Picture This: Little Leaguers Want Their Pants

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Most everyone who has ever played a sport — even those of us who never played at a level beyond, say, high school basketball, football, baseball, soccer — most of us can recall at least one time, before a game, when everything just felt right. Maybe there was something in the air, or there was a look in the eyes of every single member of the team, or the last practice had been so smooth, so seamless, so downright fun that the surge of certainty in the locker room was palpable. Whatever the omen, or the ineffable energy roiling around the room, everyone was primed. Everyone was ready. A win was not only likely; it was, everybody knew, absolutely inevitable, and the opponents across the hall could just ...

Uhm. Has anybody seen our goddamn pants?

Take a look behind one of the most memorable sports photos ever made: Yale Joel's immortal shot of pantless Little Leaguers in Manchester, N.H., in 1954. There's competitive fire here, and frustration, and some humor and even perhaps, if one squints just right, something like pathos. But mainly, there's a bunch of kids caught in a situation that, even if the viewer hasn't experienced the exact circumstances before, still rings a bell. After all, who among us has truly lived if he has not been caught, at least once, without a pair of pants to call his own?

See the full gallery on LIFE.com.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com. Picture This is his weekly feature for The Stacks.