Next week, as 1954 becomes 1955, SI will salute its first Sportsman of the Year in a comprehensive review of the past 12 months in sport. Only a moment's reflection brings to mind the almost numberless names upon names to choose from. SI itself, for instance, in less than five months of existence has already reported on more than 75 different sports and recreational pursuits, and named hundreds upon hundreds of participants in them—and the pleasant task of singling out one personality from the many who have distinguished themselves only underlines the increasing role which sport plays in our lives. It also brings the conviction that any Sportsman of the Year is, more than anything else, the symbol for the efforts and aspirations of all the Sportsmen of the Year—on all the teams, in all the sporting competitions in which people engage everywhere.
As people are apt to do at the end of a year—and with the thought that this is the first year that SI has had a chance to select its Sportsman of the Year—I found myself quite naturally turning over some of the brightest names of other years, wondering which, had we been there, our editors might have chosen. There are indeed so many that it is much like trying to extract individual lights from the Milky Way. Out of an almost legendary past, which some of our most active readers must still vividly recall, are Pudge Heffelfinger; Cy Young; Jim Corbett; Jim Thorpe—and Barney Oldfield, Honus Wagner, Francis Ouimet. Those of you who go back no farther than the Golden Twenties would certainly nominate Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen or Red Grange; Babe Ruth, Paavo Nurmi, Helen Wills, Tommy Hitchcock, Dempsey and Tunney. And even the youngest of our readers know as contemporaries Joe DiMaggio, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Blanchard and Davis, Hilary and Tenzing, Bob Mathias, Joe Louis. Among them all, surely a big horse named Man o' War would have to be in the running.
Probably in 1930 our choice would inevitably have been Robert T. Jones Jr., in the year of his Grand Slam triumph. For all those who in the past were in reality Sportsmen of the Year put something of character, of grace with determination, into their accomplishments, and gave to the quality of unprecedented performance the sense of unrepeatable performance. It was certainly so with Jones. As his biographer, O.B. Keeler, wrote of Jones's record: "I'll let you in on this much: it will never happen again." Perhaps not. But as long as the game exists and the championships remain, the golfers will be swinging at that record and all the others, challenging old performance and, again and again, surpassing it.
That's the way of sportsmen. And next week, with its Sportsman of the Year, SI recognizes one who seemed most perfectly in 1954 to represent them all.