Taking it from August to August, it was a year of new highs in participation, of new excitements in competition. It had its thrilling upsets: Swaps in the Derby, Fleck in golf, Navy in football. It saw the Davis Cup come home from Australia and it witnessed the rise and fall of Leo Durocher. There was the first yacht race across the North Atlantic in 20 years and a Greenwich, Conn, entry won it. Now that the first man had broken through the psychological barrier, the four-minute mile became almost a commonplace. Another barrier, the so-called water barrier, was conquered too, as Don Campbell, son of the late Sir Malcolm, bettered his father's record and later drove his jet-powered speedboat to an utterly fantastic speed of 215.08 miles per hour.
The influence of sports was everywhere. In the clothes people wore, the automobiles they drove, the books they read, the shows they saw. Damn Yankees, the first Broadway musical ever to be written about baseball, was a smash hit. In another musical, Phoenix '55, Nancy Walker stopped the show with a spoof of the boom in boating. Sports books were hitting the best-seller lists; among them were Grant-land Rice's The Tumult and the Shouting, Wilbur Shaw's Gentlemen, Start Your Engines, and Tenzing's Tiger of the Snows which was also published in installments in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Another sports book, Somebody Up There Likes Me, by the ex-middleweight champion, Rocky Graziano, was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for an astronomical number of dollars. Advertising used sports as an attention-getter to sell everything from fuel oil to vodka.
Some of the world's best writers turned up as sportswriters in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. William Faulkner, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, covered hockey and the Kentucky Derby. John P. Marquand and John Steinbeck, also Pulitzer Prize winners, wrote of country clubs and fishing respectively. Budd Schulberg, who won the Academy Award for his screenplay, On the Waterfront, covered the fights.
All around the sports world there was an unmistakable, surging optimism, a youthful exuberance that caught up people of all ages. A man went to his 35th annual college reunion, prepared for a reasonably quiet time, and found himself racing around in an egg-white sports car driven by a classmate of his own vintage. A 67-year-old great-grandmother was spending the summer hiking, alone, the length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to the state of Maine. Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons was having his greatest years as a trainer of thoroughbreds at the age of 80. Casey Stengel, 64, was in the thick of a fight for the pennant that could be his sixth. Archie Moore, at the incredible boxer's age of 38, was preparing to fight Rocky Marciano for the heavyweight championship.
August 14, 1955
This magazine itself was a symbol of the times. As the first national sports weekly, it set up a journalistic vantage point for viewing the whole, wide world of sport. Naturally, addressing itself primarily to American readers, its main emphasis was on American sports. But editors and readers alike soon discovered that sports is a universal interest, that other countries were as keenly interested in their sports as Americans were in their own. Every week there were exciting things to be reported all around the world and, now that there was this new vantage point for viewing them, the events and scenes of other lands became more and more part of the American consciousness.
The need for the new vantage point provided by the sports weekly was dramatized in the very first issue when, in a sector of the sporting scene that is not always spectacular, one of the great sporting dramas of history took place. It was the duel of the four-minute men, Roger Bannister and John Landy. Both of them had run the mile under four minutes against the watch. Now both did it again before the tens of thousands present at the British Empire Games in Vancouver and one of the largest television audiences, U.S. and Canadian, ever to witness a sporting event.
Within the year other men ran the mile in under four minutes: Laszlo Tabori, Chris Chataway and Brian Hew-son. But it was like flying the Atlantic after Lindbergh.
When Roger Bannister wrote his book, first published in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, the sports world came to know him better. It was clear from the penetrating, mature, urbane memoirs of this remarkable young man that the world had a new type of athlete. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED named Dr. Roger Bannister its first Sportsman of the Year.
The interest in track generated by Bannister and Landy in the Vancouver Mile continued into the indoor track season which was one of the most exciting in years, with Milers Wes Santee, Fred Dwyer and Gunnar Nielsen taking the headlines and Arnie Sowell, the University of Pittsburgh half-miler, being hailed by sellout crowds as a bright, new U.S. hope for the coming Olympics.
If track and field events furnished eloquent evidence as to the kind of year it was, the testimony was clear almost anywhere one looked around the sporting scene. In horse racing, for example, three thoroughbreds told the whole story. One of them—the big, beautiful gray, Native Dancer—did it by retiring. The two others were Nashua and Swaps. From opposite ends of the country, they captivated racing fans as few horses have ever done and stirred up the greatest sectional rivalry since the War Between the States. They were owned by men who had as little in common as their home states of New York and California. To William Woodward, owner of Nashua, racing was a rich man's hobby; to Rex Ellsworth, ex-cowboy owner of Swaps, it was a bread and butter business.
Nashua came into special prominence by winning the Belmont Futurity. Whitney Tower reported that race in the new sports weekly under the prophetic headline, "A Horse to Watch." Nashua continued to win: the Flamingo Stakes, the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial.
Meanwhile, James Murray was writing just as enthusiastically that there was a glint in California's eye over Swaps, thus forecasting the sectional rivalry. Then, when Swaps won the Santa Anita Derby, the stage was set for the big Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville that saw the favored Nashua, with the great Eddie Arcaro up, beaten as little Willie Shoemaker, the darling of the West, gave Swaps a flawless ride.
The roar of the Kentucky Derby crowd had scarcely died away before clamor arose for a match race between Swaps and Nashua. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was right in the middle of it and having fun. Although it seemed obvious from the beginning that Washington. Park in Chicago was the logical place and August the logical month for the race, every sportswriter and track impresario and $2 bettor had his own idea of where such a racing natural should take place. Nevertheless, in this case logic won out and the greatest match race of the decade was set for Washington Park August 31.
Baseball's year, as covered by the new sports weekly, began with Leo Durocher guiding the Giants to the pennant and then masterminding them through four straight victories over Cleveland, a rout of the pitching-rich Indians for which no one was prepared. In the victory of Cleveland in the American League race, the reign of Casey Stengel as monarch of all he surveyed ended, or was at least interrupted. But as the year rounded out, Casey was in as hot a pennant scramble as he ever knew with the Chicago White Sox, the Indians, the Detroit Tigers and the Ted Williams-sparked Boston Red Sox breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, over in the National, Brooklyn, winning a record 10 straight at the start of the season, had made it a runaway, thanks principally to Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and the low-octane, school-masterish managering of Walt Alston. And Willie Mays, who was hailed as one of the wonders of baseball in 1954? Incredibly benched for a hitting slump for a brief moment, Willie came back to hit (and sensationally catch) again and help the Nationals and Stan Musial beat the Americans in the Ail-Star Game at Milwaukee.
This same Milwaukee again broke its own record for attendance at home games and confirmed baseball's wisdom in extending its western frontier to Kansas City where the fans took in the hapless Athletics of Philadelphia and stuck by them through thick and thin. It was pretty thick there for a while when the A's rode high in sixth place, but in the dog days of July it got pretty thin as they hit a disastrous losing streak. Then, rewarding the unswerving loyalty of their fans, the A's rose up to knock the Yanks out of first place.
Although the turnstiles clicked a merry tune in Kansas City and Milwaukee, the same sweet music was not heard everywhere in the majors. Baseball's commissioner, Ford Frick, showed his concern by engaging a firm of research specialists to poll the fans for constructive ideas. Although most observers felt that the trouble could be traced to baseball's inability to adjust to television, at least this much was certain: the show that the fans saw for free on television was a good show that constantly changed its star billing. Last fall there was no bigger name in the cast than that of Dusty Rhodes, the pinch-hitting home-run maker of the Giants. Now Rhodes's dust had settled and there were new names like Kaline, Zimmer and Klaus.
The show was as good in football too, and the star of it was Navy. Described by its coach, Eddie Erdelatz, as "a team called desire," Navy astounded everyone by upsetting Army and then going on to the Sugar Bowl for another astonishing victory over Mississippi at New Orleans where there is a streetcar named Desire.
It was the year in which Otto Graham said goodbye to professional football after going out like the great star he was by leading his Cleveland Browns to victory over the Detroit Lions. It was the year that saw the passing from the scene of Notre Dame's Frank Leahy and the succession of the boy coach, Terry Brennan. Meanwhile, the debate continued over college football's overemphasis. In SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame, defended the college game and Robert Hutchins, former president of the University of Chicago, suggested it be abolished entirely and surrendered to the men who were frankly professionals. But although the professional game attracted more and more fans, there was no prospect that the college game had anything but a long and prosperous future ahead of it.
The future also promised great things in tennis, for the year could hardly have been better. Not only did Captain Billy Talbert and the U.S. team he directed so skillfully bring home the Davis Cup but, in Talbert's opinion, Tony Trabert emerged as a truly great champion. The same Billy Talbert, wearing his hat as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S tennis expert, wrote:
"The way Trabert went about winning the 69th Wimbledon championships, the way he conducted himself in his matches, the kind of record the big-legged youngster is putting together—all of that takes you back a few years to 1946 and 1947 and another man tennis players refer to reverently and simply as 'Kramer.' "
In any tennis fan's book, for Kramer, you read "the tops."
Also at Wimbledon were two American women to console the tennis world for the loss, through her retirement, of the incomparable Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly. The Wimbledon finalists were Beverly Baker Fleitz and Louise Brough. Mrs. Fleitz was the favorite, for she had defeated Louise four times in matches around the world. But, as it keeps happening around the world of sport, as it happened to that Navy football team of desire, Louise Brough played her heart out and won in a great Wimbledon finale that had everyone agreeing with the Duchess of Kent, who said, presenting the trophy, "Wonderful tennis. Finest I've seen in years." That might have applied to the entire tennis year as well.
And certainly the sentiment could have been applied to golf. Its year saw the passing, certainly not without glory, of the old guard as represented by Ben Hogan and Sam Snead; the rise of the young guard in the victories of Arnold Palmer in the National Amateur, Mike Souchak along the winter circuit, Jack Fleck in the National Open, and a triumph of the middle guard as the Masters was won by Cary Middlecoff. Young Peter Thomson won the British Open for the second straight time, but for sheer charm of manner no one would forget a golfer who won nothing but the affection of his galleries: Billy Joe Patton.
The outstanding event of the golf year was, of course, the National Open. Hogan, once more near his top form, apparently had won the title for the fifth time when out of nowhere came the young guardsman named Fleck, a handsome, 32-year-old public links pro who used Hogan clubs and imitated Hogan's style and carried the hottest putter in the tournament. With Ben deprecating premature congratulations in the locker room, Fleck came up to the 18th green with a seven-footer to tie—and sank it. Next day in the playoff, as Hogan met disaster on the 18th fairway, Fleck steadied through to win in as exciting a tournament finale since the gangling kid named Francis Ouimet beat the Britishers, Vardon and Ray, for the same National Open championship back in 1913.
Somehow these events in the competitive area of golf gave heart and comfort to the average player, for the game continued to grow as a participant sport. There were not enough golf courses (although there were more than 5,000 in the 48 states) to go around. This presented a problem, particularly in the large metropolitan centers, but golfers were determined to find space for their game even if it meant tearing down a bowling alley here and there. Herbert Warren Wind, the game's leading historian and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S golf editor, surveyed the scene from all angles and predicted that in time golf would become our national pastime.
Since the whole world of sport was now being covered from week to week, there was plenty of elbow room for such parochial enthusiasms. The wide range of sporting interests was reflected in the major stories the new national sports weekly printed. These threw the spotlight now on the bowlers, now on the skiers and again on the hunters, the fishermen, the sailing enthusiasts, the growing thousands of sports car partisans.
To get these stories and the pictures, correspondents and photographers ranged over the world. They were at Wembley for the English soccer Cup Final, at Wimbledon for tennis, in Mexico for the bullfights, the Pan-American Road Race and the Pan-American Games. They went on a boar hunt with Generalissimo Franco in Spain and stalked a tiger with the Maharaja of Mysore. They were in Moscow to report the victory of Samuel Reshevsky over Russia's world chess champion, in Le Mans for the famous (and this year, tragic) race of the world's fastest cars. The range was all the way from marbles to mountain climbing and yet, taking on pace and continuity in the week-to-week telling, it was all one story of one wonderful world.
More and more people discovered that they were becoming interested in what happened all around the world of sport. The baseball fan, to whom chess was a mystery, found himself fascinated by the skill and personality of a Samuel Reshevsky. The fisherman who had never seen a horse race was won over by Swaps and/or Nashua. The bowler who knew nothing of soccer sensed the heart-pounding excitement of the English Cup Final.
But it was not merely its excitements that boomed the world of sport. It was also the tremendous U.S. prosperity which gave people time and money for it. It was as if they felt it to be a better investment than the arms race which shackled the larger world.
It seemed eminently fitting that, in President Eisenhower, the U.S. had a genuine sportsman in the White House. And it seemed, too, that when he seized the initiative so brilliantly at Geneva, he spoke with the directness of the playing field and reflected the optimism of a world in which high hopes are part of every game.
There could have been no better promise of still another golden year to come—in sports' new golden age.
SOME OF THE NOTEWORTHY EVENTS
Roger Bannister beats John Landy in thrilling 3:58.8 mile at Vancouver.
Stan Sayres takes fifth straight Gold Cup with Slo-Mo-Shun V.
Native Dancer wins by nine lengths at Saratoga, then is retired because of lameness.
Arnold Palmer captures U.S. Amateur golf championship.
Vic Seixas and Doris Hart win U.S. tennis crowns at Forest Hills.
Rocky Marciano knocks out Ezzard Charles to retain heavyweight title.
New York Giants sweep four straight over shocked Cleveland in World Series.
Navy's "team called desire" upsets Army 27-20, accepts bid to Sugar Bowl.
Otto Graham leads Cleveland Browns to pro football championship.
Tony Trabert and Vic Seixas beat Australia 3-2, return Davis Cup to U.S.
Swaps wins Santa Anita Derby and starts Californians talking about another Derby.
San Francisco defeats La Salle 77-63 in NCAA final to hold No. 1 ranking.
U.S. captures unofficial team title in Pan-American Games.
Cary Middlecoff wins Masters tournament at Augusta.
Detroit Red Wings beat Montreal Canadiens for Stanley Cup.
Swaps outruns Nashua by length and a half to win Kentucky Derby.
Bob Sweikert wins Indianapolis "500" marred by unfortunate death of two-time winner Bill Vukovich.
Nashua wins Preakness; Swaps takes Will Rogers Stakes; SI reveals plan for match race between two horses.
Hungary's Sander Iharos runs two miles in 8:33.4 for world record.
Carmen Basilio ends Tony De Marco's brief reign as welterweight champion.
Jack Fleck beats Ben Hogan in playoff for U.S. Open title.
Cornell's crew whips Penn, Navy and Washington, finishes first in IRA regatta.
Archie Moore beats Bobo Olson, gets long-awaited match with Marciano.
Tony Trabert and Louise Brough win Wimbledon championships.
Stan Musial's 12th-inning home run gives National League 6-5 victory over Americans in All-Star game at Milwaukee.
Swaps-Nashua match race is announced for August 31 at Washington Park.
Don Campbell drives his Bluebird at 202.32 mph for world speedboat record.