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Maybe it’s just our imagination, but photographers working years ago seemed to take better, more intimate (i.e., more casual, not so perpetually, consciously posed) pictures of ballplayers in their locker rooms than photographers do today.
Maybe it’s a question of “access” — that catchall term more often employed in the world of celebrities than in big-time sports. Perhaps it has something to do with class — or more specifically, cash. After all, in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, very few ballplayers could be called rich. Many of them worked during the off-season to make ends meet. Most of today’s players, meanwhile, reside in a universe of entitlement and wealth impossibly removed from the day-to-day existence of the vast majority of the journalists covering them.
Or maybe it simply has to do with gender: it wasn’t until the mid-1970s, after all, that women reporters began to conduct locker-room interviews with pro athletes. And even then, it was hardly smooth sailing. In the mid-’80s Dave “Kong” Kingman famously sent a rat to sportswriter Susan Fornoff, to let her know she wasn’t welcome (by him and others of the same mindset, at least) among the boys.
Whatever the reason, old-school pictures from the locker room feel a little more raw, a little more real than those we see today. Here, LIFE.com offers some of the best made by LIFE’s photographers across several decades.
Hell, you can almost smell the Barbasol. . . .