red Sox star Ted Williams, all of 22 years old, demonstrates his batting technique in 1941 — the year The Kid hit .406 with 37 home runs, 120 RBIs and 135 runs scored. NOTE: As all baseball fans know, despite those mind-boggling numbers, Williams was not the league MVP in '41. That honor went to Joe DiMaggio and his 56-game hitting streak.

In one of the most poignant pictures ever made of a great athlete in decline, 33-year-old Mickey Mantle — his electrifying talents blunted by injuries, age and years of alcohol abuse — tosses his helmet away in disgust after a weak at-bat at Yankee Stadium, June 1965.

Hall of Famer, linchpin of the Big Red Machine and the man ESPN once pegged as the greatest catcher in history, Johnny Bench displays the intensity that made him such a force on the diamond, Cincinnati, 1970.

Milwaukee Braves fans listen to a game against the Dodgers in 1956. The Dodgers ended the season one game ahead of Milwaukee in the National League, then lost in seven to the Yankees in the '56 Series.

Leroy "Satchel" Paige watches his Cleveland teammates practice in 1948.

Dodger southpaw and 1955 World Series MVP Johnny Podres reads about his own and his teammates' exploits while visiting a store in his hometown of Witherbee, New York — a small mining town in the Adirondacks, a few hundred miles north of Brooklyn.

A rapt audience in a Chicago bar watches the 1952 Subway Series between the Yankees and Dodgers in 1952. New York won in seven games.

Willie Mays, arguably the greatest all-around ballplayer in major league history, poses for LIFE's Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1954, the year the Giants won the World Series — the Series against the Indians in which Mays made his legendary, running, back-to-home-plate catch of a long Vic Wertz drive in the far reaches of the Polo Grounds.

Yogi Berra takes issue with the umpire's "safe" call after Jackie Robinson's electrifying steal of home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. Note that, six decades after it was taken, this picture reminds us of what an intense competitor Berra, like Robinson, really was. Today, he's often regarded a cuddly old ambassador for baseball. But back then, when the game was on the line, Yogi Berra was a bad, bad man.

Ailing baseball great Babe Ruth thanks the crowd at Yankee Stadium for their ovation on "Babe Ruth Day," April 27, 1947.

Jackie Robinson during filming of The Jackie Robinson Story (in which he starred), 1950.

Little Leaguers in Manchester, N.H., dress in a schoolroom before their first game of the 1954 season, as their formidable leader, Dick Williams, demands to know where the rest of the uniforms are. (They went on to win the opener in the last inning.)

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