Search

Lead-off Man Walter Bingham remembers SI's first managing editor

March 22, 2004
March 22, 2004

Table of Contents
March 22, 2004

Departments

Lead-off Man Walter Bingham remembers SI's first managing editor

If there is a word to describe Sidney L. James, SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED's first managing editor, it is enthusiastic. He would
respond to written story suggestions with Golly, Gee Whiz or WOW
scribbled to the side. Sid, who died last week at 97, never met a
sports story he didn't like, partly because he came to the job as
an innocent in the business.

This is an article from the March 22, 2004 issue Original Layout

In his younger years he had been a reporter for the St. Louis
Post Dispatch and then an editor at LIFE, where in 1952 he had
been instrumental in publishing Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man
and the Sea. When Henry R. Luce, TIME's founder, contemplated
whether or not to launch a sports magazine, he asked Ernie
Haverman, a trusted colleague, if it was a good idea. Haverman
sent Luce an 11-page memo detailing why it wouldn't work. Sid
said it would.

In those early days, beginning in August 1954, the magazine
covered the full spectrum of sports--rodeo, canoeing,
trapshooting and, yes, baseball, football and golf. Eddie Mathews
may have been on SI's first cover, but he was quickly followed by
a grouping of colorful golf bags, a woman knee-deep in the ocean
surf and, in time, the Yale bulldog. It was Sid's belief that
something in sports touched everyone.

During his six years as managing editor, James presided over the
birth of the infamous SI jinx. In 1957 he ran a cover that said
why OKLAHOMA IS UNBEATABLE. The next week the Sooners' 47-game
winning streak came to an end. He also coaxed contributions from
such literary all-stars as Hemingway and John Steinbeck. William
Faulkner offered his impressions of the 1955 Kentucky Derby;
Robert Frost observed the 1956 baseball All-Star Game; and John
Marquand, one of the most popular novelists of the 1930s, wrote
several short pieces about a fictional golf club called Happy
Knoll.

Sid got caught up in the excitement leading up to the 1956
Olympics, SI's first. He ordered photos taken of every single
member of the U.S. contingent, running them for several pages
under the headline OLYMPIANS ARE YOUR NEIGHBORS. When a writer
mentioned that he had accompanied two St. Louis pitchers, Lindy
and Von McDaniel, to church and was forced to read a passage from
the Bible to the congregation, Sid insisted the vignette be in
the magazine.

A few years ago Sid, long retired and living in California, was
asked if he would consider attending an SI reunion in New York
City. He declined because of age but said that somewhere in the
archives was a speech of Luce's saying that without Sid James,
there never would have been a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. No reason to
argue.

Walter Bingham joined the staff of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in 1955 and
has written for the magazine for more than 40 years.

B/W PHOTO: RALPH CRANE/TIME LIFE/GETTY IMAGES (JAMES AT DESK) THE WAY WE WERE James (above, in the late '40s, and meetingRussian wrestlers) helped a fledgling magazine define itsmission.B/W PHOTO: WALTER DARAN/TIME LIFE/GETTY IMAGES (MEETING) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: GARRY WINOGRAND (OKLAHOMA)COLOR PHOTO: MARK KAUFFMAN (GOLF BAGS)COLOR PHOTO: LISA LARSEN (BAND)COLOR PHOTO: JERRY COOKE (BULLDOG)