- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

I’m a Brooklynite only by association: My mother and mother-in-law grew up in the Borough of Churches, and my daughter lives there now. Nonetheless, the words “Brooklyn Dodgers” still carry a special meaning for me although I never saw the hallowed halls and walls of Ebbets Field.

For anyone who did so, or rooted for the beloved Bums from a distance, a neat gift has arrived in the 50th anniversary year of the club’s last season. It’s called “Through a Blue Lens: The Brooklyn Dodgers Photographs of Barney Stein, 1937-57” ($27.95, Triumph Books, 162 pages), and chances are it will produce many a tear from many a senior citizen who swore allegiance to the so-called Boys of Summer.

Stein was a short, sweet man who left his job as a general photographer for the New York Post every afternoon in season and grabbed a subway to Ebbets Field. He became the Dodgers’ official photographer after meeting Dearie Mulvey, the daughter of a club executive, and every fan benefited from the association.

Barney also shot pictures at Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, spring training camp in Vero Beach, Fla., and other venues, but the little ballpark in downtown Flatbush was his home as much as that of the players.

His evocative photos were lovingly assembled by co-authors Dennis D’Agostino, a sports publicist and historian, and Bonnie Stein Crosby, Barney’s daughter. Before the project began, however, D’Agostino had doubts that it was worthwhile.

“No team in American sports history has been more written about, analyzed, documented, celebrated, mourned or eulogized,” D’Agostino writes in his preface. “So it wasn’t much of a stretch to think that every possible facet of the Dodgers’ history in Brooklyn had been unearthed, hashed over and re-hashed over. … After 50 years, how many different ways are there to describe Sandy Amoros’ catch in [Game 7 of the 1955 World Series]? Is there anyone left who hasn’t talked about walking down the street in Flatbush and hearing [broadcaster] Red Barber’s voice coming out of every window?”

Then D’Agostino got a peek at Stein’s photographs, many never before published, and changed his mind. The coffee-table book also has surviving members of the Dodgers’ family (Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, Johnny Podres, Ralph Branca and broadcaster Vin Scully, et al) adding comments on many of the pictures.

Though the Dodgers won six pennants in 10 years during their golden era (1947-56), the club often seemed accursed. The Bums lost their first five World Series encounters with the hated New York Yankees as frustrated fans wailed “Wait ‘til next year” before breaking through behind Podres’ seventh-game shutout in 1955. (And when the Yankees beat them once more with the help of Don Larsen’s perfect game in ‘56, the perfect headline was, “Wait ‘til last year.”)

Actually, the Dodgers would have won eight pennants in 10 years if not for final-inning home runs by Dick Sisler of the Phillies in 1950 and Bobby Thomson of the Giants in the 1951 pennant playoff. The latter swat easily qualifies as the most dramatic dinger in baseball history. Stein was the only photographer allowed inside the Dodgers’ funereal clubhouse at the Polo Grounds, and his best-known photo resulted: A shot of losing pitcher Ralph Branca lying facedown with head in hands on the clubhouse steps while coach Cookie Lavagetto scratches his head alongside in disbelief.

Most of the old Dodgers are gone now. Some died much too young (Amoros, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Jim Gilliam, Billy Cox.). Another, stalwart catcher Roy Campanella, lived his final decades in a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a 1958 auto accident. But Stein’s pictures show them hale and hearty, as they remain in memory.

Some of the photos are funny, such as the one of manager Leo Durocher scowling as he pokes a finger into Robinson’s prominent belly in spring training 1948 after the previous season’s Rookie of the Year had attended too many offseason banquets and gorged on too many rubber chickens.

Robinson, who silently endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fatheads while breaking baseball’s unwritten color barrier, was close friends with Stein. The co-authors devote an entire chapter to Jackie. We see him on the Montreal Royals’ bench before the Dodgers called him up in the spring of 1947; with unintentional irony, the photo shows him wearing a white Royals home uniform while all of his teammates are in road grays. Why? Who knows?

Little remembered is that Robinson conducted his own radio interview show over Gotham’s WNBC-AM, and his guest list was varied to say the least. It’s no surprise that Jackie interviewed Ralph Kiner, then a premier slugger for the Pirates, but King Faisal II of Iraq also turned up behind the mike.

Another highlight is a photo of George H. Ruth as a short-lived Dodgers coach in 1938, three years after the Babe retired as a player. When arch-enemy Durocher became manager in 1939, Ruth was going, going, gone. Never again, in the nine remaining years of his life did he work for a major league team.

Many celebrities invaded Ebbets Field over the years, and Stein snapped all of them. The most incongruous photo does not even involve the Dodgers; it shows Marilyn Monroe, of all people, kicking out the first ball at a soccer game. Also captured for the ages are Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Jane Wyatt, Laraine Day (Durocher’s wife), plus politicians Thomas E. Dewey and Averell Harriman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Stein was there for the Dodgers’ last game in Brooklyn in 1957 and for the razing of Ebbets Field three years later, and his pictures capture the haunting melancholy of both occasions. Barney, a New Yorker to the hilt, did not accompany the team to Los Angeles. He took thousands of other pictures around the city until his death in 1994, but it might not be too corny to say he left his heart, if not his cameras, in Brooklyn and at Ebbets Field.

He also left a marvelous photographic record of baseball’s best era and one of its best teams.

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