For 25 cents we gave you our two cents worth on the boomerang, two articles on the current baseball-card craze, an account of the first race between two sub-four-minute milers, a primer on what you should know if you are going to buy a puppy, Bill Talbert on Tony Trabert, an essay that tried to convince you (and ourselves) that we were in the middle of the golden age of sport and a puff piece on the sporting life of the "Dashing Duke of Edinburgh," Prince Philip. We also did a hard-hitting feature on poison ivy, in which Dr. Marcus Kogel was quoted as saying that the leaves might actually taste good in a salad, although he did add. "One man's meat is another's poison." And we made note of the 35th anniversary of Upset's upset of Man o' War in the Sanford at Saratoga.
All of that was in the Aug. 16, 1954, issue—the premier issue—of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Eddie Mathews of the Milwaukee Braves (batting), Wes Westrum of the New York Giants (catching), umpire Augie Donatelli (behind the plate) and County Stadium fans (those sitting on the first base side) were on the cover, and inside we felt our way around the world of sports, from the Himalayas to the New Jersey shore, from cricket to ladies' wrestling. After 35 years, it's fun to see how far we—and sports—have come.
According to tradition, the 35th anniversary is identified with coral and jade. We prefer coral, and not only because we don't like to think of ourselves as having become jaded over the years. Coral is, after all, formed in the sea by millions of tiny animals, and it is constantly changing and splendidly varied. SI today looks vastly different from the way it did 35 years ago, and it will undoubtedly look vastly different 35 years hence from the way it does now. Sports, too, are in a perpetual state of flux: Today's Braves are in Atlanta, and the Giants are in San Francisco.
But Milwaukee and New York came up with teams to replace them in the hearts of their citizens. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Since that first issue we have tried to offer the best in writing, photography and art, and we have always strived to entertain, enlighten and encompass. And one other thing: We have never been afraid to go out on a limb.
November 15, 1989
GREAT MOMENTS IN SI HISTORY, NO. 1. In our Oct. 1, 1956, preview of the World Series, we wrote, "Variety pitchers (Kucks, Sturdivant) might bother both Brooklyn and Cincinnati, but fastballers (Turley, Larsen) are looked on hungrily by muscular Dodgers and Reds." All Don Larsen did, of course, was pitch the only perfect game in Series history.
Advertisements are a good reflection of the times, and the ads in our first issue are no exception: Born for a long sporting life—new Stetson Railbird...You won't find many Kaiser-Darrins on the highway today—or tomorrow...Also makers of famous Falls City original air breather minnow buckets. Some of our editorial matter seems just as dated. We ran a fashion spread on sports-car racing teams. We hid Red Smith on baseball and Budd Schulberg on boxing in the back of the magazine, while devoting significant space up front to the comeback of the beaver. We no longer have a FISHERMAN'S CALENDAR ("WISCONSIN: Chippewa Flowage producing well, with 48½-pound muskie reported from Hayward last week"), nor do we run many features on beavers and poison ivy.
The writing and photography hold up pretty well, though. Our first story, Paul O'Neil's account of Dr. Roger Bannister and John Landy racing in the Vancouver Mile, is still an awfully good piece of writing, the lead of which we republish on page 27. O'Neil concluded his story as follows, revealing the poet in the athlete:
"'I tried to pull away from him in the backstretch of the last lap,' said Landy after he ceased to gasp for breath. 'I had hoped that the pace would be so fast that he would crack at that point. He didn't. When you get a man in that sort of a situation and he doesn't crack, you do. From then on I knew it was only a question of time. I looked over my left shoulder to see where he was on the turn, and when I looked back he was ahead of me.' He paused, grinned, shook his head and added, 'I've had it.'"
From the same Empire Games in Vancouver, we recorded on film the agony and confusion of a marathoner named Jim Peters, who entered the stadium in the lead, collapsed in pain, struggled to his feet, collapsed again and ultimately passed out after lurching for the wrong finish line. In that first issue you also can find the fossils of creatures that exist to this day. PAT ON THE BACK evolved into FACES IN THE CROWD, SOUNDTRACK into SCORECARD and SCOREBOARD into FOR THE RECORD.
One of the delights of going through back issues is coming across mentions of athletes who would go on to bigger and better things. That first SCOREBOARD noted that 19-year-old light heavyweight Floyd Patterson won an eight-rounder in Brooklyn, that 13-year-old Earl Buchholz won the National Junior Chamber of Commerce tennis tournament in Springfield, Ohio, that Arnold Palmer won the amateur division of the Tam O' Shanter golf tournament in Chicago and that Allen Geiberger reached the finals of the U.S. Golf Association junior amateur championship in Los Angeles. The one athlete who has remained at the top of his sport throughout most of our history is in there, too. Jockey Willie Shoemaker was cited for riding three winners at Del Mar, Calif., giving him 22 victories in nine days.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 2. One of SI's editorial staples in the early years was JIMMY JEMAIL'S HOTBOX, a question-and-answer feature by Jemail, who was the inquiring photographer of the New York Daily News. In the Feb. 28, 1955, issue, Jemail asked several sports figures, "There's been a lot of talk about anti-intellectualism. Are you an anti-intellectual?" Yogi Berra, catcher for the New York Yankees, had this to say: "Anti-intellectualism? Never heard of it. Am I an anti-intellectual? Who cares?"
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 3. In a Feb. 9, 1959, article, Ingredients for a Faster Mile, runner Herb Elliot recommended a breakfast that included fried eggs and two whole potatoes, French fried.
SI's initial circulation was 450,000, compared with our current figure of 3.5 million. We struggled financially and editorially. At first a good many of our stories came from free-lance writers, but we soon realized that relying on free-lancers was a mistake for two reasons: 1) We ended up throwing away a lot of articles that we had paid for, because they weren't good enough, and 2) we needed to forge our own identity. In the meantime, we showed a fondness for animals as cover subjects. In all of 1955, for instance, only one pro football player, Doak Walker of the Detroit Lions, made the cover, but four dogs did. In our first four years we devoted 15 covers to horses, eight to dogs, five to birds—counting one that was dead and in the mouth of one of the dogs—four to fish and one each to a seal, a monkey and a lion.
Inside the magazine we often called on literary lions. We had William Faulkner at the 1955 Kentucky Derby and at a hockey game earlier that year, Ernest Hemingway on bullfighting, Robert Frost at the 1956 baseball All-Star Game (one can imagine a sportswriter sitting next to the poet and asking, "Who you covering for?"), Carl Sandburg on putting and John Steinbeck on fishing. Even before we published our first magazine, we let a big one get away. A young writer joined the staff, and his first assignment was to write a caption about a horse hurdling a fence. After several days of frustration, he quit, leaving behind this caption in his typewriter: "The——horse jumped over the——fence." So much for the SI career of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
We struck suntan oil in our third issue, when we put a bathing beauty on the cover, in the surf off exotic Jones Beach, in New York. Years before our first true swimsuit issue, in 1964, we were on to something. That third issue also featured our first letters to the editor section, with praise from the likes of Thomas Dewey, Samuel Goldwyn, Clark Griffith, Hank Greenberg and Sandburg, who wrote, "The new magazine is a honey. Good writing, high readability, illustrations pat and high-spot."
Our first cancellation notice, from Walter Greenblatt of Dallas, also appeared in that first letters column. "I have received my first copy of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and wish to cancel my subscription." We recently tracked down Greenblatt, who's now a 62-year-old insurance broker in Dallas. "Please tell your editor I'm sorry I canceled the subscription and that I think the world of your magazine," says Greenblatt, "though I'm afraid I still don't subscribe." But 17,109 charter subscribers are still with us.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 4. Of the 1961 home run race—Roger Maris versus Mickey Mantle versus Babe Ruth—we wrote in our July 31 issue of that year: "A season is a season, no matter how many games are played, and if Mantle hits 61 home runs this year, the answer to the question of who has hit the most home runs in one season will be Mickey Mantle. Besides, no crowd watching Mantle's 61st home run sailing out of the park will be talked out of the conviction that it has just seen a new record being set."
SI's first managing editor, Sidney James, was in many ways the ideal man for the job. "He had an unbounded enthusiasm," says Robert Creamer, a writer and editor for the magazine and, other than Henry Luce, our founder, the only person whose name appears on the masthead of both the first issue and this one. "Every issue was the greatest issue we'd ever put out, and we needed that kind of optimism in those days."
While circulation was strong from Day 1, Madison Avenue viewed sport as a blue-collar preoccupation whose followers could not afford the products the agencies were selling. "The advertisers considered sport a medium worthy only for sports equipment and hemorrhoid remedies," says James, who later became publisher of SI.
Peter Carr, one of the magazine's advertising salesmen at the time, concurs. "Sport is smart today," says Carr. "It wasn't at all in the early days of SI." The tough sell translated to weak ad revenues, and the result was a negative balance sheet for the first 10 years.
That skepticism about SI didn't apply to the sports world. Long before the red ink turned black, SI began to catch on. Jeremiah Tax, who joined the magazine as a writer in 1955, recalls being sent to Peoria, Ill., in the late '50s to do a story on the Bradley University basketball team. "I walked out of the little airport there, and all these cab drivers came rushing up to me from the taxi line," says Tax. "I had called the sports information director to let him know what day I was arriving, and the word got around town that the man from SI was coming. They even knew what plane I was flying in on." Yes, we had begun to play in Peoria.
The magazine began to place a greater emphasis on hard sports when Andre Laguerre replaced James as managing editor in 1960. A Frenchman and an intimate of Charles de Gaulle who had been TIME'S London bureau chief, Laguerre was a brilliant, slightly rumpled man with a remarkable grasp of American sports, largely acquired as a youth in San Francisco (his father was in the French diplomatic corps). "When we heard Andre was coming in as an assistant managing editor in 1956," says Creamer, "I think we thought we were getting this very sophisticated French count. As it turned out, we got the French Oscar Madison."
Laguerre was a man of few words, but he inspired fierce devotion among his staffers. He loved pro football, and the magazine's growth coincided with the NFL's. Or perhaps it wasn't a coincidence. We helped create fans for the sport, and in turn, pro football created readers for the magazine.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 5. From our Feb. 24, 1964, preview of the first Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay fight: "Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champion of the world, will meet his match next Tuesday night in Convention Hall in Miami—his match, that is, in confidence, arrogance and psychological left jabs. Unfortunately for Cassius Marcellus Clay, he is not yet a match for Liston in the somewhat more pertinent matters of ring craftsmanship, punching power and the ability to take a smart clip on the jaw with no loss of equanimity or senses."
We have not shied from informing our readers about the underside of sports. Our series on corruption in boxing in 1954 helped to bring about reform in that sport. Over the years we have focused on the black athlete, violence in football, the fixing of horse races and college basketball games, women in sports, money and sports, and, through the eyes of former NFL defensive lineman Don Reese, the destructive influence of cocaine on sports. We have crusaded long and hard against such disparate ills as the abuse of anabolic steroids, violence in hockey and environmental pollution. A Sept. 21, 1981, story by Robert Boyle was one of the first articles about the threat of acid rain to appear in the national media.
Occasionally we have made news ourselves. Reporter Melissa Ludtke helped open the doors of all locker rooms to women journalists when she successfully challenged baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn's ban at the 1977 World Series. Less seriously, George Plimpton's story in the April 1, 1985, issue about an unknown pitching phenom who played the French horn and studied Tibetan mysticism made headlines across the country. The Curious Case of Sidd Finch was a hoax, concocted by the editors and Plimpton, who has also written in our pages about his Walter Mittyesque pursuit of athletics, including playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions and goalie for the Boston Bruins.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 6. The cover of the April 20, 1964, issue featured three women track athletes from the University of Texas, with the billing Texas Girls Aim for Tokyo. This qualifies as a great moment because of the aerodynamically unsound hairdos of the "girls." Let's put it this way. If Flo-Jo tried to run in the gargantuan beehive sported by one of the runners, her feet would cross the finish line several seconds before her head would.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 7. A few months later, our cover billing was Shirley MacLaine Gallops 99 yards Against Notre Dame. Inside was a story shamelessly promoting her film John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! The only defense we can offer is that we were in another life at the time.
We have also attracted attention because of the hex supposedly cast on our cover subjects. When, as sometimes happens, an undefeated team loses or a dominant athlete performs poorly or suffers an injury after appearing on the cover, SI is held responsible. We're certain that no causal relationship exists, but it's hard convincing others. Chicagoans still remember that Cub third baseman Ron Santo was on the June 30, 1969, cover when the team was leading the National League East. Not long after, the Cubs were overtaken by the Miracle Mets. Many Chicago fans blamed the Santo cover for the turn of events, though given the team's history, the Cubs would have found a way to swoon without our assistance.
In 1976, for a cover that would appear before the Montreal Summer Games, we wanted a group shot of three Olympians, swimmer Shirley Babashoff, marathoner Frank Shorter and basketball player Scott May, but at the last minute Babashoff refused to pose. She finally relented but only after staff members had cajoled Babashoff and her coach, Mark Schubert, into cooperating. When one of our writers pointed out that Mark Spitz had been on SI's cover during the 1972 Olympics—in which he won seven gold medals—Schubert, alluding to an image problem that hurt Spitz in the post-Olympic endorsement marketplace, said, "Yeah, but look what happened to him afterward." Sometimes you just can't win.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 8. From our preview of Super Bowl III: "With the common draft of the last two years, the AFL is getting its share of the truly competitive, gung-ho athletes, and it will soon achieve parity with the NFL. But that parity has not yet been reached, and the Colts should demonstrate this with an authority that may shock Jets' fans."
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 9. Can we call 'em, or what? This is from a Jan. 15, 1973, SCORECARD item on the New York Yankees' change of ownership: "The sale of the New York Yankees to George Steinbrenner and his associates...is a welcome change in baseball's ownership structure."
By 1964, our 10th anniversary, SI had become profitable. In 1974, after having built SI into the third-largest news magazine—after TIME and Newsweek—Laguerre stepped down as managing editor. His successors, Roy Terrell, Gilbert Rogin and Mark Mulvoy—all former SI writers—found ways to improve the product. Terrell maintained the high standards of writing and illustration that he had inherited, while placing greater emphasis on college and amateur sports.
Rogin, who took over in 1979, improved the quality of the writing even further and provided more comprehensive coverage of major events, such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl. Under Rogin, SI became the first all-color national magazine. Mulvoy, who rose to managing editor in 1984, has made the magazine more dramatic and dynamic through the use of larger photos and greater responsiveness to late-breaking news. In addition, he has overseen the first major redesign of the magazine since the early days of Laguerre.
"The magazine just keeps getting better and better," says Tax. "Oh, there are certain things I don't like about it, and every now and then I'll complain. But I can talk about it endlessly, and that's because I love it so much. I came to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED when I was 39 years old, and for 35 years now I've been fiercely proud of my association with the magazine and all of the people who work there."
Back when we were celebrating our fifth anniversary, in 1959, Henry Luce sent a message to our readers that we think has stood the test of the time: "We cannot promise you what victories we will report in the months ahead, what dramatic moments our writers and artists and photographers will capture for you—sport is too unpredictable for that. But we do promise to bring the best of sport, all in one place—and to bring it to you with an eye for action, a nose for news and an ear for truth. And, we might add, with heart and humor."
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 10. In our 1989 baseball preview issue, somebody wrote, "The Cubs, who haven't won a world championship since 1908, have had only one winning season since 1972. You can be certain this will not be their second."
We've made some wrong choices in the last 35 years, trying to decide what's meat and what's poison. But looking back, we take pride in what we have brought to sports and to our readers, an achievement recognized last April by the American Society of Magazine Editors, which gave SPORTS ILLUSTRATED the 1989 National Magazine Award for general excellence among magazines with a circulation of more than a million. Yes, we've come a long way since '54. That first 25-cent issue, in mint condition, is now worth $250.