The real pioneers "came downstairs with Sid," Sidney L. James, the first managing editor, having led a redoubtable band from the 33rd floor of the old Time & Life Building in New York's Rockefeller Center to the 17th and then to the fourth floor. Associate Art Director Grut is the most senior remaining staffer, having begun work for Muscles on Aug. 15,1953.
The original concept was that about 75% of SI's contents would come from outside contributors. Quickly this was found to be undesirable; the reverse is now true. SI is mostly staff-written. It was also hoped that the magazine could be named Sport, but that title was held by Macfadden Publications. They wanted $250,000 for it; Luce offered $200,000. He bought the title SPORTS ILLUSTRATED for $5,000, plus a lifetime subscription to the new publication, from the man who held the rights to a defunct monthly so named.
Jim Murray, the renowned sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was a prepublication staffer. Another was a young author who came a cropper trying to write a caption about a horse jumping over a fence. He could not satisfy the editors and finally just upped and quit, leaving in his typewriter the desperate words, "The——horse jumped over the——fence." That was Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
The fledgling staff persevered, and the inaugural issue, dated Aug. 16, 1954, featured a cover shot taken at Milwaukee County Stadium with Eddie Mathews at bat and Wes Westrum catching. Augie Donatelli was the ump. (Westrum and Mathews are now scouts for Atlanta and Texas, respectively; Donatelli is retired and lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.). The lead story by Paul O'Neil was about Roger Bannister (who was to be our first Sportsman of the Year) whipping John Landy in the first race of four-minute milers. A copy of the issue in good condition is now worth $25.
In the 1,284 issues since then, Muhammad Ali has been on the cover most often, 25 times, beginning in 1963. Jack Nicklaus is next with 18 covers, followed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 15, Arnold Palmer with 14, Bill Walton with 13 and Sonny Liston with nine.
Our readers take an unusual amount of interest in the covers because the subjects are supposed to be jinxed. Swimmer Shirley Babashoff got cold feet and hid in the ladies' room when she was supposed to pose in 1976. She was cajoled out by a persuasive female staff member, and pose she did, when reminded that Mark Spitz had been a cover subject one Olympics earlier and had won seven gold medals, Babashoff won a relay gold and four silver medals at Montreal, a performance not quite up to what she had anticipated, but certainly no disaster. The argument that a jinx exists naturally includes, as an example, a football cover, in our fourth autumn, with the billing: WHY OKLAHOMA IS UNBEATABLE. Notre Dame defeated the Sooners that week on national TV., Nobody's perfect. Not even Ali, our champion cover subject. After all, he lost three of 59 fights.
On Thursday night in Milwaukee, Mathews (who went on to the Hall of Fame despite first-coverdom), Westrum and Donatelli reassemble to have the inaugural cover shot again. And we'll be lifting a glass to you, the reader, for making this quarter century and that reunion possible.