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|| News Item: Posted 2011-05-14

Not a Bitter Old Man

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Newsletter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Eli Grba the first player drafted by the Angels and the team's opening day pitcher in 1961. Photographed on April 7, 2011 at Angels Stadium in Anahaim, CA.
Bitter Old Men. That’s the expression a good friend of mine has for former ballplayers that are angry they missed out on the age of multi-million dollar contracts, non-stop TV highlights and the bright lights of the celebrity beyond sports.

At age 76, Eli Grba is not one.

Fifty years removed from pitching the first game for the Los Angeles Angels (when they really played in LA), Grba threw out the first pitch recently for the team’s home opener.

And he was happy just to be there.

To mark the 50th anniversary of baseball’s first expansion, I was assigned to photograph Grba the day before his return to the mound for the Angels. You have to love a guy whose voice mail message begins with a ballpark organ playing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” --- which I discovered when I called him to set up a time to pick him up at an Anaheim hotel.

Grba was the first player selected by the Angels in baseball’s expansion draft, plucked off the Yankees’ roster after going 6-4 and throwing in the 1961 World Series.

Driving over to Angel Stadium, Grba said he was amazed that USA TODAY wanted to take his photograph, between telling me stories about the ’60 – ’61 Angels.

When we approached the stadium, huge banners dangled from poles, commemorating the Angels 50th anniversary. As we drove through the main entrance Grba looked at the banners and shook his head, there was his photo along with fan favorites like Jim Fregosi, Nolan Ryan and Don Baylor.

As we walked around the stadium, Grba talked about his days playing for manager Bill Rigney with the likes of Albi Pearson, Steve Bilko and Leon Wagner, taking snapshots with his cell phone along the way. The Angels lost 91 games that first season, 8th place in the AL (way before division play).

Grba lit up even more as he talked about the ’62 season (especially stories about teammate Bo Belinsky), when the Angels were the talk of baseball, staying in the pennant race until the final weeks of the season, finishing 85-76 good for third place.

And then in 1963 at 28, he was out of the Major Leagues. But 50 years later, he’s not out of fond memories and smiles.

As Grba and I walked through the Angels’ gift shop, looking for a retro cap for him to wear for my portrait, I introduced him to clerks and fans as “The Original Angel”…and his smile got even bigger, not a hint of bitterness.

* * *

I apologize for the delay in getting this issue out. The SSA Lighting Luau and my daughter’s final month in high school consumed a lot of my time. Thanks to this month’s contributors and my subscribers for their patience.

This issue features a remembrance of photographer Chris Hondros by Chuck Liddy. Corey Perrine writes about his first experience covering The Masters. Gerry McCarthy contributes an In The Bag column and Nick Coury writes this month’s Pimp My Rig.

Sports Shooter Academy VIII will be held in September and we announce details and how you can apply to be a part of THE coolest sports photography event of the year.

My experiences changing the battery in my iPhone and a cool speedlight toy from Lastolite are featured in Photographers Toy Box and we wrap up the recent SSA Lighting Luau.

* * *
Photo by

Worth a listen: Jeff Beck’s tribute to guitar maestro Les Paul “Rock n’ Roll Party” with the Imelda May Band. If you love Jeff Beck, Les Paul, 50’s rock guitar and the sultry vocals of Imelda May ---you have to get this album!

Worth a read: “The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards” by Jim Steinmeyer. Everyone knows Harry Houdini, but Howard Thurston may have been the better illusionist. A great bio on Thurston and a look at life in America in the early 20th century.

* * *


As always, special thanks to: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Grover Sanschagrin, Joe Gosen, Jason Burfield and Jody Grober of Robert Distributors.

Thanks this month to contributors: Chuck Liddy, Nic Coury, Martin McNeil, Gerry McCarthy and Corey Perrine.

The comments, opinions and other perceived nutty statements that the writers may have expressed, implied, imagined or made up are theirs and theirs alone. Sports Shooter, Inc. and published these articles in good faith with the purpose of education and inspiration. 

Permission in writing must be obtained from Sports Shooter, Inc. and the author of the article before being reprinted. 

I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at 

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