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Cooperstown memories on film roll
02/19/2008 2:09 PM ET
Talk about the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

That's how Terry Heffernan said he felt when he was given full access to photograph the artifacts held by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the new book, 100 Baseball Icons, which will be released Feb. 28 by Ten Speed Press.

"I am a huge baseball fan, so this was a dream project for me," says Heffernan, an award-winning photographer based in San Francisco and a Giants season-ticket holder. "The game is something I've loved since I grew up in Cleveland in the days when you could almost sit on the bench because nobody went to the games.

"I'd just as soon watch a Little League game. It is the perfect game. It's psychoanalysis without having to pay the money. Living in a city, you can escape from this concrete-and-steel environment and get away to a massive sea of green right in the heart of it all. It lowers your blood pressure for 2 or 3 hours. You just drink it up in every way, shape and form."

And when you're given the keys to the place where the game's greatest relics are stored, well, you make the most of that, too. That's what Heffernan's plan was as soon as he was trusted enough by the Hall brass to point his lens in any direction he wanted it to go for the book, conceptualized by graphic designer Kit Hinrichs and written by Delphine Hirasuna.

Some of the highlights in the book include Hank Aaron's bat, pre-World War I pennants, a pendant of the Baltimore baseball club of 1894, a Federal League scorecard circa 1914-1915, a commemorative No. 21 patch that teammates wore to remember Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays' shoes, a huge collection of original bobblehead dolls, Polo Ground memorabilia, American Tobacco Company "T206" cards from 1909-1911, "King" Carl Hubbell's crown, World Series press pins, a 1913 Ty Cobb hand-held "fan for a fan," the car and locker keys of the original "luckiest man on the face of the earth," Lou Gehrig, and much more.

Heffernan says he didn't have a specific plan in mind for how to whittle down everything in the Hall of Fame to the 100 "best" iconic items to take pictures of. It just sort of happened, and the result is a beautiful collection of Heffernan's imagery, Hirasuna's compelling descriptions and Hinrich's clean, modern layout.

The trio had worked together on a coffee-table book called "Long May She Wave" that pictured Hinrich's extensive American flag collection. The book flew off shelves after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hinrichs donated the profits to Sept. 11 charities. But a bond was forged between the three artists, who kept in contact, waiting for the next project.

In fact, one of the assemblages from this work, called "Baseball Flag," was used by ESPN and is offered as a poster by the Hall of Fame.

And now 100 Baseball Icons is here, and Heffernan says he couldn't be happier with the result, especially because of the transformative emotional and nostalgic power these images possess.

"I have to get my hands on things that already have historical significance," Heffernan says, "because they travel with their own emotion. If you can look at something that has been handled by Abe Lincoln, there is something about it that makes it very special. Those are the things that become even easier to photograph.

"When mankind says, 'Hey, look, keep this in a museum, keep it under glass, let people be in awe of it,' that's when the opportunities for a still-life photographer are awesome, because I'm only as good as what's in front of me. Not to say that I can't take frozen chiles and make them look great, but make a living looking at ordinary things and trying to make them extraordinary, that's when you already have something truly special."

That feeling struck Heffernan like a Louisville Slugger to the gut at times during his Hall of Fame tour, he recalls. In fact, some of his most memorable moments during the shooting of the book's images came when he was trolling around Hall registrar Peter Clark's office, not necessarily expecting to find anything of note.

"On top of an old metal file cabinet, at eye height of me, I could see shoes sitting up, beautiful patina shoes," Heffernan says. "I asked Peter, 'Whose shoes are those?' He pointed to a little vanilla tag that read, 'Shoeless Joe Jackson.'

"There was still dirt in the cleats, and that blew me away. I still get goose bumps thinking about it."

And then Heffernan came across a few other things in a non-descript storage area: a leather garment bag that belonged to Cobb and one of Clemente's game caps that "still had a bit of dirt where his thumb print was."

Items like these and the stories they conjure in baseball fans' minds, Heffernan says, will give owners of the book the next-best thing to a trip to the Hall itself.

"There are a lot of people that can never get to Cooperstown," he says. "If they can get their hands on this book, they can at least feel like they got a sense of what's there."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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