BOOK BEAT 52 – Bonnie Crosby

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   August 15-21, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Few teams have had the love of their local fans and of the American public to the degree achieved by the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose mix of failure, success, and colorful characters made them synonymous with baseball for several decades. Some say they were the first “America’s Team.” For many, the Dodgers were family, and this loving tribute to the team and to Barney Stein’s memorializing photographs has the flavor of a family album.

“Through a Blue Lens,” by Dennis D’Agostino and Neapolitan Bonnie Crosby, does justice to a brilliant photographer and a tantalizing sports epoch.

The nearly 200 photographs are a selection of those taken by Stein from 1937-1957, the twenty-one years that he served as the official Dodgers photographer. For Stein, this was his afternoon job, following hours he would put in as a news photographer for the New York Post.  

Many of the photos in this collection had not been seen in fifty years; others, including those of the final Dodgers game at Ebbets Field, had never before been published. Crosby, who discovered the treasure trove of her father’s seemingly lost photographs several years ago, spent two years cataloging them and digitizing them. She was tracked down by sports historian D’Agostino, who some twenty years before the collaboration had found a beat-up paperback called “The Rhubarb Patch” that included yellowing pages of Barney Stein’s photographs. His initial search to find Barney’s daughter did not pan out, but when she created a website to document her father’s work, D’Agostino was able to get in touch with her and propose the project of bringing Stein’s Dodger photographs to a new audience. When Crosby found out that D’Agostino was originally from Brooklyn, the deal was sealed.

The “family album” flavor of the book is enhanced by the reminiscences of several Dodger greats. These include Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca, Clem Labine, and Johnny Podres.  There are also comments by (and photos of) the master announcer Vin Scully, Mrs. Gil Hodges, and Dodgers’ executive Buzzie Bavasi. Because she was prescient enough to interview her father shortly before his death in 1993, Bonnie Crosby also brings us her father’s own words.

The selection includes not only memorable action photos of games and great locker room moments, but also spring training (at Vero Beach), social events, groupings of players’ wives and executives, photos of the players at home, and many celebrity shots. Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, General Douglas MacArthur, Nat King Cole, President Dwight Eisenhower, Red Skelton, and Marilyn Monroe are among those found in or around Ebbets Field and caught in Barney Stein’s viewfinder.

There is a special chapter on the legendary Jackie Robinson, another on the championship season of 1955, and finally one on the demolition of Ebbets Field that marked the end of Brooklyn Dodger history.

Included the book is Stein’s most famous photo, one of the most famous in sports history. It won the first prize in the New York Press Photographers’ Sports Class and the prestigious Izzy Kaplan Memorial Trophy. This is, of course, the shot of Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca, sobbing on the clubhouse steps of the Polo Grounds in 1951. Branca had served up the immortal three-run game-winning homer to New York Giants’ outfielder Bobby Thomson in the ninth inning of the third and final game of the National League playoffs.

For this reader, whose only visit to Ebbets Field occurred around 1950 for a game in which the great Stan Musial was swinging his bat for the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, the collection not only captures the mystique of the Dodgers before their flight to Los Angeles, but it also opens a black and white window on urban America during this era. Here in abundance is the look of the times – the clothing styles, the haircuts, the billboards and advertising styles, and the broadcast booths. The collection provides a poignant review of a key component of American popular culture during a period that seems, from today’s perspective, refreshingly innocent. And, by the way, these are simply great photos.

at Yogi Berra Museum

Bonnie Crosby and her husband, Steve, have made Naples their home since 2004. Naples met two important criteria for the couple: it had the climate characteristics that Bonnie Crosby needed for her health, and it had the calendar of artistic and cultural events that they craved. “Through a Blue Lens,” published by sports specialist publisher Triumph Books, is widely available. A somewhat different representation of Barney Stein’s work, prepared by Crosby, is available on the website barneystein-photography.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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Filed under Authors and Books, Book Beat, Florida Authors

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