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In 1961, during spring training in Florida, LIFE gave 25-year-old Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek a camera and asked him to photograph his teammates: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and the rest of the players on what would be seen, in time, as one of the greatest teams in baseball history.
The resulting photos were never published. (See slide 12 in this gallery for a possible reason why.) Now, five decades later, LIFE.com presents those pictures, along with Kubek‘s own insights and memories of that particular spring training and that singular, unforgettable era of pro ball.
Kubek, the 1957 American league Rookie of the Year, played his entire nine-year career with the Yankees, winning seven American League pennants and three World Series. After he retired, he embarked on a distinguished broadcast career, working for NBC for more than 20 years (as an analyst for the network’s Saturday “Game of the Week,” among others) and calling Yankee games for the MSG network for another five. In 2009 he was given the Hall of Fame’s Ford Frick Award, bestowed on a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.”
Now 78 years old, Kubek lives in Wisconsin. He doesn’t follow pro ball much anymore. (He retired from broadcasting in 1994, he says, because “I got tired of hearing myself talk, and it was time to get on with another phase of life with my wife, Margaret.”) But the images in this gallery obviously had some resonance for him, and after all these years, they got him talking again — about his own playing days; about the game as he knew it back then; and about guys with names like Mickey, Yogi, Elston, Whitey, Moose, Bobby, Roger — his teammates, and his friends.