Baseball never looked sweeter than it did through the lens of V.J. Lovero. He captured in the game a life, to borrow from Whitman, "immense in passion, pulse, and power." And more than that, he captured its joy, which he carried in his heart.
What man is richer than the one who lives the dream of his youth? V. J., inspired by Hall of Fame ballplayer and photography buff Rod Carew, grew up in Santa Ana, Calif., wanting to be a photographer for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. He did so from 1985 until his death on Monday at age 44, when the cancer to which he refused to make concessions took the last of his trademark optimism. V.J. leaves behind a wife, Trish, and two sons, John, 16, and Jay, 13.
V.J.'s passion for baseball and his talent with a camera produced many indelible images-he shot over 30 covers for SI. His work during the great home run race of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was extraordinary but never more so than when he captured the bond between McGwire and his son, Matt (left, Sept. 7, 1998). Ballplayers gravitated to V.J. because of his infectious smile and his love for the game. I remember the time I thought I had conducted a good interview with Greg Maddux at the pitcher's home in Las Vegas. V.J. was there too. As I began to leave, V.J., ever curious, asked Maddux how he was able to so precisely repeat his delivery, the key to his impeccable control. Maddux gave a beautiful response, and I made sure to use the answer prominently in the story.
One day V.J. found himself peering through his camera at Carew, then a coach for the Angels. V.J. posed some players around Carew for a picture to run with a story about the hot bats of the Angels. As the shoot was ending and he was down to his last few frames, V.J. yelled, "Dog-pile on Rod!" The players jumped on Carew with glee. Classic Lovero. Captured in that moment in the Southern California sun was his early inspiration, Carew, the impossibly white uniforms on the lush green outfield grass and most of all, the boyish enthusiasm deep within the hearts of pro ballplayers. It was a feeling V.J. never lost. Gazing upon that picture (next page) is like remembering V.J., and it is impossible not to smile.
Angels hitting coach Rod Carew (bottom right, and inset, with Lovero) gets crushed by Angels players in Anaheim, July 5, 1995.
"V. J. always had a sparkle in his eye, even when he was sick. The thing I remember is his enthusiasm. After a full day of shooting in spring training, he'd be out in the parking lot playing catch with one of his buddies."—former Angels pitcher Chuck Finley
Mark McGwire hits his 61st home run on Sept. 7, 1998, to tie Roger Maris's record for most home runs in a season.
"V.J. was the best. He set the standard. His personal relationships with athletes were far and above that of any other sports photographer's. He will be missed dearly."