The Coffee-Stained lists curl on the radiator in David Bauer's office. They look like the Dead Sea Scrolls, page after battered page of esteemed names that could not be included in our 40 for the Ages feature, SI's pantheon of the 40 most significant individuals in sports in the four decades of the magazine's existence (page 46). "Willie Mays and Wilma Rudolph, Flo-Jo and Bo Jackson," recites Bauer, the assistant managing editor who edited the package. "Red Smith and Red Auerbach, Phil Knight and Bobby Knight...." All were casualties of the process.
In January each of our editors and writers was asked to submit a list of 15 candidates for inclusion in 40 for the Ages. From the more than 300 nominees, the editors eliminated such intriguing contenders as basketball coach Howard (Hobby) Hobson, who advocated the use of the three-point field goal and the shot clock, and point-spread inventor Charles K. McNeil. "We had to ask ourselves, Are we honoring these people on the basis of their achievements or their impact or their long-term influence?" says Bauer. "And the criteria ultimately became all of those things, which leaves us with some names that people are bound to disagree with."
Indeed, at the taping of the companion one-hour prime-time special produced by the magazine's television division, SITV, which aired this week on NBC, host Bob Costas nearly choked when he discovered that neither Mays nor Mickey Mantle had made the list. Among staffers, Bauer was besieged by more last-ditch lobbying than Senate crime-bill opponents ever were. He fairly wept over the eloquent E-mail from a reporter making a magnificent case for Nancy Lopez, and he commiserated with a writer who phoned late one night with an impassioned appeal on behalf of Willie Shoemaker. "The Shoe's gotta be there!" implored the scribe. In the end the Shoe did not fit; Lopez, likewise, missed the cut.
When the list was finally crystallized to a consensus 40, the most difficult task was just beginning. "When it came to actually ranking the 40, the arguments became even more heated," Bauer says. "And yet one thing was never in dispute: Muhammad Ali was always Number 1."
Bauer can tell you that Ali began boxing exactly 40 years ago this fall, for the number 40 became his forte this summer. In addition to overseeing 40 for the Ages and appearing briefly in the TV special, Bauer edited Steve Rushin's voluminous retrospective on the past 40 years in sports, which ran in the Aug. 16 issue. "It was Bauer's inspired idea to run the piece in English, rather than its original Sanskrit," says the self-effacing Rushin.
In fact, about the only 40 with which the fortysomething Bauer is not familiar these days is the 40-hour workweek. In the busy days before this issue closed, Bauer had only sporadic furloughs to his home in Westchester County, N.Y., to see his wife, Ginny, and their children, two-year-old Callie and nine-month-old Johnny. Occasionally during this endeavor, the thoughts of our beleaguered desk jockey wandered to a certain disc jockey. "This Top 40 business is trickier than it looks." says Bauer. "I have a world of new respect for Casey Kasem."