Photographer Preserving Baseball History For Cooperstown Museum
Milo Stewart Jr. collects baseball history.
This past December at a dinner at The Otesaga Resort in Cooperstown, Stewart was recognized for 30 years of service at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Coming aboard in 1992, preserving baseball's history, one image at a time, remains Stewart's goal.
All the iconic moments each July during Induction Weekend that baseball fans get to experience for generations to come, chances are Stewart is responsible for capturing
them. Look at the Hall's website. The images of baseball cards, trophies, uniforms, objects that connect the game to some of its greatest acheivments are framed and recorded by Stewart.
Stewart is a gatekeeper to making baseball history fun. Seeing is believing. Catching hall of famers and former MLB players laughing it up before the annual Hall of Fame Classic each May, or when the game's who's who gather in the Otsego County village to welcome in new members to baseball's elite fraternity, it's Stewart's photographic intuition that freezes thast special moment - forever.
What's not to be jealous about Stewart's work? Jeter, Hoffman, Ortiz, big names who answered in big ways many times throughout their celebrated careers on the diamond, when in Cooperstown, their speeches and movements are recorded for all to enjoy.
"My first (Induction Weekend) was in 1992," recalled Stewart during a recent telephone conversation. "I moved back to Cooperstown after living in California. I was shooting for The Freeman's Journal (weekly newspaper based in Cooperstown). Tom Heintz, who was the librarian at the Hall expressed interest in my work, hired me.
Having created and maintained his own darkroom as a ten-year-old in his family's home on Eagle Street a few streets from his future employer, Stewart's 30-year-plus employment at 25 Main Street began at a time when film was primarily used to capture a moment in time. In 1993, when the expansion of the library at the Hall of Fame was completed from 7,000 square foot to 29,000, Stewart moved into his new work area.
Although he still shoots film, digital photography is the avenue where Stewart records baseball visuals mainly.
So much of Stewart's photographic prowess is linked back to his late father Milo Stewart Sr. For decades he served the New York Historical Association and Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown. Under Milo Sr.'s direction both properties grew expodentially. Dad's passion for photography was easily passed along to Milo Jr.
With a population of under 2,000 residents, Cooperstown swells in the summer, as tourists come to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the 'Home of Baseball'. Stewart looks back to his childhood in one of America's most famous destinations right up there with the peacful, mythical Mayberry.
" You would make news friends with people summering in Cooperstown. We'd ride our bikes along Main Street, and to Cooper Park."
As for baseball's main event each summer, the welcoming of new members to the Hall of Fame where tens of thousands come from all over North America to be a part of, being the veteran photographer that Stewart is, the weekend is one in which he can set his watch to.
"It's my job to bring it (Induction Weekend) to another level; make it better through different angles. Anything but routine ," says Srewart Jr. of his game plan.
To baseball fans clamoring for an autograph or possibly to have their picture taken with a hall of famer, it's eyes wide open throughout their visit to Cooperstown. But, over time, Stewart tells of when at work, he isn't starstruck. He appreciates and respects Hall members and with many he has become on a first-name basis with.
Hall of Famer Tom Seaver passed in 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was no Induction Weekend in 2020. The previous year, when former New York Yankees' pitchers Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina headlined the Class of 2019 in July, Stewart recalls a brief chat he had with Seaver at the side to the stage where the hall of famers sat.
"(Seaver) told me that he appreciates being in town for the weekend more and more each year. And that we his last."
Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith is one member who will recognize Stewart out of a crowd, and come over to say hello. The late hall of fame pitcher Don Sutton was another star Stewart looked forward to seeing. Sutton's friendliness and personability to this day leave Stewart with warm feelings about their interactions.
When the newest members are elected to the Hall, they will be brought to the museum prior to the summer, for a walk-through on familiarizing them with what to be expected in July. Stewart is with them, in the shadows, capturing their joy. Times like this is when a connection is made between hall of famer and photographer.
Stewart thinks back to sage advice passed down from his father, when looking to get the very best image of his famous subjects.
"Am I close enough to my subject. Lighting. Is it bright or soft enough? Do I have everything in the frame that I want? I always have my shot in a full frame. There is no cropping."
How busy is Stewart? He tells of one folder with 16,000 images. There are other folders.
Where others write and capture the spoken word from Reggie Jackson or Nolan Ryan, and what it means to them to have a permanent home in the Hall of Fame, for Stewart, it's all visual. What they are doing, how they are doing it and with who, for Stewart, an image is worth a thousand words.
Documenting baseball's 31st franchise in Upstate New York, Stewart is part of 25 Main Street's starting lineup. Why? Who hasn't enjoyed a Milo Stewart Jr. image?
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.