"Photo Synthesis" by Elise Seyfried

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

#1 Berrigan and the Bambino

It’s not even the original photo. Some relative at some point scanned a few copies and sent them around. Lord knows where the original ended up. So, it’s a little grainy, a black and white image twice removed from the camera that took it. Five men stand in line, squinting in the sun, hands on hips or at their sides. The uniforms fit differently on each player: sleeves are halfway up the arms on the three beanpoles; the barrel-chested body of George Herman Ruth completely fills out the shirt and knickers. Then there’s Jack Berrigan, my grandfather, dead center. He’s at least a head shorter than the others and much skinnier. He’s a shortstop for the Yankees’ minor league team, and his torso is so small that the letters BRONX GIANTS collapse on themselves. The uniform sleeves are too long, covering the knuckles of both hands. Grandpa broke every finger, multiple times, during his stint playing professional baseball in the 1920s. He would show us the gnarled hands with the crooked fingers that had been improperly set all those years ago.

It’s hard to tell what point in the season this picture was taken. The spectators in the stands behind the players are all wearing hats, flat newsboy caps, or fedoras. No straw boaters, so I supposed it wasn’t summer yet. Summers were brutal, temperatures in Saint Louis reaching 120 degrees on the field at game time. Jack would lose 15 pounds during a doubleheader, he told us. The team would go out for thick steaks and beers, but Grandpa could never regain all the weight. Little me would hear these stories, horrified. It sounded nightmarish: battered bodies, soaked in sweat, pitching and hitting and running on the Fields of Hell. But those were the best times, Jack would insist. He wanted to keep playing (he was concurrently working his way through Fordham Law School), but he was dating Rose Smith, and Rose thought baseball players were playing a sucker’s game. Who would ever be able to buy a house and raise a family on the pittance they earned? So, rather than lose Rose for the sake of winning games, he took off the sagging uniform for good and married her.

As for his famous field mate, The Babe could surely afford fancy homes and cars and then some. His appetites for food, booze, and women were legendary. By 1930, Ruth was earning $80,000 a year (translating to over $1,000,000 today), more than Hebert Hoover, the current president. Babe’s immense talent took him far, of course, but it was his laser-focused determination to wallop those pitched baseballs over the stadium walls that carried him to fame.

In some ways, though they never became friends, the two men were more alike than it might seem. Both were Catholic, and both gave generously to charity; Babe’s philanthropy was unusual in those days--celebrities now are expected to donate to worthy causes. Grandpa’s talents lay in his sales skills and his incredible way with people (I guess those are the same, aren’t they?) With his brother Jimmy, he started one of the first insurance companies in New York City. Over the years, Berrigan and Berrigan insured some of the nation’s top country clubs, among many other impressive clients. Jack Berrigan never became famous, but his dynamic personality, his sharp Irish wit, his utter fidelity to truth and decency, and his sheer determination, made him a hero to his granddaughter.

But in this picture, Jack Berrigan does not appear heroic, not at all. He is physically eclipsed by the towering athletes surrounding him, particularly The Bambino. Even his cap is too large for his head; he looks like a child playing dress-up. However, it is a spring afternoon in New York, the sun is shining, and he is playing the world’s greatest game with one of its legendary competitors.

My grandfather grins widely, captured in this long-ago moment in time. Grandpa looks happy.

#2 Quartet

Color photo snapped right after a concert in Philadelphia, not sure of the venue. The four musicians sit on the edge of the stage, smiling, arms around one another. Two guys, two girls, none of them more than 20 years old. Behind them, the four chairs and music stands are still set up, but the audience has gone home. At this moment they could be any four college kids, kidding around, relaxed. My son Sheridan (who wrote a piece they played tonight ) has probably just told a really corny joke, and violinist Elena is about to poke him. The girls wear sparkly black dresses. Sheridan is wearing a tie I gave him, probably for a birthday. It is black, with small white music staves and notes printed on it. A silly gift; his musical world was so far beyond my understanding that I struggled to buy him anything a young composer and instrumentalist might actually need. So I bought him music-themed neckwear instead. And, good sport and sweet son that he is, he wore the ties. Even for concerts.