Got a weird one for you today, gang. It’s the story of a photo that offers more — and less — than meets the eye.
Let’s start by visiting this MLB.com page, which has a story about Jim Leyland and his feelings on interleague play. As you can see, the video link in the middle of the page has an image taken from a Yanks/Mets interleague game at Shea. For the first half of Wednesday, however, there was a different image in there. Here’s a screen shot of how the page originally looked.
As you can see, the original image on the page was a shot of David Wright and A-Rod. Reader Chris Bruno was reading that story and happened to take a closer look at the photo. And then closer still. Take a look at what he discovered.
Wow. At least four different elements in the photo are repeated:
• The guy in the light blue cap (denoted by the green arrows).
• The guy in the Yankees road jersey (orange arrows).
• The guy bending over in the blue shirt (magenta arrows).
• The four people in the front row (red ovals).
“It was the guy in the Yankees jersey that tipped me off,” says Chris. “I was looking at the photo and thinking, ‘Man, how many Yankees fans are at this Mets game?’ So I’m like, there’s a Yankees jersey, there’s a Yankees jersey — wait.” The more he looked, the more repetitions he found.
Chris assumed — and so did I, initially — that the photo had been Photoshopped, presumably to avoid showing any empty seats. But as I soon realized, that didn’t make much sense, because Subway Series games are always sellouts. How could there be any empty seats?
I wanted to find the original photo, but there was no credit for it on the page. So I searched all the obvious wire service databases — AP, Getty, US Presswire, etc. — but came up empty. I also had the nagging feeling that maybe this wasn’t a wire photo anyway. It is, frankly, a crummy image, not the sort of thing a wire service would put out. I thought maybe it was a video still, but the video it linked to didn’t include any footage of Wright and A-Rod. Puzzling.
Thinking I might be on the cusp of a big story, I contacted MLB.com and asked for comment. They got back to me within about 45 minutes.
As I suspected, the image is not a wire photo. It’s a video still from the Mets/Yanks game that took place on May 21, 2010. It was the top of the 4th, and Robinson Cano had just hit a double. Here’s how it looked for real — no empty seats, as you can see. (I took that screen shot from the archived video on MLB.TV; if you have an MLB.TV subscription, you can go check the video and see for yourself.)
So if there was no attempt to digitally fill the seats, why was the image manipulated?
Answer: It wasn’t — at least not by a human being.
Here’s the short version, as it was explained to me (with the proviso that I’m not nearly tech-literate enough to assess the specifics): It’s not entirely clear why this video still was selected to appear on the page. In any case, the aspect ratio of the original video footage — i.e., its height-to-width ratio — was different than the window for the media player on the MLB.com page. So MLB’s web page software automatically adjusted the image to the proper proportions to fit on the page. During that process, the image somehow got warped, with various portions of the image forming a repeating pattern, and that’s what Chris Bruno spotted. The MLB techies had never seen anything like it, or so I was told, and they couldn’t figure out how it happened. In any event, they swapped in the new image and that was the end of that.
It was stressed to me that MLB.com would never alter or manipulate an image, either to change the perception of the crowd size or for any other reason. I’m sure some of you are saying, “Yeah, sure,” but I double-checked with someone I know and trust, who told me, “In no way would we manipulate any photos, because the producers who are responsible for selecting and cropping them before adding them to stories or panels don’t have the Photoshop skills to do that. We have an interface that requires minimal HTML or Photoshop skills, so the vast majority of the photos put on the site are simply cropped to the right size and added. I don’t think half the producers even bother to sharpen them. No great conspiracy here.”
As for Chris Bruno, who spotted the inconsistencies in the image, the folks at MLB.com were seriously impressed by his observational skills. “Maybe he should send us a résumé,” a spokesman told me. So Chris, if you’re looking for a career change, here’s your chance.
Uni Watch News Ticker: I snagged this nice Durene tee on eBay yesterday. … What is this? Believe it or not, it’s a primitive batting helmet, at least according to this auction listing, one of several interesting auction items that Bruce Menard recently spotted. Among the others: an amazing 1930 Boston Braves jersey (“First time I’ve seen color close-ups of the real, non-replica tricentennial 1630 patch,” says Bruce), and a Dodgers kimono from the team’s 1956 tour of Japan. … Gordon Blau has created a logo and blog to protest the NFL lockout. … Who knew the Giants used to have a checkerboard end zone design? That’s from the 1956 NFL championship game, Giants vs. Bears (nice find by Mark Weinstein). … Bobby Hoekstra reports that Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto have been wearing black skullcaps under their Reds hats this season. “Last year they wore red ones,” he says. … The Long Island Lizards — that’s an MLL team — have Kevin and Chris Unterstein on their roster, which results in a rather unfortunate NOB (with thanks to John Sheehan). … This kid’s future looks, uh, bright (as spotted by Jason Hillyer). … Interesting piece on the history of jersey sponsorship. … I’ve been a big fan of the band Centro-matic for about a decade now, but I didn’t know that frontman Will Johnson also did some tremendous baseball paintings until Brad Tucker told me yesterday. … Here’s a great look at the Reds’ old subscript NOB style (big thanks to Ronnie Poore). … Here’s something you rarely see anymore: a golfer in a necktie (nice find by Jonathon Binet). … Warren Humphreys was doing some research on Evansville’s sleeved basketball jerseys when he came across something really interesting: a 1965 shot showing the Purple Aces wearing boxing-style robes! Warren says he’s never seen anything like this, and neither have I. Amazing find! … The Red Sox and Cubs will be wearing 1918 throwbacks tomorrow. Should look something like this. … Football and butchery — two great tastes that taste great together (big thanks to Mako Mameli). … What happens if you mix classic sports imagery with the Red Sox? See for yourself (awesome find by Brian Corbett). … Does anyone know why the Padres had an up-arrow and a 2 printed on the mound last night? (As noted by Scott McMichael.) … Wait, update! Brendan Hunt has just informed me that the arrow and the numeral were part of a cancer-fighting initiative. … College football news: It had previously been announced that Michigan and Notre Dame would wear throwbacks when facing each other. Now there’s word on what the Michigan jersey will look like, an it’s a doozy (with thanks to Michael McLaughlin).
Nice while it lasted: As you may have heard, the world is ending tomorrow (just in time to give Phil the day off). Thanks for the fun ride!