Salas images at home in Museum’s collection
In 1950, Cuban immigrant and future famed photojournalist, Osvaldo Salas, decided to take a risk and turn his fledgling photography hobby into a full-time business, opening a small studio on West 50th Street in New York City.
This decision led to a surprising career, first as a sports and celebrity photographer and, later, as a documentarian of the Cuban Revolution and one of Fidel Castro’s photographers.
The Golden Age of New York City baseball was lucky enough to borrow his eye for approximately eight years as Salas captured portrait shots of baseball players at Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium before, after, and in between innings.
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Salas’ lens captured an array of subjects, both on and off the field, ranging from humorous glimpses at future Hall of Famers, like Phil Rizzuto pretending to eat a pie; to capturing stars of the Brooklyn Dodgers, like Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, and Jackie Robinson, before the team moved to Los Angeles in 1957.
But the main focus of Salas’ work was photographing the influx of Latin American and black players who had joined the ranks of Major League Baseball after Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. It was also a time when American photojournalists began to shift their lenses to documenting racial inequality, social class division and violence. Salas’ portraits were not a commentary on these issues, but instead an inventory of the growing number of minority players in the 1950s.
One of the first Venezuelan baseball players and the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Luis Aparicio, is captured by Salas casually sitting on a traveling trunk in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. Aparicio, who made his Major League debut with the Chicago White Sox in 1956 and would take home the title of Rookie of the Year that same debut year, looks relaxed and comfortable, post-game dirt on his cleats and uniform, in a clubhouse that 10 years prior was not as welcoming.
Aparicio is only one example of the many minority players that are part of the 900 of Salas’ original baseball negatives taken between 1950 and 1958.
Kelli Bogan is the photo archivist and director of digital assets at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum