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July 31, 2009 at 2:24 am ET
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Even in Down Economy, Photoshopping Guy in New-Team-Hat Industry Thrives
James mid-John Grabow.

James mid-John Grabow.

Have you ever wondered how, just mere minutes after a trade is announced, players can already be seen donning their new team’s cap? Realizing the unlikelihood a player was notified of the transaction, instantly plopped in a chair, handed a new cap and expected to strike an identical pose from his old team photo, you probably accurately assumed these updated bio pictures were manually doctored.

But if you delve deeper into the lucrative “Guy-in-New-Hat-Photoshoppers” industry, you’ll find an unsung and – as proved by this season’s active trade deadline – recession-proof profession.

“It found me,” Elliott James, 41, says of his uncommon calling.

James has been Major League Baseball’s go-to guy for post-trade Photoshoppery since the 1992 trade deadline. Once a head of graphics for a 100,000-circulation national magazine, he left his lofty post for a part-time gig with MLB that ranges from early season waiver pick-ups to blockbuster deadline deals. Though gainfully employed at the magazine, James always knew his passion was elsewhere.

“When I was young, I’d see trades announced in the paper, but the guy would still be wearing his old get-up,” he said. “‘What gives?’ I thought.”

As he advanced up the corporate ladder, his dreams remained fixated on the (then) non-existent task of putting new hats (and sometimes upper segments of jersey) on recently traded players. Someday, he thought, a market would emerge to fill the sometimes hours-long gap before a player could be photographed in his new uniform.

Working up the courage to finally make his dream a reality, James went to Commissioner Bud Selig and lobbied for this new position.

“I walked in his office and demanded a chance … and I’ll never forget what he said,” James said. “He was like, ‘Whatever, man.’”

So James dove headlong into his new vocation, etching his name deeper into baseball lore with each hat replaced. He’s done more than 1,500 “updates” in his tenure, including “Abreu as Yankee” – what he considers to be his Mona Lisa. He’s done 22 updates this week alone.

“This week isn’t for the meek,” he boasted Thursday. “I’ve been busy with [Jack] Wilson, Freddy [Sanchez], Cliff Lee and I just got done with George Sherrill. How else will people know who they were traded to, huh? I don’t even want to think about it.”

Despite the bustle of the trade deadline, which sometimes finds him putting in nearly six-hour days, James likes to keep the mood around the office light.

“Sometimes I’ll put the incorrect hat on a player and try to pass it off like I thought he was traded to that team [laughs],” James said. “And sometimes I won’t do anything, as if the player was traded to the very team he was on before. I’m kind of the office cut up.”

One picture James can’t immediately shape for display is that of his future.

“If everything goes right, I’ll die at my desk on some distant August 1st morning years from now. But right now, I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “I’m trying to stay ahead of the game, a hat ahead of the player.”

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