William Kuenzel of the Detroit News was a Pioneer in Sports Photography

One of the true pioneers in sports photography was William Kuenzel of the Detroit News, who photographed virtually every famous athlete that came through these parts for the first half of the 20th century.

Hired by the News in 1901, one of the 17-year old’s first assignments was shooting the opening day game at Bennett Park. Remarkably he covered every home opener until 1952 and for many years used the special long range camera called “Big Bertha” that he developed.

If you think about it, no else shot more photos of Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Harry Heilmann, Hank Greenberg, or Charlie Gehringer.

His famous shot of Cobb sliding into Philadelphia third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker was used to prove that the Georgia Peach did not intentionally spike the star. Yet Kuenzel had many other photos of Cobb sliding hard into home or a base when you might say that was not always the case.

Kuenzel certainly did not just shoot sports, because he also took thousands of photographs including unbelievable aerial shots of Detroit and Detroit subjects as the Motor City literally grew up from the horse and buggy days to a bustling city.

Kuenzel donated many of his sports photographs to Ernie Harwell just prior to his death in 1964. Many of those photos can be seen at the Ernie Harwell Collection within the Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library. Since the photos were shot with either large glass negatives or 4 by 5 acetates, the clarity is simply amazing.

Even though Kuenzel’s shots were all in black white, the quality of his photography to me if far superior to what you see today with the fast shooting digital cameras. Perhaps it is because he had to be more careful with a much more painstaking process but also because the negative sizes allowed for much great clarity and detail.

You can also see some of Kuenzel’s work in the 1999 Detroit News book, “Home Sweet Home: Memories of Tiger Stadium” although the great photos in that coffee table book are not individually credited.

Detroit News photographer William Kuenzel photographs from left to right former Tiger stars Bobby Veach, Davey Jones, and Sam Crawford at an Oldtimer's Game at Briggs Stadium on June 7th 1939.

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