People like to read about people, and we at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED are not about to flout this fundamental rule of journalism. Every week we write about the heroes and goats who are directly involved in the great confrontations of sport. Less frequently, but regularly, we explore the fringes or lesser-known areas of sport and come up with bizarre personalities, such as Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod (page 77), who is the world's foremost authority on tropical fish. He also happens to have an IQ of 181, has collected sea slugs with Hirohito (the Emperor of Japan is an expert on them) and has a passion for pigeons, the violin, snakes and coffee with cockroaches in it (they might be a new species). He seems like a unique personality, but we have presented to our readers others as extraordinary.
For instance, we had a story (SI, Feb. 27, 1961) on Mr. J. G. Taylor Spink, the late publisher of baseball's weekly bible, The Sporting News. Mr. Spink did more for the game than baseball can ever repay. He also was disposed to prove that he was absolutely right about everything. " Taylor Spink," declared Taylor Spink unblushingly, "is first-class. He travels first-class, he works first-class. His paper is first-class. He demands the best and he gets it." Fortunately, Mr. Spink did not have to prove these statements; the story mostly did it for him.
Then there was John Zink (SI, Nov. 4, 1963), a 250-pound, 72-year-old Tulsa millionaire who sports an Ernest Hemingway beard, dresses in terry-cloth shorts, shoots coyotes from a penthouse, drives a Caterpillar bulldozer for kicks, smears juicy steaks with sticky peanut butter and, with his son, builds pink-and-cream racing cars that twice have won the Indy 500. Bizarre? Yes, but perhaps no more so than John Day (SI, Feb. 3, 1964), a 55-year-old Oregon rancher, millionaire and grandfather who delights in being different. Instead of a tame house cat, he owns an African cheetah. Instead of climbing mountains, he sprints to their summits and then tears back down again to set speed records. At the age of 52 he strapped skis on his feet for the first time and spent the next 24 months rigorously training for the 1964 U.S. Olympic Nordic ski team—which he failed to make.
Or perhaps one might give the prize for eccentricity to Horse Owner Colonel Isidor Bieber (SI, June 26, 1961), whose mind is so weighted down with global matters that he will not name his own famous Thoroughbreds in any conventional manner. Colonel Bieber contends that the world has three defects: "sex, slaughter and smoke." To combat these three evils he gives his horses such names as Set an Example, Hate War and Don't Smoke. And on days when he knows everything is about to go wrong he wears stiff $103 shoes. That way he can count on at least one pleasure—taking off the shoes.
In the same league we have found such characters as Dr. Ernest Dichter (SI, July 24, 1961), a jaunty little scientist who has studied the psychology of sports (bowlers are actually "knocking down people, little men, women") in his spooky castle laboratory high above the Hudson River. And harness racing's Big Daddy, George Morton Levy (SI, July 27, 1964), who relaxes from his duties at Roosevelt Raceway by blasting golf balls through his neighbor's bay windows at midnight. And many others.
However eccentric, these are important people. You rarely hear much about them in the news, but you meet them in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.