Twenty-five years ago, when SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was born. Willie (Pops) Stargell, one of our co-Sportsmen of 1979, was known around Oakland, Calif. as Lefty Milkshake—the 13-year-old Wilver was as busy imbibing shakes as he was slugging baseballs. He had notions of becoming a doctor but changed his mind four years later when the Pirates offered him a contract for $1,200. Co-Sportsman Terry Bradshaw, then about to enter the first grade of Adkins Elementary, was playing Pee Wee baseball in Shreveport, La. and had not yet begun to lose his hair. Our previous 26 Sportsmen and Sportswomen also now find themselves in far different circumstances from those they were experiencing around the time SI first appeared, on Aug. 16, 1954:
A headline in a '54 issue of The Columbus (Ohio) Citizen Magazine bragged, MOVE OVER SNEAD—MAKE ROOM FOR JACKIE, and the story below told of the exploits of 14-year-old Jackie Nicklaus (SI's 1978 Sportsman). Steve Cauthen ('77) was still six years away from being foaled. The kicks that a pregnant Colette Evert was feeling were probably soon-to-be-born Chrissie ('76) hitting tennis balls against the wall. And 13-year-old Petey Rose ('75) was no doubt sliding headfirst into third on a Cincinnati sandlot.
An 89-pound Cassius Clay ('74) was 12 and had just won his first fight, a three-round split decision in Louisville. In Dumbarton, Scotland, 15-year-old Jackie Stewart ('73) was working at his father's gas station and practicing to become the best trapshooter in Great Britain. Billie Jean Moffitt King's parents in Long Beach, Calif. were trying to talk her out of softball because it wasn't "ladylike," and her co-Sportsperson of 1972, John Wooden, had been at UCLA for six seasons, but it would be another 10 before his team won a national championship.
Lee Trevino ('71) had quit school—he was 14—to help support his family by retrieving golf balls at Hardy Greenwood's pitch 'n putt in North Dallas. Six-year-old Bobby Orr ('70) was between seasons in the Parry Sound Minor Squirt hockey league, and '69 Sportsman Tommy Seaver, age 9, was splashing around in the Sunnyside Country Club pool in Fresno, Calif. Bill Russell ('68) was about to make San Francisco a national power in college basketball, while 15-year-old Carl Yastrzemski ('67) was picking potatoes on his father's Long Island farm.
December 24, 1979
Jim Ryun ('66) was a 7-year-old so beset by allergies he sneezed himself out of the Wichita, Kans. Little League. Sanford Koufax ('65) had just flunked a tryout with the Giants by throwing his first pitch into the stands. Ken Venturi ('64) was playing golf—for the Army. Alvin Rozelle ('63) was publicity director for the Los Angeles Rams, and 13-year-old Terry Baker ('62) was the scourge of the playgrounds of Peninsula Park in Portland, Ore.
Jerry Lucas ('61) was soon to enter 9th grade. He probably wouldn't remember that at 14 he was a year away from leading his Middletown, Ohio high school to 76 straight victories. Arnold Palmer ('60) was only a few weeks away from winning the U.S. Amateur, and Ingemar Johansson ('59) was a seaman in the Swedish navy.
Rafer Johnson ('58), fresh out of high school, had just finished third in the AAU decathlon to the Rev. Bob Richards and Aubrey Lewis. Stan Musial ('57) was on his way to batting .330 for the Cardinals and 18-year-old Bobby Morrow ('56) was helping his father pick cotton on the family farm in San Benito, Texas while trying to decide whether to continue running.
Johnny Podres ('55), just recovered from an appendectomy, was a struggling 21-year-old lefthander for the Dodgers, still a year away from becoming a World Series hero and enjoying the dual distinction of being selected as our Sportsman and having a baby hippopotamus in a Brooklyn zoo named after him. Roger Bannister ('54) was the subject of the lead story in a new magazine called SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, having just beaten John Landy in the first mile in which two runners finished in under four minutes.
Here are some other stats. Bradshaw is the first pro football player to be selected and only the third from that sport. Stargell is our seventh baseball Sportsman, all but Yaz from the National League. Among them they've won 13 batting titles and seven MVP and six Cy Young awards. Cauthen was our shortest (5'1"), lightest (96 lbs.), youngest (17) and is the only one yet to marry. Our oldest was Wooden (62), and the oldest athlete was Nicklaus (38). The tallest was Russell (6'9½"), the heaviest Lucas (230 lbs.).
Stewart, Yaz, Trevino, Nicklaus and Lucas were born within a year of each other, and Podres and Johansson eight days apart. The longest and shortest names, Yastrzemski and Orr (in a tie with Ali), both played for a Boston team. Four are from foreign countries and four were born in California, birthplace of the most Sportspersons. Their bloodlines are Lithuanian, Italian, Mexican, African, Polish, Irish, Swedish, Scottish, Russian and American Indian. Of their 49 children, 14 belong to the four golfers.
But perhaps the most interesting thing to note about our Sportspersons is the names we've managed to leave out in the last 25 years. Among them: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, Ted Williams, O. J. Simpson, John Unitas, Jim Brown, Gordie Howe, Jerry West and Pèlè. They didn't have baby hippos named after them, either.