What's a Fanwing Royal Coachman? In which event did Willi Lehner win the championship in 1959 after having trained by pushing cars with one finger? These are typical of the questions SI librarians Lester Annenberg, Harry Peckham and Peter Miller field every day. Actually, it's lese majesty to call them the SI librarians; they man the Sports Branch of the whole Time Inc. Library, but they work on the same floor as our editorial staff, and they steer us right on endless fact-finding missions.
Take last week: Looking into the origins of the word "bullpen," Annenberg said, "It's like the word 'fungo.' We've decided there's no definitive source. But we found a reference to catcher—and linguist—Moe Berg saying that in old parks pitchers warmed up in front of the Bull Durham tobacco billboards. From that it became bullpen."
One subject about which our librarians don't have to leave much to speculation is Muhammad Ali; they have accumulated 50 biography folders on him, requiring three feet of shelf space. There are about 15,550 other bio folders, 17,000 subject folders, 4,000 sports books, and back copies of 160 monthly periodicals in the Sports Branch. Our trio also clips and files articles from The New York Times, The Sporting News and, of course, SI, as well as classifying and filing information from our correspondents around the world.
As if we don't keep them busy enough, the library gets calls from corner bars—sports buffs trying to tap the librarians' expertise to settle a bet. They usually won't answer these and other outside questions, but they make an exception if, say, the President of the United States calls. "Richard Nixon was planning to entertain Tenley Albright, the skater," Annenberg says, "and his press secretary called for a little background information. We'll answer those questions."
June 20, 1982
Sometimes they'll even answer a few questions about themselves. Annenberg is the head librarian, the epitome of quiet efficiency. He joined the Sports Branch in 1970—before that he worked for 14 years in the Foreign News Section of the main library—and he now knows about everyone in sports from Olle Aaberg to Dave Zyglewicz.
Miller was an athlete of sorts in his youth. "I ran the mile in high school," he says, "but they needed a sundial to time me." He's hoping for more success with the fiction writing he now does on the side.
The gregarious, cigar-chomping Peckham was a starving actor recently in from Ohio when he joined Time Inc. in 1953 as an office boy. For some years thereafter he annually quit to play in summer stock and reapplied at Time Inc. each fall. He did some off-Broadway work and landed a part in an early '50s television show; his big line was something like, "Telegram, sir." These days the library is his stage, and the ham in him lives on.
So, did these guys know that a Fanwing Royal Coachman is a dry fly and that Willi Lehner won the 1959 Finger Wrestling Championship? "Are you kidding?" Peckham says. "We're infallible. But if we don't know the answer to a question, we just tell whoever's asking where to go." First shelf on the right.