Jerry M. Wachter, 61, Orioles team photographer

November 13, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Jerry M. Wachter, who was the official Orioles team photographer for more than three decades, died of Merkel cell cancer, a rare skin disease, Thursday at his Mount Washington home. He was 61.

Mr. Wachter was born and raised on Towanda Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. He graduated from Forest Park High School in 1962 and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He became interested in photography while in high school and began working for Morton C. Tadder, a Baltimore photographer and owner of Tadder Associates.

He joined the Orioles in 1970, and during the next 35 years recorded with his camera the team's history - on and off the field - generations of players and managers, and four World Series.

Among his many memorable images is a fisheye-lens look, taken from the dugout, of the Orioles starting lineup racing onto the field on opening day in 1979.

He also was known for his action shots of Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray, which were published in numerous national publications including 32 covers for Sports Illustrated. He also provided photographs of baseball players to Topps baseball cards for 36 years.

"Jerry was the best photographer I have ever known and one of the greatest people I have met in this game. He was a Baltimore Orioles institution," said Richard L. Vaughn, former Orioles spokesman who is vice president of public relations for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"It will be hard to go to the ballpark and not see him there. He had an uncanny ability and photographic instincts, and he combined those with his love and knowledge of the Orioles, the players, and the ballparks they played in to create the best images," he said.

Mr. Vaughn looked forward to seeing his old friend each year at spring training and during the season at Camden Yards.

"He would sometimes slip me some photos he had taken of the Devil Rays, and they were almost always better than anything we had taken ourselves," he said.

"Jerry was on the field shooting for the Orioles throughout my entire career. He has probably taken more pictures of me and my family than anyone in the world," said Mr. Ripken. "I remember seeing him with his camera at all of the most special moments of my career. He was a major part of the Orioles organization and will be sorely missed."

Gene Sweeney Jr., a veteran Sun sports photographer who knew Mr. Wachter for years, recalled his ability to easily move among the players, even those who had towering egos.

"Jerry would tell them he was just trying to do his job as a photographer. He had a good personality and he didn't suffer fools gladly," Mr. Sweeney said. "He was easy to get along with, and knew what worked and what didn't."

One of his best friends on the team was Mr. Murray, who had a reputation of being particularly aloof when around reporters and photographers.

"I didn't like photographers taking pictures of me while I was concentrating during a game, but Jerry always seemed to get a great picture without interrupting me," Mr. Murray said. "He also had a great sense of humor and was always up for a good prank, even if it was played on him."

"The great thing about Jerry is that he made going to the ballpark enjoyable. He was part of the family and so great at what he did," said broadcaster and former pitcher Jim Palmer. "He was one of the people who was always happy where he was, doing what he did, with a smile on his face."

In addition to his work with the Orioles, Mr. Wachter covered National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and National Football League games, Professional Golf Association tours and the Olympics. He also photographed concerts at the old Capital Centre in Landover.

Mr. Wachter, whose cancer was diagnosed three years ago, continued working through the 2005 season.

He enjoyed spending time at Siesta Key, Fla., collecting statues featuring photographers, and taking landscape photos and self-manipulated Polaroid images.

"But his real hobby was his work," said his son Scott E. Wachter of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

Surviving are his wife of seven years, the former Joanne Cecilia Strohmer; another son, Martin R. Wachter of Phoenix, Baltimore County; and a sister, Beverly Rosenthal of Pikesville. His marriage to the former Sherry Layton ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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