Marc Simont, who modestly illustrates Russell Baker's wry look at the Washington Senators (page 40), has appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S pages 66 times in the last decade. He obviously is one of our favorite artists, and the reasons for our high regard are, we think, obvious, too. First, Simont is essentially an illustrator, that is, one who understands at once the precise point to be made and the best way to relate it to the printed page. Second, when time is of the essence, as it so often is in journalism, he is extremely fast; given an assignment on Thursday, Simont will have rough sketches ready on Friday and finished drawings ready to go on Saturday. Third, and most important by far, he has an extraordinary feeling for the small detail that makes a drawing absolutely right—a vital factor in sport, where one false note brings bags of irate and indignant mail.
Over the years Simont has illustrated a variety of subjects for us, including motor sports (I still happily remember the girl in the towering straw hat in his drawings of Nassau's race week), football, bullfighting, dog racing and golf, but the greatest part of his work for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has been in and around baseball. His portfolio of drawings on spring training was, according to our Florida experts, the definitive report on that peculiarly American rite of spring. He portrayed San Francisco in the last, sad weeks of a futile pennant chase (the one in 1959, not this year's). He captured the lumpy and appealing essence of Yogi Berra by picturing him in full catching regalia—from the rear.
Simont's feeling for baseball is all the more remarkable because he was in his 30s before he saw his first major league game. Born in Paris of Spanish parents (his father, Joseph Simont, was an artist with the French magazine L'Illustration), he did not come to the U.S. for good until he was almost 20. A participant athlete—he still skis and plays tennis, soccer and ice hockey more or less regularly—he did not care for baseball. "I was almost a snob about not liking it," he admits cheerfully. But in 1951 he was commissioned by a publisher to do a book of drawings on baseball. "I had to spend day after day in the ball park," he says, "and I became a fan. It was wonderful. I remembered that I had work to do, of course, but it was very difficult." The artistic result of this conversion. How to Get to First Base, with captions by Red Smith, is one of the funniest and most perceptive books ever done on baseball and is now something of a collector's item. It also served to give Simont, who until then had concentrated almost entirely on children's books, entree into what he likes to call "my SPORTS ILLUSTRATED period." That period has lasted 10 years now, and we fondly expect it to go on and on.