This Week in Photography Books: Ira Block

 

In life, the only constant is change.

(If that isn’t a hell of a koan, I don’t know what is.)

Life moves in cycles, as do orbits. The wheel of karma turns, and eventually makes its way back around for everyone.

What was once young becomes old, and then dies.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but most of us avoid contemplating our mortality. Denial works for Climate Change, sure, but also for the slow decline of our mental and physical faculties as we push the boundaries of aging.

Take baseball, for instance,

It was once considered America’s pastime.
Mickey Mantle.
Babe Ruth.
Hank Aaron.
Willie Mays.

These were the most famous guys in the country.

A generation of Baby Boomers grew up idolizing their favorite ball players; rhapsodizing about the mythical Ebbet’s Field in Brooklyn, a Mecca for the fuzzy memories of a generation. (Including my own father.)

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I followed baseball on par with football and basketball. I liked the before-and-since-putrid New York Mets, who were briefly good, and won the World Series when I was 12.

I stopped watching baseball in earnest about 15 years ago, during the steroid crisis. Something about seeing smug Barry Bonds get away with it, and cynical San Franciscans defending his awful behavior, soured me on the sport.

That was about the time the Mets choked their way out of contention two years in a row under Willie Randolph, and again, they’ve only been good two or three times in 30 years.

Now, it seems the Mets are cursed by the ghost of Bernie Madoff. The team owners, the Wilpons, profited heavily from his schemes, and were forced to pay massive fines that have since crippled their team.

But really, I don’t care about baseball anymore.

And neither do most kids these days, if the think-pieces are to be believed. (Or my own 10 year old, when I asked him.)

The NBA is fast-paced, so kids love basketball, but getting a Gen Z child to watch a full baseball game, over three hours, seems as likely as Donald J Trump magically turning into a gracious, empathetic person.

(“Listen, Pence, honestly, I’m sorry. I feel bad for all those times I called you a Nancy-boy in the locker room. For all those times I tempted you to be in a room alone with a woman who wasn’t your wife. Really, I’m sorry. I apologize wholeheartedly. I was a terrible guy, but I swear I’m a changed man.”)

Baseball has the oldest fan base of the major sports in America, and is currently considering tinkering with the rules to make the game faster.

But can it really compete for attention in a cohort that likes watching video game competitions on Youtube on their phones and Playstations?

Honestly?

Not bloody likely.

What’s that you said? American culture is not the only culture in the world?

Well, that’s true.

You know where they still like baseball, even today? (Other than LA, which is Dodger-crazy?)

Cuba.

Cuba is mad for baseball. And if “Cuba Loves Baseball: A Photographic Journey,” by Ira Bock, is to be believed, baseball is more religion than sport on the big, Caribbean island.
(Published by Skyhorse Publishing)

This one turned up in the mail in April, around opening day, and waited its turn in the book stack. (Patiently, patiently.)

It seemed like the perfect choice today, what with our little theme of books with helpful, evocative titles.

“Cuba Loves Baseball.”

That is clearly what this book is about. Two smart forewards, (one from broadcasting legend Bob Costas,) set the scene for how much Cubans love baseball.

And then the pictures do the rest.

Apparently, Ira Block was a Nat Geo guy for a long time, and you can see it, with his facility working in another culture. (And yes, he was one of those Brooklyn Jewish guys who went to Ebbet’s Field all those years ago.)

Like many of the books I review, this one suffers from too many pictures. There are many gems in here, aesthetically and in mood and tone, including a really excellent set of portraits of older baseball players. (I’ll photograph all of them, so you can see it below.)

But other than being a bit heavy on the edit, I really liked this one. It sets the intention to transmit a sense of love. (It’s in the damn title.)

And I think it succeeds.

There is joy in the subjects of these pictures, but also in their taking. Ira Block states in the epilogue that the project brought him back to his childhood, and I think that shows.

Baseball is alive and well these days. You just have to look a little further South to see it.

Bottom Line: Fun, joyous look at Cuba’s love of baseball

To purchase “Cuba Loves Baseball” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. 

Jonathan Blaustein

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