— But, you will say, every moment in naked baseball is a great moment in naked baseball. And to that I say, Quite so. Should that prohibit us from enumerating them and celebrating their greatness? Well then. There are so, so many places we might start. But the best place, I propose, in keeping with our dedication to the Picture and its ever-increasing exchange rate with the Word, is that place at which naked baseball was first photographically documented: at which its joys, theretofore private and ephemeral, were first entrusted to posterity.
Here is the man responsible. He is Eadweard Muybridge. Eadweard “Edward Muggeridge” “Eduardo Santiago” “Helios” Muybridge. YEAH. Though the authorities at Wikipedia don’t specify, we can assume that at some point, and whether he liked it or not, he also went by “Weard Ead.” How weard was Ead? Aside from his evident habit of being photographed in the act of expiring, there are also his domestic shenanigans, which climaxed in 1874 when Ead crashed a Napa Valley party and shot his wife’s lover point blank in the chest. “Good evening, Major,” he is reported to have said. “My name is Muybridge. Here is the answer to the message you sent my wife.” YEAH. Oh hey, Inigo Montoya? Ead Muybridge called. He wants his awesome back.
A man of such mettle — a man of such self-appellation! — surely knew his way around a diamond, in clothes or out. Unfortunately, nothing of Muybridge’s own career in naked baseball is known. We only have his poignant portraits of his fellow ballplayers, pasty, awkward gentlemen, in the act of flubbing grounders and flailing at high cheese. The casual viewer’s first impulse may be to laugh, to read these works as burlesques of human weakness, comedies of errors. That viewer has never had a baseball aimed at his bare gonads.