Nashua came into special prominence by winning the Belmont Futurity. Whitney Tower reported that race in the new sports weekly under the prophetic headline, "A Horse to Watch." Nashua continued to win: the Flamingo Stakes, the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial.
Meanwhile, James Murray was writing just as enthusiastically that there was a glint in California's eye over Swaps, thus forecasting the sectional rivalry. Then, when Swaps won the Santa Anita Derby, the stage was set for the big Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville that saw the favored Nashua, with the great Eddie Arcaro up, beaten as little Willie Shoemaker, the darling of the West, gave Swaps a flawless ride.
The roar of the Kentucky Derby crowd had scarcely died away before clamor arose for a match race between Swaps and Nashua. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was right in the middle of it and having fun. Although it seemed obvious from the beginning that Washington. Park in Chicago was the logical place and August the logical month for the race, every sportswriter and track impresario and $2 bettor had his own idea of where such a racing natural should take place. Nevertheless, in this case logic won out and the greatest match race of the decade was set for Washington Park August 31.
Baseball's year, as covered by the new sports weekly, began with Leo Durocher guiding the Giants to the pennant and then masterminding them through four straight victories over Cleveland, a rout of the pitching-rich Indians for which no one was prepared. In the victory of Cleveland in the American League race, the reign of Casey Stengel as monarch of all he surveyed ended, or was at least interrupted. But as the year rounded out, Casey was in as hot a pennant scramble as he ever knew with the Chicago White Sox, the Indians, the Detroit Tigers and the Ted Williams-sparked Boston Red Sox breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, over in the National, Brooklyn, winning a record 10 straight at the start of the season, had made it a runaway, thanks principally to Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and the low-octane, school-masterish managering of Walt Alston. And Willie Mays, who was hailed as one of the wonders of baseball in 1954? Incredibly benched for a hitting slump for a brief moment, Willie came back to hit (and sensationally catch) again and help the Nationals and Stan Musial beat the Americans in the Ail-Star Game at Milwaukee.
This same Milwaukee again broke its own record for attendance at home games and confirmed baseball's wisdom in extending its western frontier to Kansas City where the fans took in the hapless Athletics of Philadelphia and stuck by them through thick and thin. It was pretty thick there for a while when the A's rode high in sixth place, but in the dog days of July it got pretty thin as they hit a disastrous losing streak. Then, rewarding the unswerving loyalty of their fans, the A's rose up to knock the Yanks out of first place.
Although the turnstiles clicked a merry tune in Kansas City and Milwaukee, the same sweet music was not heard everywhere in the majors. Baseball's commissioner, Ford Frick, showed his concern by engaging a firm of research specialists to poll the fans for constructive ideas. Although most observers felt that the trouble could be traced to baseball's inability to adjust to television, at least this much was certain: the show that the fans saw for free on television was a good show that constantly changed its star billing. Last fall there was no bigger name in the cast than that of Dusty Rhodes, the pinch-hitting home-run maker of the Giants. Now Rhodes's dust had settled and there were new names like Kaline, Zimmer and Klaus.
The show was as good in football too, and the star of it was Navy. Described by its coach, Eddie Erdelatz, as "a team called desire," Navy astounded everyone by upsetting Army and then going on to the Sugar Bowl for another astonishing victory over Mississippi at New Orleans where there is a streetcar named Desire.
It was the year in which Otto Graham said goodbye to professional football after going out like the great star he was by leading his Cleveland Browns to victory over the Detroit Lions. It was the year that saw the passing from the scene of Notre Dame's Frank Leahy and the succession of the boy coach, Terry Brennan. Meanwhile, the debate continued over college football's overemphasis. In SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame, defended the college game and Robert Hutchins, former president of the University of Chicago, suggested it be abolished entirely and surrendered to the men who were frankly professionals. But although the professional game attracted more and more fans, there was no prospect that the college game had anything but a long and prosperous future ahead of it.
The future also promised great things in tennis, for the year could hardly have been better. Not only did Captain Billy Talbert and the U.S. team he directed so skillfully bring home the Davis Cup but, in Talbert's opinion, Tony Trabert emerged as a truly great champion. The same Billy Talbert, wearing his hat as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S tennis expert, wrote:
"The way Trabert went about winning the 69th Wimbledon championships, the way he conducted himself in his matches, the kind of record the big-legged youngster is putting together—all of that takes you back a few years to 1946 and 1947 and another man tennis players refer to reverently and simply as 'Kramer.' "