After umpire William Grieve issues a walk to a Washington pinch-hitter, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy and catcher Birdie Tebbetts express their doubts about Grieve's judgment, 1949.
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After umpire William Grieve issues a walk to a Washington pinch-hitter, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy and catcher Birdie Tebbetts express their doubts about Grieve's judgment, 1949.Michael Rougier—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
After umpire William Grieve issues a walk to a Washington pinch-hitter, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy and catcher Birdie Tebbetts express their doubts about Grieve's judgment, 1949.
University of Pittsburgh students cheer wildly from atop the Cathedral of Learning as they look down on Forbes Field, where the Pittsburgh Pirates are playing the Yankees in the 7th game of a Series that would enter baseball lore when Bill Mazeroski smacked a 9th-inning, game-winning home run.
Yankee pitcher Don Larsen talks to the press after throwing a perfect game — still the only perfect game in postseason history — against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.
Brooklyn Dodger rookie hopefuls work out at spring training, 1948.
Jackie Robinson, the great disruptor, dances off of third in the 8th inning of Game 3 of the 1955 World Series.
Roy Campanella (left) talks with a young, awed fan during spring training in 1959.
Red Sox star Ted Williams, all of 22 years old, demonstrates his batting technique in 1941.
In one of the most poignant pictures ever made of a great athlete in decline, 33-year-old Mickey Mantle — his electrifying talents blunted by injuries, age and years of alcohol abuse — tosses his helmet away in disgust after a weak at-bat at Yankee Stadium, June 1965.
Dodger southpaw and 1955 World Series MVP Johnny Podres reads about his own and his teammates' exploits while visiting a store in his hometown of Witherbee, New York — a small mining town in the Adirondacks, a few hundred miles north of Brooklyn.
Hall of Famer, linchpin of the Big Red Machine and the man ESPN once pegged as the greatest catcher in history, Johnny Bench displays the intensity that made him such a force on the diamond, Cincinnati, 1970.
Leroy "Satchel" Paige, ageless relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, watches his teammates practice in 1948.
A rapt audience in a Chicago bar watches the 1952 Subway Series between the Yankees and Dodgers in 1952.
Willie Mays, arguably the greatest all-around ballplayer in major league history, poses for LIFE's Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1954, the year the Giants won the World Series.
Yogi Berra takes issue with the umpire's "safe" call after Jackie Robinson's electrifying steal of home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series.
Ailing baseball great Babe Ruth thanks the crowd at Yankee Stadium for their ovation on "Babe Ruth Day," April 27, 1947.
Baseball great Jackie Robinson during filming of "The Jackie Robinson Story."
Little Leaguers in Manchester, N.H., dress in a schoolroom before their first game of the season, as their formidable leader, Dick Williams, demands to know where the rest of the uniforms are.
After umpire William Grieve issues a walk to a Washington pinch-hitter, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy and catcher Birdie
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Michael Rougier—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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LIFE's Best Baseball Pictures

Mar 31, 2013

LIFE magazine's coverage of the American pastime—while always steeped in a genuine appreciation for the nuances, intricacies and thrills of the game—was often as much personality-driven as performance-driven.

George Silk, Ralph Morse, Mark Kauffman, Francis Miller and the other photographers who so frequently covered baseball for LIFE beautifully captured the action unfolding on the field. But they were also photojournalists: pretty much every photographer on the LIFE staff who was shooting baseball in the 1940s and '50s (and even into the '60s) also had occasion, throughout their careers, to photograph . . . well, you name it. War, science, technology, the arts, pop culture, politics, other sports from yachting to boxing to golf: the breadth of the subjects covered by LIFE, and the necessity for LIFE's photographers to ably capture the heart of the matter—whatever the matter happened to be—meant that baseball was a bit more than just a game. For LIFE's editors, writers and photographers, it was one more window into the human spirit.

Here, LIFE.com offers the best baseball pictures made for LIFE, from the late Forties to the early Seventies. The great players one would expect are, of course, here: Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and other Hall of Famers make their obligatory appearances. But above and beyond the sheer, phenomenal athletic talent on display (talent gauged by records set, titles won, World Series rings worn) there is also another, less-quantifiable element of the game portrayed in most of these pictures—an element of individual and collective striving on the part of players, managers, owners and, of course, fans. For lack of a better word, that element is drama, and it's here in abundance.

Finally, viewers will note—and many will no doubt grumble about—the preponderance of New York players and teams represented in these photos. More than half of the photographs either include players in Yankee, Dodger or Giant uniforms, or depict a scene in which New York players, even if unseen, either have or had a central role. In our defense we'll just note that, during the years in which these photos were made, New York teams were hard to ignore. Between 1941 and 1956, the Yankees and Dodgers played each other in the World Series seven times.

So, yeah. There might be a little too much New York here for some. But if it's any consolation, there's nary a Met in sight.

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