As the late Dan Parker used to say in his late N.Y. Daily Mirror sports column, "The customers always write." Last year, for example, you wrote us 3,000 more letters than you did in 1967, telling us what you liked in the magazine, what you despised, how right we were, how wrong we were and where we could go. If you continue writing the way you did this January, we are going to drown in paper; the total will be more than double the 1968 record.
Although only a scant dozen or so of these missives can be published in the 19TH HOLE each week, a large, representative number is duplicated and distributed in a weekly edition that is distributed to the staff. Every letter is answered, too, most of them by three unflappable young ladies—Lillian Wechter, Barbara Henckel and Maggie Aspinwall. The girls put in a fair amount of their time working out the answers to such questions as whether Bobby Hull can skate faster than Jim Ryun can run. They also settle bets and accept calls from bars, where, from time to time, discussions do become heated.
What draws the most mail is, of course, the controversial, which is natural enough, since sport itself is founded on controversy. Jack Olsen's series on The Black Athlete (SI, July 1 et seq.), for instance, produced some 1,200 letters, finally rather evenly divided between pro and con, and that is the most we ever got on one subject. The record for a single item belongs to Rita, the New Orleans stripper, who was shown balancing a couple of champagne glasses on her exuberances because that was part of the ambience of the city in which the Sugar Bowl was to be played (SI, Dec. 23). Rita got us 892 letters at last count, most of them con.
Among the regular, seasonal games, football inspires more letter writing than any other. College football preponderates, clearly because there are so many more college than professional teams. Baseball and basketball are neck and neck for second place, but it is a rather poor second. Once, because we needed the space, we omitted the masthead, which lists staff positions, and got one letter of complaint.
Lots of letters require individual attention rather than form replies, like the one from the young lady with an RFD address who asked if she could be introduced to Joe Namath because life in her home town was simply unbearably dull and she never got a chance to meet anybody interesting. Lillian and Barbara sent the bereft young woman pictures and articles about him, and they are her friends for life. Then there was the smart-aleck kid who wrote in that his teacher was crazy about Namath and would we please send him a picture of Joe so he could move up his marks a bit. He got it and we hope he is doing as well as he thought he would.
Aside from forlorn maidens and unscrupulous brats who go around bribing teachers, we get some pretty good stuff from the upper echelons of society. Bishop Gerald Kennedy of the Methodist Church, Los Angeles, for instance, wrote us that " SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is the best preachers' magazine being published," a thought that had not occurred to us.
"Christianity," the bishop explained, "looks upon life as a contest. St. Paul's words in I Corinthians 9:24-27 describe living as a struggle with something mighty important at stake. [You could look it up.] We strive for victory according to rules that were set down long before we arrived and will be in effect long after we are gone.... The preacher needs to be reminded of this, and that is why I urge all my ministers to take SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and read it right along with their Bibles."