Baseball Legends Honored in Oakland
Posted on August 15, 2017
Photographer Doug McWilliams, Oakland Athletics team photographer Michael Zagaris, and photographer Ron Riesterer pose for a picture before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on Monday, August 14, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
For one special moment last night the Bay Area sports photography community had our moment in the sun. Even though it was a gloomy, foggy, damp, and cool evening at the Oakland Coliseum three legendary lensmen were honored by the Oakland Athletics in one of the coolest ways possible. Doug McWilliams, Ron Riesterer, and Michael Zagaris were chosen to throw out ceremonial first pitches before last night’s game between the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland A’s. First pitch was 7:07pm, but the real first pitch- at least the one many of us really cared about would occur about 15 minutes earlier.
The A’s moved to the Bay Area from Kansas City in 1968, so next season marks their 50 year anniversary. One of the many special projects planned by the ball club is a commemorative book celebrating the A’s 50 years in Oakland. Of course a major part of this book will be the photographs needed to illustrate their great history, and no one has done a better job of documenting the history of the Oakland A’s than McWilliams, Riesterer, and Zagaris. The book will be out in 2018, but last night the A’s got a head start on the celebration by honoring these three incredible photographers for all they have done to document the game of baseball in Oakland.
This special evening was organized by the A’s fabulous Media Services Manager Debbie Gallas. Debbie has always been a great friend to photographers all over the country and has worked closely with these three for decades.
“Lucky me! Last night’s first pitch was one for the memory books. Books? The A’s are in the process of publishing a book to celebrate fifty years of baseball in Oakland and I’m on the committee to put this together. Of course, I volunteered to secure the photos and when I asked two local gentleman, retired photographers Ron Riesterer and Doug McWilliams, I was greeted with more enthusiasm that I could ever expect. Throw in A’s team photographer, Michael Zagaris, I knew the project would take on a life of its own,” said Gallas.
“Each of these men represent different eras of A’s baseball and distinctly different styles. It’s been fun to meet with each and hear the stories from 1968 and Catfish Hunter’s perfect game, to the present 2017 team loaded with young players. Along the way, the A’s have provided the fans with memories etched in the history book. We gathered last night to honor these three with a “first pitch” and announced the book is in the works and it will be ready by the beginning of the 50th season,” Gallas said.
“A big “thank you” goes to Paul Hallaman, long time friend of Doug McWilliams’ as he’s the one who suggested the first pitch idea when Doug told him of his involvement with the project,” Gallas said.
Throwing out a first pitch is much harder than it looks, especially if you haven’t thrown a baseball in over 20 years like Riesterer. Zagaris threw a side piece with his son Ari in Los Angeles last week to get some practice in, but still wanted to get in some warm up tosses before the big moment. “Are you nervous?” asked A’s third base coach Chip Hale in the tunnel leading to the dugout before the game. Hale was named as Z’s catcher so he had a vested interest in the proceedings.
“No. Maybe I should be? I saw Mays bounce a pitch twice. I want to throw a strike. If it’s not a strike you better frame it,” Zagaris said.
Each photographer donned a wedding-gown white home A’s jersey with their last names on the back above a large block “50” signifying the 50 years of A’s baseball in Oakland. Seeing the three guys together in their uniform tops just screamed “photo op” so I had a job to do. In the few minutes we had before the first pitch I turned these grizzled veterans into super models by running them through as many poses as I could. Of course I relied on my vast knowledge of old school baseball cards to make the pictures as fun as possible.
After we shot some pictures coach Hale came out onto the grass in front of the A’s dugout to warm up the guys by playing catch with them. I am sure this helped shake off some of the cobwebs and release a few of the butterflies.
I knew who Doug McWilliams was before I really knew who he was- if that makes any sense. Growing up in the Bay Area in the 1970’s I collected Topps baseball cards, like many kids did back in the day. Among my favorite cards were the ones in my collection of my favorite Giants and A’s players shot at home: Candlestick Park in San Francisco and the Coliseum in Oakland. Being a stadium freak I could always tell where most of the cards were shot, and I always wondered why so many of my cards (not just A’s and Giants but all the visiting teams that came through the area also) were shot in the Bay Area. Most other cards I noticed were shot at Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium in New York (by Mickey Palmer!)
As I got older and became a photographer I learned that a local man named Doug McWilliams had been shooting for Topps both locally and at spring training in Arizona for years. Doug was still shooting in Oakland when I first started in 1987 but of course I was way too shy to talk to him- he was a legend! Over the years I have gotten to know Doug. There can’t be a sweeter man on planet earth. To quote Debbie Gallas, “Doug is a gem.”
In 2010 Doug wanted to donate a large part of his collection of iconic photographs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. He had around 10,000 photographs he wanted to donate. Doug ended up driving his collection with his son-in-law to Cooperstown that year to ensure their safe arrival. “I just couldn’t bear to stick 10,000 negatives in the U.S. Mail or FedEx and watch it go away,” he said. “What if they lost a box?” McWilliams told the Oakland Tribune. These photographs are now enjoyed every day in so many different forms by visitors of the Museum and readers of their publications. His posed photographs of players from his era are priceless. It’s easy to see why I loved my Tops baseball cards so much.
Doug has been retired for awhile now but still comes out to several A’s games each season to shoot and tell stories to Zagaris and me. Doug’s passion for the game of baseball and all things Oakland A’s can’t be measured. Sports Collector’s Digest wrote a fabulous profile in 2016 about Doug that you should read. To see even more about Doug please see this terrific piece by SABR.
Ron Riesterer’s first photo assignment for the Oakland Tribune was to cover John F. Kennedy campaigning at Oakland’s DeFremery Park in 1960. After that Ronnie pretty much did it all in the Bay Area photographing riots in the ’60s, the sit-ins at Cal, the Black Panthers, and Patty Hearst. However, sports was always Ronnie’s first love and he did it better than anyone at the Tribune, especially when it came to covering the Oakland A’s upon their arrival from Kansas City in 1968. To this day the few remaining pictures that have survived from the historic 1968 season were shot by Ronnie.
Riesterer retired from the Tribune in 2008 after spending 50 years there (he started in 1958 as a copy boy). In 1989 he led his staff to the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Between hustling Willie Mays, rich doctors and Lawyers, and other dignitaries for money on the golf course Ronnie mentored countless young photojournalists in the Bay Area. He is always there to share a kind word and a story about the old days. Ronnie is a beauty.
Unless you have been living under a rock you probably know who Michael Zagaris is. But just in case you don’t I suggest you read this fabulous story written about him last year by GW Magazine. Fresh off his red-hot book “Total Excess” the Z-Man is still going strong as the A’s team photographer. Every since he became the official A’s photographer in 1980 Z has never looked back and has documented the storied franchise through good times and bad. He has seen it all from watching manager Billy Martin flipping the spread in the clubhouse to riding the New York City Subway with Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi.
I always tell people that one of the best things about being a photographer in the Bay Area is getting to work with Z. I also tell others that if they haven’t had the chance that I am sorry- it is truly their loss and I could never explain what they are missing.
Zagaris is an institution. An icon. I historical monument. It would have been sad to see a man of such stature bounce his pitch in the dirt on this special night! How did he do?
The first pitch ceremony went by so fast.
“It was a blur. I wanted to have more time to let it all wash over me. It was so fun having the three of us together,” Zagaris said.
Zagaris claims he threw a strike. At press time there is no video evidence to confirm his claim so we will go with it.
“I know you wanted to go 93 and paint,” said Chip Hale after he caught Z’s pitch.
McWilliams had a very special moment after the ceremony when he caught up with old friend, former great A’s catcher and current A’s broadcaster Ray Rosse. Fosse was asked to catch for Doug and was thrilled to do so. These guys go back 44 years and have remained friends ever since.
Just like that the balls were signed, the field was cleared, and the real game was ready to start. Zagaris took his position at third base to do his job and shoot the game. McWilliams and Riesterer were received by wild applause from their adoring friends and family when they reached their seats behind the A’s dugout.
On this very special night the fog lifted, the sky cleared, and cheers filled the air as these three heroes of the game took their place near the mound. The strikes they delivered towards home plate were perfect metaphors for the impact they have had on the Oakland A’s, Major League Baseball, and the art of photography.