The Best of Sports Illustrated (1990)

I found this book today. Our family gave it to my Grandpa (my mom’s dad) for Christmas one year when I was pretty young. We took it back while cleaning out his house after he passed.

It’s a really big sports illustrated commemorative edition. $50 American, $65 Canada. It’d be the equivalent of spending almost $100 dollars now.

It starts in 1954, ends in 1990 and has been broken down into four stages. The golden age (1954 to 1962), the age of audacity (1963-1975), the era of freedom (1976 to 1983), and the selling of sport (1984 to 1990).

This book is perfect for me. The older the sports, the better. I’ve completely turned into that guy.

Some random facts and good stories from this book:

In 1954, In a college football game between Alabama and Rice, Tommy Lewis came off the bench to make a tackle on Dickie Moegle, who was streaking down the sidelines toward the endzone. The referees ultimately got together and awarded Rice the touchdown. 1954 was also the year Willie Mays made that famous over the shoulder catch.

In 1955, at the LeMans Grand Prix, a wreck sent a car into the air as it hurdled lethal bits of wreckage into the crowd. Back then the race car crowds weren’t elevated or sitting in bleachers. They were literally standing on the side of the track all the way around. The accident caused 87 deaths.

In 1956, Don Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history. Manager Casey Stengel went against fans and teammates wishes starting him in that game 5, after Larsen was famously pulled in the 2nd inning of game 2. His gamble obviously paid off.

In 1957, the frisbee was invented and became a soaring success.

In 1958, Roy Campanella was paralyzed from the waist down after getting in a car accident. Campanella played 10 years, led the Dodgers to 5 World Series and won the national league MVP 3 times. Not bad. Sad to say that reading this book was the first I had heard of him.

In 1959, an epic game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Braves took place. The Braves won the game 1-0 in 12 innings. The starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Harvey Haddix, threw 12 perfect innings before and error, a sacrifice, and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron led to a single by Joe Adcock that made it 1-0. The winning pitcher for Milwaukee, Lew Burdette, scattered 12 hits over 12 innings, giving up no runs.

In 1960, Wilma Rudolph won 3 gold medals for the U.S. in track and field. She famously overcame polio, double pneumonia, and scarlet fever as a child. She was forced to wear a leg brace until she was 11. Also in 1960 Jake LaMotta, a famous world champion boxer with mob ties, told a senate committee he took a dive during a fight in 1947.

In 1961, Roger Maris hit his record breaking 61st home run in the last game of the season.

In 1962, The New York Mets set two MLB records during their debut season: Most errors in a season (210) and worse record (40-120), both are still the worst in Major League history. Their manager: Casey Stengel.

In 1963, Jack Nicklaus became the youngest Masters champion ever.

In 1964, Somehow Tim McCarver had 11 hits for the St. Louis in the World Series and was a key factor in the Cardinals victory over the Yankees in seven games. Also in ’64 Ali famously defeated Liston.

In 1965, The Dodgers got lucky and survived to beat the Twins in seven games in the World Series.

In 1966, No. 1 Notre Dame famously goes conservative and runs out the clock, settling for a 10-10 tie against No. 2 Michigan State. Also in 1966 the Reds famously traded away Frank Robinson to Baltimore for Milt Pappas and two other unknowns. Robinson immediately won the triple crown. He hit .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBIs.

In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. armed services.

In 1968, Joe Namath, who has more interceptions than touchdowns in his career and is insanely overrated, guaranteed a Jets victory over the Colts before the super bowl and came through on his promise. He had 206 yards passing in the game with zero touchdowns. More importantly 1968 was the year Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists in the air from the medal podium during the national anthem at the olympics. These two were clearly ahead of their time.

In 1969, Tom Seaver lead the Miracle Mets to a World Series title. He had 25 wins and won the Cy Young. I’ve never heard of this team but the book calls them the most improbable story in sports history.

In 1971, Lee Trevino won the U.S. Open in a playoff over Jack Nicklaus. Travino famously threw a rubber snake towards Nicklaus on the first playoff tee to break the tension. I’m sure Nicklaus loved that.

In 1972, Roberto Clemente dies in a plane crash. Jackie Robinson also passed away that year. Also the 1972 Olympics were marred by Palestinian terrorists killing 11 Israeli athletes.

In 1973, O.J. Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards in just 14 games.

In 1974, The Oakland A’s won their third straight World Series title, Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, and Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the 8th round using his famous ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy.

In 1975, Ali outlasted Frazier in the 3rd of their three fights. Both men were exhausted and neither one was the same after that.

In 1976, The Vikings lost their 4th Super Bowl of the decade. Some teams are just unlucky. Also Sylvester Stallone starred in the original Rocky.

In 1977, The nickname ‘Mr. October’ is born as Reggie Jackson hits three straight home runs in game 6 of the World Series. Jackson would later go on to famously say “The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play.”

In 1978, Pete Rose goes on a 44 game hitting streak, second longest all-time behind only Joe DiMaggio. His streak draw ire from some of his peers as four times during the streak his only hit was a bunt, and six other times he eeked out a hit in his last at-bat.

In 1979, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird met for the first time in the NCAA National Championship game. Magic’s Michigan State team held off Bird’s Indiana State. Magic would go on to beat Larry 2 out of 3 times at the professional level. The rivalry that developed between the two men is largely responsible for the rebirth of the NBA, which had been dwindling throughout the 70s.

In 1980, The Miracle On Ice. Enough said.

In 1981, Dwight Clark had ‘the catch’ and John McEnroe and Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the scene in their respective sports.

In 1982, Rickey Henderson stole a record 130 bases. No one has seriously challenged the record since. Also Michael Jordan officially put himself on the map, hitting the game winning shot for the North Carolina Tar Heels in the national championship game with 17 seconds left.

1984, The Detroit Tigers become the first team since the 1927 Yankees to go wire-to-wire in the regular season and win the World Series. Thanks in large part to Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, and Kirk Gibson.

In 1985, Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record of 4,191. Rose finished his career with 4,256 hits.

In 1986, Buckner boots it, Len Bias died of a drug overdose, and Jack Nicklaus became the oldest player to win the Masters, as he ‘throws back the clock’ at the age of 46. It was his final career major.

In 1987, The Twins won the World Series. The ’87 Twins had the lowest regular season winning percentage (.525) of any World Series champion in MLB history. And also had the worst regular season road record of any winner of the October Classic (29-52). Their record at season’s end was 85-77. Good enough to beat out the 2nd place Royals by two games. They cleared the last place Angels by only 10 games…another MLB record. That’s all GRIT and GUTS. Also in 1987, Doug Williams became the first black QB to win a Super Bowl.

In 1988, Jackie Joyner-Kersee dominated the olympics, Oral Hershiser hurled a record 59 straight scoreless innings, and Wrigley Field finally added lights. Before that the Cubs had never hosted a night game.

In 1989, Gambling allegations swirled all around Pete Rose, The World Series in San Francisco between the A’s and Giants was interrupted by an earthquake, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired after 20 seasons in the NBA.

In 1990, Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. He was a 42 to 1 underdog. Also the ‘Bad Boy’ Detroit Pistons won their second title in a row.

The book ends in the year 1990.

A damn shame for the 1991 Minnesota Twins.