The two men you see below have become something that those of us whose lives are not lived in the public eye can never aspire to. They are the answer to a trivia question. The question goes like this: "We all know that the batter on the cover of the first issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in 1954 is the Braves' power-hitting Third Baseman Eddie Mathews. But who are the catcher and the plate umpire?"
Well, fans, here they are. Meet retired National League Umpire Augie Donatelli (left) and Wes Westrum (right), now manager of the San Francisco Giants but in 1954 the New York Giants' fine defensive catcher. Westrum lives in Phoenix in the off-season and when we asked him recently about that 20-year-old cover he said, "Yeah, I remember the picture. I recognized myself, and some of my teammates mentioned it. I didn't think much about it at the time, but over the years I grew proud of it."
Donatelli retired to St. Petersburg, Fla. in 1973 after 24 years of major league umpiring. He remembers seeing SI when it first appeared in August 1954 and recognizing himself on the cover, but recalls that he took no particular note of it then. "Remember," he says, "magazines come and go."
Recently though, Donatelli came across a birthday card that was a reproduction of the cover. "There I was, big as life," he says. "My sons couldn't believe it. We began to study the picture and I recognized Wes Westrum as the catcher by his stance. But I thought the hitter, a lefty, might be Stan Musial. The background looked like old Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. Then I saw the number, 41, and recognized Mathews and knew it was County Stadium in Milwaukee."
December 23, 1974
Both men recall fondly the mid-'50s when major league ball was new in Milwaukee and the Braves were setting attendance records day after day. "I can remember whole trainloads of fans coming from as far off as Montana," says Westrum.
"Great crowds every night," says Donatelli. "My, how they loved it. The Milwaukee fans were rabid but never obnoxious. They'd get on me, but not unduly."
Westrum regrets the passing of the farm system that provided an apprenticeship for young players. He also misses train travel. "Now we rocket from town to town and scatter. Baseball is a game of unity on the field and off, and I think we're missing it more and more."
Travel is the one thing Donatelli does not miss at all. "That was the worst," he says. He worries in a professional way about the increasing unruliness of baseball crowds but he likes the bright new players' uniforms. "For one thing they don't shrink like they used to. And the umpires are more comfortable, too. That's good. They need all the help they can get."
With this, our annual year-end double issue—our next will be dated Jan. 6, 1975—SPORTS ILLUSTRATED looks back on 20 years of publication. Augie Donatelli says it for both of us. "Who would have known that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED would be as lasting as it has become—or me, for that matter. Twenty-four years of umpiring was not always a piece of cake."
The same could be said of 20 years of putting out a sports weekly. But there have been some memorable moments, which we replay beginning on page 32.