The sports world said goodbye to two members of the Steel Curtain, a couple of Brooklyn Dodgers pitchers and a pair of legendary basketball coaches, as well as the singular Kiwi beekeeper who conquered Everest, a unique champion of chess and one of the most respected voices in broadcasting
This is an article from the Dec. 29, 2008 issue
94 | Fresh out of TCU in 1937, Baugh was offered a $5,000 deal by the Redskins, but he held out for—and received—$8,000, making him the NFL's highest-paid player. He was worth it. As a rookie Slingin' Sammy led the league in passing, took Washington to the NFL Championship Game and, in an era when the forward pass was still a novelty, threw for 352 yards in a 28--21 win over the Bears. Baugh didn't restrict his heroics to offense. During his 16 seasons he intercepted 31 passes as a defensive back, including an NFL-best 11 in 1943, when he also led the league in passing and punting. After Baugh retired in '52 the Redskins retired his jersey, something they haven't done for any other player. But Baugh never returned to Washington. Instead he moved back to West Texas, where he bought a ranch and settled into the life of a cowboy. Like everything else he tried, he did it well. When Robert Duvall was preparing for his role as a cowboy in Lonesome Dove, he stayed with Baugh at the Double Mountain. Duvall won a Golden Globe.
58 | A mainstay of the Steel Curtain D, Mad Dog recovered from a lung infection on the morning of Super Bowl IX and sacked Minnesota's Fran Tarkenton for a safety, the only points of the first half. White, who made two Pro Bowls in his 10-year career as an end, went on to a successful career as a businessman and fund-raiser in Pittsburgh. He was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for Barack Obama just before his death.
75 | Overshadowed by Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine, Podres did one thing neither hurler could: He clinched a title for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Podres beat the Yankees 8--3 in Game 3 of the 1955 World Series, then threw a Game 7 shutout. After a 15-year career in which he won 148 games, he mentored Curt Schilling, among others, as an always-old-school pitching coach. "I don't know nothin' about computers," he said. "I know pitchers."
78 | After his no-name Texas Western team with five black starters knocked off all-white Kentucky, which had already won four national titles, in the 1966 NCAA championship game, Haskins met the press for 10 minutes, and not once did the issue of race come up. He hadn't intended to make a statement; he was just trying to win the game, one of 719 W's he'd earn in his 38-year career. (Though at the team's 25th reunion he did acknowledge to his players, "I guess you helped change the world a little bit.") The Bear—a scowling man who favored clip-on ties and wrinkled shirts—had coached high school ball in a series of Texas outposts before taking over in El Paso. He looked far and wide in cobbling together his '66 team, drawing recruits from New York City, Detroit and Gary, Ind. During an open practice at the Final Four he berated the Miners, as he was wont to do, to the surprise of several onlookers. "How can you talk to these black guys like that?" one coach asked. Haskins's answer was simple: "Same way I do white guys."
79 | The Steelers' color commentator for 35 years, Cope conveyed his excitement with trademark yelps of yoi! or, if the occasion called for it, double yoi! When not on the radio, Cope was a prolific writer; more than 40 of his pieces appeared in SI. But his most enduring legacy is probably the Terrible Towel, which Cope invented in 1975 by encouraging Pittsburgh fans to bring yellow dishrags and wave them during a playoff game.
31 | After winning the 1980 Kentucky Derby as a 13--1 long shot, Genuine Risk showed she was no fluke, coming in second in the Preakness and the Belmont to become the first (and last) filly to finish in the money in each Triple Crown race. Two years later she was bred to Secretariat in the most glamorous of equine unions, but the colt she gave birth to was stillborn. At the time of her death she was the oldest living Derby winner.
72 | As the Giants' longtime radio commentator, Lynch wasn't especially good with names—he spent most of one game calling the Houston Texans the Houston Astros—and didn't always stay on topic, but that was part of what New York fans found so charming. Many of Lynch's long, rambling stories were about his playing days, when he was an All-Pro cornerback for the team. He led the NFL in interceptions in 1961 and '63.
92 | Bolt won 15 tournaments, including the 1958 U.S. Open, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002, but he'll be remembered most for his temper and his club tossing, which earned him the nickname Thunder Bolt. On one occasion he asked his caddie what club he should hit. The caddie recommended a two-iron. It was way too much club for the job—but it was the only iron that was left in Bolt's bag.
70 | The 1962 AL Rookie of the Year earned his award. Tresh took over when Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek was called up for National Guard duty, moved to leftfield when Kubek returned, and hit .286 with 20 homers. But Tresh was even more effective in the World Series. Against the Giants he belted a game-winning, three-run homer in Game 5 and helped preserve a 1--0 Game 7 win with a running catch of a Willie Mays drive.
92 | A hard thrower at Harding College (he once fanned 26 in 13 innings), Roe said he had three pitches as a pro: "my change, my change off my change and my change off my change off my change." A five-time All-Star who started in three World Series for Brooklyn, Roe admitted to a fourth pitch—the spitball—in 1955, a year after retiring. "I threw it a little bit," he said later, "but it got so overrated. That kept me out of the Hall of Fame."
80 | Her résumé—which included stints as a chorus girl, a weathergirl and a club singer—was unique among NFL owners. Frontiere inherited control of the Los Angeles Rams in 1979 upon the death of her sixth husband, Carroll Rosenbloom. Against the wishes of the league she moved the team in 1995 to her hometown of St. Louis, where five years later the franchise celebrated the only Super Bowl victory in its history.
SIR EDMUND HILLARY
88 | In January 1940, with World War II raging, the 21-year-old New Zealand beekeeper and conscientious objector sought a peaceful place to reconsider whether he should enlist. He chose a lodge at the base of Mount Cook, the country's highest peak, and had a revelation: He wanted to climb. Hillary called it "the happiest day I had ever spent." And so began a quest that culminated 13 years later—after a stint in the air force—with his unprecedented summiting of Mount Everest, which had claimed the lives of at least 16 men who had tried to scale it. For years Hillary insisted that he had reached the peak at the same time as his guide, Tenzing Norgay; in '86, shortly before he died, Norgay allowed that Hillary had preceded him. Sir Edmund had known what it would mean to the Nepalese to believe that a native had been the first to the top. Hillary hadn't climbed for glory; it never even occurred to him to have Norgay take his picture on the summit. "Why did I need a photograph?" he said. "I knew I'd been there, and that was good enough for me."
63 | A hard-partying righty, Ellis insisted that he was a better pitcher under the influence than sober, and the evidence supports him: In 1970 he threw a no-hitter for the Pirates while on LSD. The unpredictable Ellis, who once showed up at a game in curlers after Ebony wrote a story about his hairstyles, had 138 wins for six teams in his 12-year career. He entered rehab after retiring in '79 and later became a drug counselor.
93 | After living on little more than coffee and cigarettes for years, Newell was advised by his doctors to give up coaching in 1960, when he was just 44. He went out on top, though, leading the U.S. Olympic team to gold in Rome. Then Newell, who won the NCAA title with Cal in '59, turned into one of the greatest instructors the game has known, teaching Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal, among many others, at his big-man camps.
81 | Being the only badminton player to appear on the cover of SI changed Alston's life. In 1955 he was an FBI agent who was about to be shifted to surveillance work, but once he became famous, his bosses chose to keep him as an investigator. (Among the cases he worked was the Patty Hearst kidnapping.) When not catching bad guys, Alston won 12 national championships, including two in mixed doubles with his wife, Lois.
62 | The Mickey Mantle comparisons started early: Both were from Oklahoma and signed by the Yankees; both were shortstops turned centerfielders with strong arms and terrific speed. If Murcer didn't quite live up to those expectations—well, it was Mickey Mantle. Still, when he retired in 1983 after 17 seasons to embark upon a career as a Yankees broadcaster, Murcer had five All-Star appearances, a .277 average and 252 homers; for many summers he was the only exciting thing about a dreary team. He was traded in '74, just as the Bombers started to get good again, then reacquired in '79. Six weeks after he returned, his best friend, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, died in a plane crash. Murcer eulogized him, quoting the philosopher Angelo Patri: "The life of a soul on earth lasts longer than his departure." He returned to the Bronx from the funeral in Canton, Ohio, that day and, playing without sleep in front of a national TV audience, hit a three-run homer and a walk-off two-run single in a 5--4 win, the defining performance of his career.
44 | Though he stood 7 feet tall and weighed as much as 340 pounds, Duckworth preferred to do his damage with midrange jumpers. And he did plenty: He was a two-time All-Star who averaged 11.8 points over 11 NBA seasons. That he wasn't a banger fit his personality. "He was a big, loving teddy bear," said former Trail Blazers teammate Terry Porter. "At times guys got frustrated because he didn't have a mean streak."
77 | Blessed with a rich baritone, Jones was a natural. He started his broadcasting career as a 15-year-old gofer at a radio station in Fort Smith, Ark., but within two hours he was on the air. He made his network TV debut with an AFL game on ABC in 1960, and when he left the booth (from NBC) 38 years later, he had covered 28 sports and two Super Bowls. Jones was also a member of USC's '51 national championship-winning tennis team.
81 | Edward Walter Spulnik wrestled as a bad guy under several names, including Tarzan Kowalski, Hercules Kowalski, Wladek Kowalski and the Polish Apollo. But none worked as well for him as Killer Kowalski, the nom de guerre he adopted after a 1952 incident in which he accidentally ripped off the ear of Yukon Eric while performing a knee drop. Kowalski went to visit Eric in the hospital, and the two shared a laugh at the absurdity of the injury. Some newspapermen who overheard them reported that Kowalski had been laughing at Eric, not with him. "When I climbed into the ring that night, the crowd called out, 'You animal, you killer,'?" he said in 1989. "And the name stuck." Kowalski, who legally changed his name in 1963, went on to become the preeminent villain of his day. One fan threw a pig's ear at him, and another—a woman—stabbed him in the back. Outside the ring he was, predictably, a gentle giant, working for children's charities and becoming a vegetarian. He fought into his 50s, winning several belts and pinning Andre the Giant in '72. In retirement he opened a wrestling school in Salem, Mass., where he tutored the likes of Chyna and Triple H.
86 | In four decades in front of the camera, McKay never relied on gimmicks or cloying catchphrases. He just conveyed a sense of genuine wonder and delight at what he was calling, whether it was Olympic highlights or cliff diving in Mexico. As the longtime host of ABC's Wide World of Sports, he visited 40 countries and traveled nearly five million miles. Of course, not every story was uplifting. McKay is likely to be remembered most for his work at the 1972 Munich Games, when he began a 15-hour stretch behind the desk in a damp bathing suit—he had been in a sauna when the news broke—watching the horrible fate of 11 Israeli hostages unfold. He then told the world at the ordeal's end, "They're all gone." When he finally left the air, he received a cable from Walter Cronkite that read, "Today you honored yourself, your network and your industry." That was no surprise, because McKay was so much more than a talking head. For most of his career he wrote his own copy, including the phrase that signaled the beginning of another adventure in the Wide World of Sports: "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
92 | Originally a society writer at the Twin City Sentinel in Winston-Salem, N.C., Garber moved to sports when that department's all-male staff was depleted by World War II. She ended up working the beat for more than 50 years, becoming one of the first women to cover men's sports—though sometimes she had to sit with the coaches' wives. In 2005 she was the first female winner of sportswriting's highest honor, the Red Smith Award.
59 | With his arrow Mohawk (a reminder to always move forward) Holmes was one of the more colorful members of the Steelers' 1970s dynasty. Nicknamed Fats, the defensive tackle made two Pro Bowls and twice led Pittsburgh in sacks. Holmes described himself as "stone crazy"—he once fired a handgun at a police helicopter—but after his career he became an ordained minister in New Waverly, Texas; he died near there in a car accident.
89 | One of the original owners of the Broncos in 1959, Howsam wasn't content to build an AFL franchise, so he sold his interest, switched sports and put together one of baseball's most memorable dynasties. After four years in St. Louis as general manager of baseball's Cardinals, he moved to Cincinnati and assembled the Big Red Machine, an offensive juggernaut that won four pennants and the World Series in 1975 and '76.
90 | He played on only two teams that finished higher than third, but Vernon was one of the best hitters of the 1940s and '50s. Though he primarily hit for average—he won two AL batting titles for the Senators—his most memorable moment came on a home run. After his walk-off shot on Opening Day in '54, he was intercepted by a Secret Service agent and taken to President Dwight Eisenhower, who insisted on shaking Vernon's hand.
74 | After a 14 1/2-year hitch in the Army, Moody undertook a career as a golfer. An excellent tee-to-green player, he won the U.S. Open in 1969—but that was his only Tour victory. Moody struggled with what SI called, in a '79 story, The Putter That God Forgot. That changed once Sarge reached the Senior tour in '84: Becoming one of the first to use a long-shafted blade, he won 11 tournaments and more than $1 million.
76 | One of the NBA's most recognizable referees—Garretson worked more than 2,000 games—he also served for 17 years as the league's director of officiating. While critics accused him of using his power to intimidate young refs, Garretson was instrumental in the expansion of crews from two to three, and he hired the league's first female referees. His son Ronnie has been officiating since 1987--88; they worked one game together.
63 | A runt most of his adolescence, he played jayvee football through his junior year at Robstown (Texas) High, working the chains for varsity games in which his younger brother, Marvin, starred. Gene filled out at Texas A&I, but he remained an unheralded offensive lineman until his revelatory performance in the 1967 Senior Bowl. That earned him a spot in the College All-Star Game alongside big-name players from big-name schools; they were so impressed with Upshaw that they voted him a captain. "From that point on," he said later, "it seems I've been the captain of everything." Late in his 15-year Hall of Fame career as a Raiders guard (his teammates nicknamed him the Governor) he was the elected head of the NFL Players Association, a position he held for 25 years—well into his retirement from the field. There was one work stoppage early in his tenure, but since 1987 the NFL has enjoyed labor peace, earning Upshaw the respect of both his constituents and his supposed adversaries. Said former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, "Gene was the sun and the moon and Venus and Jupiter and Mars."
93 | With his direct, straightforward style, Heinz changed sportswriting, which for so long had relied on a litany of numbers and overblown prose. Heinz's Death of a Racehorse, a 960-word masterpiece, is probably the best-known piece of sports journalism, and Ernest Hemingway called his book The Professional "the only good novel I've ever read about a fighter." With H. Richard Hornberger, Heinz also cowrote the novel MASH.
81 | Unlike most race car drivers—type A, aggressive almost to a fault—Hill was an introspective opera buff from Southern California who once said of himself, "I had an amazing amount of luck to race for 22 years and not a drop of blood or a broken bone. Maybe I wasn't trying hard enough." Imagine what he might have done had he tried any harder. A three-time winner of both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring, Hill became the first (and still only) American-born Formula One champion, in 1961, though he clinched the crown under tragic circumstances. In the penultimate race of the season, the Italian Grand Prix, Hill's rival and Ferrari teammate Wolfgang von Trips was killed in an accident that also claimed the lives of 14 spectators. With the title wrapped up, Ferrari pulled out of the final race, at Watkins Glen, depriving Hill of the chance to drive as the world champion in his home country. After considering retirement, Hill raced for five more years before finally walking away at age 39 to focus on his two loves: restoring classic automobiles and collecting antique musical instruments.
53 | Playing in an era when closers were outsized characters with colorful monikers, the unassuming, surf-loving Californian with the plain name was often overlooked despite saving 216 games and making two All-Star teams in 13 seasons. A soft-throwing righty, Smith used a forkball and a "no-seam" heater that fluttered so much, opponents accused him of scuffing the ball. He's the Astros' leader in games pitched, with 563.
64 | From preadolescence the Brooklyn-raised Fischer seemed destined for greatness, becoming the youngest player (at 14) to win the U.S. Open chess championship and the youngest (at 15) to attain the rank of grandmaster. In 1972 he became the only American to win the world title, defeating Russia's Boris Spassky in a match in Reykjavík, Iceland, that made the intellectual pastime front-page news for two months. But away from the game, Fischer's life was a mess. As early as the 1960s he showed signs of erratic behavior, joining a cultlike church and imagining that the Russians were out to kill him. After beating Spassky, he turned down countless endorsement opportunities, was stripped of his title for refusing to play Anatoly Karpov and dropped out of sight. He reemerged in 1992 for a rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia, violating a U.S. order that banned business there. Fischer renounced his American citizenship and ended up back in Iceland, where he spent the last four years of his life.
73 | Though he weighed just 248 pounds, Hickerson was called "the greatest downfield blocker in the history of pro football" by Jim Brown, who benefited from the guard's agility during their years in Cleveland. The Browns had the NFL's leading rusher in seven of Hickerson's first 10 seasons. A Tennessee native, Hickerson was a close friend of Elvis Presley's; every week he would send the King a tape of the previous Sunday's Browns game.
40 | An electrifying skater who fed off the crowd, Bowman—or Bowman the Showman, as he was called—battled addictions to drugs and alcohol. The U.S. champion in 1989 and '92, he was a disappointing fourth at the '92 Olympics after finishing seventh in '88. Bowman, who appeared in TV commercials and shows as a child, had reportedly moved back to L.A. to revive his acting career when he died from an accidental drug overdose.
91 | A feared hitter during the mid-1940s, Holmes became a household name again in '78, when Pete Rose chased and ultimately surpassed his NL-record 37-game hitting streak. The Yankees originally signed Holmes; unable to find a place for him in the outfield, they traded him to the Braves. In Boston he hit .300 five times, including the year of his streak, '45, when Holmes batted .352 with 28 home runs—and just nine strikeouts.
93 | Born Emil Joseph Bavasi in Manhattan, he would become known as Buzzie (thanks to his frenetic ways as a kid) and be forever associated with Brooklyn. In 1950 he took over as G.M. of the Dodgers and helped assemble the team that gave that outer borough its only title, in '55. His Dodgers won three more World Series in Los Angeles before he moved to San Diego in 1968 to become a part owner of the expansion Padres.
75 | Remembered primarily as the victim of a line drive that nearly blinded him in his right eye, Score went on to become a beloved broadcaster in Cleveland for 34 years. In 1956, as a 23-year-old, he won 20 games for the Indians and led the AL with 263 strikeouts. But he was never the same after a shot off the bat of Yankees infielder Gil McDougald struck his face on May 7, 1957. Score returned after a year and was almost immediately beset by ailments; some said he had altered his already unorthodox delivery to better defend himself on the mound, putting more strain on his left arm. He explained that his problems simply came from not having sufficiently warmed up once on a cold night. But that was Score's way—he steadfastly refused to use his eye injury as an excuse. And while he admitted to occasionally throwing his glove in disgust or letting out a scream while alone in his car, Score never complained when anyone else was around. He simply pitched through '62, then settled, beautifully, into a new career.
21 | Raised in a small fishing village in New Brunswick, the shy Bourdon was just starting to blossom—as a player and as a person—when he was killed in a motorcycle accident in July. Taken by the Canucks with the 10th pick in the 2005 draft, the 6'2", 211-pound defenseman was a member of Canada's gold-medal-winning teams at the '06 and '07 world junior championships. Bourdon scored two goals in his 36 games with Vancouver.
68 | The son of the gregarious Harry Caray, one of baseball's most recognized broadcasters, Skip—who worked Braves games for 33 years—had a style all his own. He was one of the driest wits ever to work a game, but his sarcasm never seemed out of place, especially early in his career, when Atlanta was chronically bad. In 1995 he called the Braves' World Series win, and in 2005 and '06 he worked alongside his oldest son, Chip.
46 | In a 26-year drag racing career Kalitta surpassed the achievements of his father, Connie, a Hall of Fame driver. Scott was a two-time top-fuel champion with 17 wins, and he also won one funny car event. He surprisingly retired—twice, in 1997 and '99—to focus his attention on his air-cargo business, but both times he returned to race for the family team. He was killed in an accident during qualifying in Englishtown, N.J.
76 | Not especially lithe or limber, the 5'7" Soviet gymnast never won a medal in the floor exercise in an international competition. But in events that allowed him to take advantage of his strong hands and arms, he was almost unbeatable. Shakhlin won seven medals—including four gold—at the 1960 Rome Games, and his career Olympic haul was 13. He also won 13 world championship medals and was the all-around champ in '58.
72 | The Miracle Mets rode their young pitching staff to the 1969 World Series, but down the stretch they also relied on Cardwell, a journeyman in his 13th season. Saddled with a 3--9 record in July, the righthander won five consecutive decisions—including four starts—and threw 28 straight scoreless innings as New York caught and passed Chicago. The Cubs were one of Cardwell's four former teams; he threw a no-hitter for them in 1960.
FROM OUR PAGES
GERALD ASTOR, 81
A staff writer when SI was born in 1954, Astor became its first photo editor a year later. Under his watch the magazine began using more color photos, and he hired or develped some of SI's top shooters, including Walter Iooss Jr., Neil Leifer and John Zimmerman. After he left SI, Astor wrote a biography of boxer Joe Louis.
JACK FALLA, 62
Covering hockey, the sport he loved more than any other—he built a rink in his backyard every winter—Falla wrote with poignancy and insight. After he left SI in 1987, he taught communications and journalism at Boston University. His fifth book, Open Ice, a collection of essays about hockey and mortality, was published posthumously.
BARBARA LA FONTAINE, 76
Though she never learned to drive, La Fontaine wrote about auto racing—among many other sports—during her time at SI. She joined the staff in 1956 as a secretary and worked her way up to become the second female senior editor. Her most notable profiles as a writer were of Sonny Liston and Wilma Rudolph.
THEO WESTENBERGER, 57
By bringing laughter to the set, Westenberger put her subjects at ease, which led to several memorable portraits. Seven of her pictures graced the cover of SI, including shots of Bill Laimbeer and the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Westenberger also took celebrity photos and was a sought-after travel photographer.