Charles M. Conlon

Charles M. Conlon
The famous Charles M. Conlon photo: Ty Cobb stealing third, sliding into Jimmy Austin

Charles Martin Conlon (November, 1868 – 1945) was an American photographer. He worked for New York City newspapers in the early 1900s, as a proof-reader with a photographic hobby before editor John B. Foster invited him to shoot photographs for The Telegram daily newspaper sporting pages and for the Spalding's Base Ball Guide annual.

Charley Conlon took thousands of portraits of major league baseball players. His most famous photo is a fortunate action shot of Ty Cobb sliding into third base at Hilltop Park in 1909, upending the fielder, Jimmy Austin. Many of his photos of baseball's early stars are instantly recognizable, due to having been reprinted frequently over the years.

Conlon was born in Albany, New York in 1868. He grew up in neighboring Troy and retired there. He died in 1945, predeceased by his wife and having no children or siblings. (Amedio, E8) Charles Conlons' original glass plate negatives are owned by North Little Rock, Arkansas collector John Rogers. The collection of 8,400 different Conlon glass negatives are housed in the John Rogers Archive Rogers displayed the Conlon collection at The National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore, MD in July 2010.

The Cobb photo

One day in New York, in 1909, Conlon snapped an action photo of Cobb sliding into third base. For publication, the original photo was cropped on the right, taking away almost half of the image. That is the version everyone saw until Baseball's Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon was published in 1993. The excised portion is included and shows more of the right-side bleachers, as well as the left arm of the third base coach.

Conlon was actually on the field, a common practice of the day, "behind third base, under the hood of a large, tripod-supported Graflex camera" (Amedio, E1). He was positioned to the outfield side of the third base coach's box, in foul territory. Cobb was on second. New York third baseman Jimmy Austin was playing in for a possible sacrifice bunt. Cobb took off for third, directly toward Conlon, but the batter did not get the bunt down. Austin backpedaled to take the throw from the catcher. Cobb tripped Austin over and the catcher's throw sailed into left field. Presumably Cobb could have gotten up and scored, but the book does not elaborate.(McCabe 2003)

Instead, the issue was whether Conlon got the shot or not. He changed plates, just to be safe, because he did not remember if he had squeezed the shutter bulb or not, and he knew it had potential to be a great shot. It turned out that he had, it was, and baseball had one of its most iconic images.


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