A toast to Eric Risberg: 30 years at the AP!
Posted on July 12, 2012
Eric Risberg chats on his cell phone while shooting a San Francisco Giants spring training game at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, Arizona on February 26, 2009. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
A very special moment occurred earlier today in San Francisco. My good friend and legendary staff photographer for the Associated Press Eric Risberg was honored in the San Francisco bureau for 30 years of service for the AP. That’s right sports fans, the man you see all over town with a smile on his face working his ass off day after day was hired by the AP 30 years ago when he was only 22.
I have had the good fortune to know and work with Eric here in the Bay Area and at spring training in Arizona for over 20 years. In that time I can say that I have never come across a photojournalist who was more professional or cared about doing the best job possible for his employer.
I first met Eric while I was a student at San Jose State in 1987. Our NPPA group took a field trip to the old AP bureau at Fox Plaza in San Francisco where former photo editor Pete Leabo gave us a tour one evening. Eric had shot a day baseball game in Oakland and was working in the darkroom on some color prints from that day’s action with the old Kodak Ektaflex process. Remember that?
Once I started shooting professionally in 1987 as a a college intern at the Contra Costa Times I began to hear stories about what a great photographer Eric was. He was always helpful to a knucklehead who did not know his was around the ballpark like me, and he always got THE picture.
My first real connection to Eric occurred around 1990 when I learned that he was related to one of the notorious 1919 Chicago Black Sox. That’s right, the shortstop on that ill-fated club who helped throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds was Swede Risberg! Eric loves to talk about The Swede and everything else related to baseball, especially Joe DiMaggio and the San Francisco Seals.
We started to make trips to spring training together in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1992. It was then when I learned that no other photographer in America knew how to have a good time eating and drinking like Eric. Always the classiest guy at the table, Eric new how to have a good time back then, and he has continued to enjoy everything in life with the most enthusiasm of anyone I know. We still hang out at spring training and I cherish every moment we do.
Because he enjoys the good life unlike any other person I know we had Eric write a column for the Sports Shooter Newsletter entitled “The Count on Cigars.” His first piece for us, “How The Count got Hooked on Stogies” was published on October 22, 1999. “The first cigars I had were in the late ’80s following San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s playoff games and were provided to me by colleague Lenny Ignelzi from San Diego,” Risberg wrote. From then things snowballed and soon The Count was educating readers on topics like “Storing & Transporting Your Cigars,” “The Perfect Beverage,” “How to Choose a Good Cigar,” and “How to Spot a Fake Cigar,” Eric was becoming a well-known expert who influenced the way photographers all over the world drank and smoked! I think that’s pretty cool.
Over the years Eric has been a historical bridge between the great photographers of yesterday and the young shooters coming up today. He started in 1982 when several of the iconic Bay Area news photographers will still working. Because of this Eric became good friends with legendary Pulitzer Prize winners like Joe Rosenthal and Sal Veder. I can never get enough stories from Eric about shooting his first-ever baseball game with AP staffer Sam Houston in Oakland. After the game Sammy took Eric into A’s manager Billy Martin’s office where they had a few beers. The hilarity that ensued is nothing but old-school priceless.
Throughout his career Eric has done pretty much everything you can do for the AP. He has covered countless Super Bowls, World Series, and Olympic Games. He has covered wars. He has flown on Air Force One. He ran the AP’s photo bureau in the summer of 1990. The common thread that has always run through all of Eric’s assignments, whether he is shooting a press conference at City Hall, or a golf tournament at Pebble Beach is the maximum effort he always gives. The man really cares about what he does.
The young kid who left Portland 30 years ago has sure come a long way from the teenager who who worked for the Portland Timbers as their official team photographer as a young teenager and drove 18-wheelers for Risberg Trucking. He is still going strong at the AP and doing the best job of anyone I know enjoying his life with his awesome wife Elizabeth and their cat Julius.
I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I am about Eric’s 30 years of service to the AP. The longest period of time I have ever been able to hold a job is two years. That was while I was working at Chuck E. Cheese during high school in 1982 and 1983!
No- this is not an obit- it is a celebration of 30 years of service by a man we should all respect and honor. I ask everyone to raise a glass of their favorite beverage this weekend (it doesn’t matter what you hoist as Eric likes most everything that is good) and toast our friend Eric Risberg. Here’s to Eric! Bravo my friend. I have learned so much from you. Cheers!