Certain people tend to appear on magazine covers over and over again, for the simple and obvious but vital reason that they are important to the field with which the magazine is concerned. In the 11 years that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has been publishing, Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees has appeared on our cover seven times. That is more than any other ballplayer and a pretty good indication of the position he has maintained in baseball over the past decade, as a superstar in his own right and as the exemplification of his team, the Yankees. This week, unhappily, he symbolizes the beleaguered position in which the Yankees find themselves this season—hurting, losing, approaching the end of an era (page 20) of unparalleled superiority.
In past years we have been mostly, though not always, concerned with a happier Mantle, and the list of writers, photographers and artists who have covered him for us is almost as long as the masthead on the righthand side of this page. We have covered Mantle in more ways than we have any other athlete—at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, over a sandwich after a night game; in small-town eateries and in plush restaurants in great cities; on movie sets, at motel openings, in hotel rooms; in hospital rooms, too (too many hospital rooms). We have covered him in trains and planes and buses and autos; on golf courses and driving ranges and at home while he practiced putts on the carpet with his small sons. We have covered him in dugouts and clubhouses and, most important of all, as he performed on the playing field in more than a thousand games—during spring training, during the regular season, in All-Star Games, in the World Series.
Almost everyone who has done a story on Mantle, like almost everyone who has played baseball with or against him, or who has come to know him off the field, has much the same feeling for him: a mingling of affection and awe. When Gerald Holland's story appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in the spring of 1957 (left) at the peak of Mantle's career, just after he had won the American League Triple Crown by leading in batting, home runs and runs batted in, Casey Stengel said, "Why, they know him everywhere he goes and even in some places he doesn't go. They even know about him in North and South Dakota." In 1959 we wrote of him, "No one ever looked more like a great athlete." In 1960 we said, "He could bunt .300." But in 1962, as all the injuries he had incurred over the years began to take their toll, we said, "When he swung and missed his legs would tremble like those of an old card table."
It is sad to see a great athlete near the end of his career, but in Mantle's case, and especially this season when his importance to the Yankees is so wrenchingly obvious, there is a quality of the heroic in the sadness. It is indeed the end of an era, and we will not see its like again.