JUNE 7, 1965
He is most likely the only third baseman to have been knocked out by Muhammad Ali, and, like most of the champ's other victims, Pete Ward never saw it coming. Ward, at the time a heavyweight among American League power hitters, had long been scheduled to appear on the cover of SI's June 7, 1965 issue. But the Tuesday before Ward helped his White Sox win two out of three in a weekend series against the Yankees and vault into first place, five SI photographers had been ringside in Lewiston, Maine, for the rematch between Ali and Sonny Liston. Ali made quick work of Liston that night, knocking him out in the first round. He got Ward a few days later.
Following the fight, an SI editor hurried back to New York City on a chartered Cessna, film in hand. Due to the stringent deadlines for engraving color images in those days, the editors had to quickly decide on the cover, and by the next morning they had chosen the picture that would appear there. The presses soon rolled with a cover featuring Ali cracking Liston under the banner THE FIGHT YOU DIDN'T SEE. Among the Ali-Liston images SI printed in that issue—including the first live action color photos of the fight—was Neil Leifer's seminal picture of an enraged Ali standing, screaming, over the fallen Liston. "I kept waiting for the issue to come out," recalls Ward, 61. "Then it did, and I knew why I wasn't there."
Ward's baseball career also fell short of its early promise. He was named American League Rookie Player of the Year by The Sporting News in 1963 after hitting .295 with 22 home runs and 84 RBIs. The following season Ward had 23 homers and 94 RBIs. In April 1965, however, he was a passenger in a car that was rear-ended, leaving him with a case of whiplash that hindered him for the rest of his career. "The day after the accident I woke up with a stiff neck," Ward says. "I was never comfortable from that point on."
Ward retired in 1970 with a .254 average and 98 home runs in nine seasons. He spent the next decade managing in the minors before leaving baseball for the travel industry. Today he owns the Pete Ward Travel & Cruise Center in Lake Oswego, Ore., just outside Portland. He and his wife of 37 years, Margaret, have three sons and four grandchildren.
Shortly after the Ali-Liston issue was published, a sympathetic SI staffer sent Ward four test copies of the cover that never ran, one of which now hangs in Ward's office. (Another, which Ward signed and sent to SI vice president of communications Art Berke many years after the 1965 issue date, is proudly displayed in the diehard Sox fan's office.) "You know, Ali was on something like 40 covers," Ward says with a smile. "It would have been nice if he could have let me be on just one."