A staff member who has been with the magazine since its early days was passing through the art department recently when he spotted a proof of this week's Billy Martin cover. Martin, he recalled, had also been on the cover many years ago—on April 23, 1956 to be exact—and he wondered if that 19-year span was a record for length of time between first and most recent covers. He began digging and came up with the answer, along with other bits of cover trivia:
This is an article from the June 2, 1975 issue
Yes, Martin's stretch is the longest, by two years. Second place, 17 years, goes to Willie Mays, first pictured on an April 1955 issue, when he was with the New York Giants, and again in May 1972, when he joined the New York Mets after his years in San Francisco. A month behind Mays is Gordie Howe (March 1957—March 1974).
With his appearance this week, Martin also joins a select group of athletes who have made the cover in all three decades of the magazine's history. Martin was also on in July, 1969 as manager of the Twins. Mays, Howe and Leo Durocher are in this category, too, as is Bob Cousy, a cover subject in 1956, 1961 and 1970.
Yet none of the above are among those who have appeared on the most covers. Muhammad Ali wins that one by a knockout with a total of 19 covers, 10 as Cassius Clay. Ali made his first appearance in June 1963 with Big Ben in the background (he was in London to fight Henry Cooper); his most recent was the last issue of 1974 in which he was honored as Sportsman of the Year. Ali, or any heavyweight champion, has an edge on other athletes since we tend to preview their fights as well as report them. Further, a fight is about the only event in which an athlete can come in second and still be sure to be in the picture.
Behind Ali came those two longtime rivals, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, with 14 and 13 covers respectively. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 12 and Sonny Liston nine, although a number of Liston's are as the aforementioned second-place finisher. Other high-ranking cover subjects are Floyd Patterson, Joe Namath and Bill Walton (eight each) and Mickey Mantle and Jim Ryun (seven). Nicklaus holds the record for being on the cover the most years, 12, Palmer for the most consecutive years, eight. This last could be challenged by Abdul-Jabbar fans. On the Feb. 8, 1971 cover Kareem appears unnamed and fuzzy as Willis Reed drives to the basket. If you count that, Abdul-Jabbar has a string of nine years, dating to 1966 when he was Lew Alcindor of UCLA.
The longest cover name seemed at first to be a tie between Schoendienst (Red) and Ter-Ovanesyan (Igor), at 12 letters. But back on Nov. 18, 1963 we had a cover on a skier named Cindy Hollingsworth and her 13 is still the record. (That same year in successive weeks we ran covers on people named Vonderheide, Vanderbilt and VanderKelen, which must mean something.) The shortest last name is three letters: Ali, Orr (Bobby), Jay (Joey) and Coe (Charlie) are only a few. Should Taiwan's Mr. Lu win the British Open, the record could be his. The youngest cover person was 13-year-old Pamela Phillips, with her show horse (Oct. 31, 1955). Runner Marie Mulder was on at 15, Ryun at 17. Casey Stengel, 73 at the time, was the oldest.
Finally, this is the 1,067th issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. But you probably knew that.