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How to Shoot Baseball: Use Camera, Not Mouth

IT'S the heart of June and the clubhouses are remarkably free of scandal. John Franco has tantrums. As a Met, he should. Steinbrenner threatens to move the Yanks out of the Bronx. He always has. What else is new?

You might ask the gentleman with his face behind a Nikon, crouched just off the field between home plate and first base at every game in Yankee or Shea Stadium.

His name is Louis Requena, Lou to friends, and his career as a sports photographer goes back to the days Casey Stengel set lineups. At 73, what Lou has seen ballplayers do on and off the field -- well, he really could write a book.

But he won't. So never mind: Don't ask. Mr. Requena (pronounced Re-KEN-ya) did not make friends with Roger Maris and Bobby Richardson, or Tom Seaver and Reggie Jackson, by spilling secrets. He's from the old school. Locker rooms were sacred, what a player did in Atlantic City the night before a game was nobody's business and baseball seemed as pure as the game played in the Elysian Fields.

Of course, if he had told, who knows? He could be rich. He could be living in, say, a 30-room mansion with 13 fireplaces, instead of the split-level in Little Ferry that his mother had built in 1969, when they moved here from the Bronx. And he could be relaxing -- instead of hustling from Yankee Stadium to Shea, crashing in his studio in Chelsea after night games.

"I'll tell you how I could have been rich," he said with a shrug. "If I would have kept just one of the Topps baseball cards I shot. I used to go the Brooklyn factory where they made them and pass them by, never picking up a one."

Lou has shot some famous photographs, only to see bootleg copies sold in baseball card shows and stores. "I still have thousands of these Mickey Mantles," he said, showing off a color publicity shot of Mantle taken in 1961. "I can't get rid of them because the bootleggers copied them."

He has given away a lot of memorabilia, too.

"I never went in for celebrity worship," he said. "I respected the players. As much as I love watching and being entertained by ballplayers, the doctors are the ones I consider the real heroes. They're the ones who have stepped in and made me healthy when it counted."

He is a short man, a notch over 5 feet, and on the frail side. He had his knee replaced in December, after years of limping around with a bum leg he developed from chasing too many slides and dropped flies.

"You want to hear a story?" he said. "When Don Mattingly hurt his back a couple of years ago, he was coming in from the field and going into the trainer's room. I was standing around the training room, not feeling so good, either. But when the trainer went to attend to him, Mattingly said, 'Take care of Lou first.' "

Lou has always been an independent contractor. He has worked for both United Press International and The Associated Press, and he has sold photos to all the New York dailies. He has also taught a lot of photographers how to shoot sports. Baseball, he said, is the hardest. "In baseball, you never know where the action is going to take place in a given game."

He started shooting almost by accident. A World War II veteran, he began working for a Veterans Administration office in Manhattan. One day, the office needed someone to take photos of a veteran who had become a professional boxer. "They gave me a four-by-five camera that weighed a ton."

At the same time, he was working part-time as a salesman in a men's clothing store in the Bronx. A suggestion from a co-worker led him to El Diario, the Spanish-language daily.

He finagled the Yankees organization into letting him photograph team members standing with amateur Hispanic ball teams in the Bronx. El Diario gave his photos big display and he was off.

"The Yankees started asking me to shoot things for them," he said. "I kind of become one of the official photographers."

In the years of Roger Maris, Lou and the slugger became good friends. He remembers, he said, the time he heard a sports writer ask Maris if he "fooled around on the road." "Could you believe the nerve?" he said. Well, uh, yes. (Maris, Lou recalls, answered that he was a married man.)

"Writers," he said, shaking his head, "they always want to know dirt."

Has he read many false reports in the baseball books? "Not too many," he said, "except everybody always portrays Roger as a redneck. He wasn't."

From time to time, the baseball writers call. What was Roberto Clemente like? Or Whitey Ford? They want anecdotes.

"I tried to get one published," he said. "Dwight Gooden and Mel Stottlemyre, they're like father and son. I told the sports guys, you're always writing about racial division. What about these guys? They love each other."

To this day, indeed.

Originally published June 18, 1993, By Evelyn Nieves in the New York Times