Mitchell Haddad loves the Dodgers enough to get arrested.
Growing up in Burbank, he would sneak into ballgames at Dodger Stadium by flashing fake tickets at the usher and hoping he wouldn’t get caught. Once, as a 17-year-old, he did, while trying to steal Hank Aaron’s uniform from the clubhouse. A security guard found him attempting to open the door with a butter knife.
Haddad, a John Burroughs High School alumnus, recalled in an interview that his mother wasn’t upset when she picked him up at the police station. In fact, she tried to explain her son’s behavior to the officers.
“He just loves baseball so much,” she told them. Haddad didn’t realize until decades later that his mother thought he had only been trying to sneak into a game early.
That love of baseball would cause him to return to the ballfield. When he was older, he walked into Dodger Stadium again. This time, he was armed with a Nikon camera and a fake press pass. Once he got in, he was free to take pictures of his heroes as he pleased.
And then, yet later, he started getting paid.
Besides being a sports photographer whose early career included taking pictures for baseball cards, Haddad, who lives in Burbank, has also shot for concerts and television productions. He’s currently a prop photographer working on shows such as “black-ish,” “For All Mankind” and “NCIS.” If a family album or a crime scene photo is in the episode, he may have taken it.
Haddad’s portfolio — as seen online at mitchellhaddadphoto.com — from his more than 40-year career is dizzying; besides those shows, he’s worked on “Scandal,” “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “West Wing” and more. He has a collection of baseball, golf and football photos to his name. And, thanks in part to his time as the house photographer at the former Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, he’s taken shots of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, as well as swimmer Michael Phelps and the band Pearl Jam.
“Photography takes you inside the rope,” Haddad said.
The 64-year-old is a talker, constantly shifting in his seat during an interview as he mused about his life as an art student who took more softball classes than art courses. He gestured wildly as he talked about his time in the U.S. Navy from 1976-79, when he worked as a photographer. His friendly nature and sociable demeanor — which later became vital tools on the baseball field — got him access to quality dinners and extra blankets.
Once he left the Navy, he started working with Los Angeles magazine, pasting advertisements onto pages. After a while, he had the idea to borrow a colleague’s press pass, photocopy it with his own name and use it to sneak into baseball games.
“That’s how I am,” Haddad said with a grin. “I can’t help myself.”
Haddad spent some time taking pictures of games before connecting with a friend who referred him to a company that offered to pay him for his shots. Later, his contacts got him into the music and television industries as well.
As Haddad talked about his favorite ballplayers and musicians — Ringo Starr is a big one — he at times sounded more like an enthusiastic fan than a seasoned photographer with decades of experience. He said he even has a rapport with the behind-the-scenes staff at Dodger Stadium: janitors, concession workers and — perhaps ironically — security guards.
“Everything I’ve shot, I’ve loved being a part of,” he explained. “I didn’t shoot a concert that I didn’t like.”
Haddad’s outgoing personality often paid off; baseball players would often vouch for him to wary subjects, and he noted that he was close friends with the late Tony Gwynn, who played for the San Diego Padres.
“I try to warm them up to a degree where they’re comfortable … and not so intimidated by some guy pointing a lens at them,” he said. “If you’re a fly on the wall, you’re going to get the best stuff in the world.”
But Haddad is rarely so enthusiastic as when he’s talking about the Beatles. Since he saw their debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964, he said, he has been hooked. He has even made some oil paintings depicting the members — and has gotten some of them signed.
“I drank the Kool-Aid,” Haddad added. “A whole gallon of it.”
He has met all the members of the band except for John Lennon; the day the musician was shot, he added, was one of the saddest of his life.
‘I’VE JUST BEEN BLESSED’
Talking about Lennon was one of the few times Haddad seemed uncharacteristically somber during the interview. But it was in a later conversation that he opened up about another major emotional point for him: prayer.
Besides baseball, prayer has served as a haven for Haddad, particularly during times of difficulty. He added that he prays every night and throughout the day, thanking God for his two adult sons and his mother.
Haddad admitted that he couldn’t talk much about prayer without getting choked up — a reaction that was closely linked with his appreciation for his experiences.
“I’ve just been blessed and [I’m] grateful for an amazing life,” he said.
But while Haddad loves his job, and plans to continue for as long as he can, he also said he can’t wait for retirement — something that he thinks could be coming in the next few years. On set, he is often hunched over his cameras for hours at a time, and the waning strength in his hands has caused him to drop equipment. And now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has to wear a mask and face shield to protect the crew and actors.
At the same time, Haddad knows he has a dream job. Photography, he said, is the most incredible way to capture moments in time. He still finds it pleasantly bewildering that people would want and appreciate his skills.
And being wanted and appreciated is what Haddad has sought — as well as to meet people and do things for them.
“I feel that is a really important thing in life,” he said. “To … do something nice for somebody.”