01/08/2004 12:29 PM ET
Fans choose best photo of 2003
Sosa's shattered helmet tops fan voting
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Complete voting results and images
Mike Longo is used to being in the middle of emergency situations. He has been a firefighter and medic around Pittsburgh for the last 25 years, and he is entering his second term and sixth year as a local constable there.
|Sammy Sosa's helmet was shattered by a Salomon Torres fastball on April 20, 2003. (Mike Longo/AP)
His primary avocation is sports photography, though, and last Easter Sunday, he found himself in the middle of a different kind of danger. That day he trained his camera on Sammy Sosa at the plate at PNC Park and snapped the shocking, helmet-shattering image that visitors to MLB.com have voted as the 2003 Photo of the Year.
When told that his photo had been the fans' clear favorite among 10 nominees for our latest This Year In Baseball award, Longo's reaction was exactly what you might expect from someone who watches sports for a living and saves lives on the side: very thankful to the voters, and very thankful that Sosa was OK.
"I thank God that nothing seriously happened to him, and my feeling about this award is just incredible," said Longo, 43. "There's no other way to describe it. I've gotten so many comments about it. I knew I had the shot of him getting hit. But until I put the card in the laptop, I did not know it was to that degree. I did not know the helmet shattered. I knew the ball was in the frame, because the ensuing frame showed he was down. I immediately gave it to the computer to post, and once I saw it on the screen, I was amazed."
Sosa had hit his 504th career home run, tying Eddie Murray for No. 17 on the all-time list in the first off of Josh Fogg, who was replaced by Salomon Torres by the time fellow Sosa came up again in the third. The Pirates' right-hander, who calls fellow Dominican Sosa his "idol," sent helmet pieces flying with a fastball. "The helmet saved me," said Sosa after the scariest moment of his career. "Yeah, I've never gotten hit like that before."
It was a moment saved for posterity and splashed across newspapers and magazines everywhere, and only because of a judgment call that Longo made that day, as the Associated Press photographer sat on his stool in the high side of the first-base photo pit at PNC, at the end of the Cubs' dugout.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Longo. "It was incredible because it was his second at-bat of the game. The first at-bat he had tied a player with number 504. So when he made his second trip to the plate, there was a runner on first, and [the other photographers were] set up for the double play. I said to myself, 'No, if he hits another, it's back-to-back homers, it's 505 and he moves up the ladder another step.' So I said, 'I'm going to stay with him no matter what.'
"Plus, Sammy is really animated. You get some great facial expressions from him as well. That's the main reason I stuck with him on that second at-bat on Easter Sunday--not wishing he would get hit in the head, but that he would hit a home run. I was lucky enough to have the lens and camera pointed in the right place at the right time."
The Sosa photo won with 30 percent of the voting, which concluded on Wednesday night. In second place, with 16 percent, was Gene J. Puskar's photo of five Red Sox team members posed in the dugout wearing 1903 vintage Sox uniforms.
In third place was "National Pride in San Diego" -- Donald Miralle's photo of U.S. Marines singing in the stands before a Padres-Twins game on June 8.
Fans also were allowed to discuss their preferences on a related message board, and this post, by MLB.com user "video34," probably best captured the sentiment among voters:
"My first reaction to these photos is that every photo here would be challenging to capture, and all are very well done. From there, I used the criterion of most challenging to capture, and eventually came up with Sammy Sosa's helmet being shattered by the pitch. It happens in less than an instant, and a shattered helmet is truly a rare occasion. The shot is well-composed in spite of being unexpected."
It was an unexpected moment for Sosa, and for Longo. And it was worth the wait for the photographer, in more ways than one.
"Everybody was holding Easter dinner until I came home from work that afternoon," he said. "Usually, the family gets together at noon. I said, 'You know I gotta work, it's the Cubs, I have to be there.' They said, 'We'll just wait till you get home.'"
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.