I reflected longer than usual last week on how I became a life-long Yankees fan as I stood in the bar area of Nana’s, a restaurant in my neighborhood, watching the final outs of a no-hitter pitched by the Phillies’ Roy Halladay in the MLB playoffs. It was the second in history and the first one didn’t even make the cover of Sports Illustrated.
My Dad was a Yankees fan so we always listened to Mel Allen broadcasts while we were doing work in the barn and adjacent corrals. Allen’s voice was a soothing part of the soundtrack to my early years and by 1956, the magic of transistor radios made it possible to even hear it out riding herd.
I had just turned six the month before the magazine Sports Illustrated was launched on August 16, 1954. My Dad, then just 30 years of age and still playing church ball, was an early subscriber and avid reader but it was the photographs that captured my imagination.
Each image told a story in itself and even the advertisements - such as the ones for my first love, a turtle shaped Porsche 356 Speedster or the bug-eyed Triumph TR-3 - opened a whole new world to this ranch-bound Idaho boy .
In memory I did, but I don’t know if I actually saw Yankee Don Larson’s PERFECT GAME in 1956 on television or if I just heard it on the radio and then later fused it with images of catcher Yogi Berra’s memorable leap into his arms at the end. Unless I caught it on page 33, I doubt I saw it at the time in Sports Illustrated because the only perfect game in World Series or even playoff history didn’t even make the cover 54 years ago.
Compared to today when a normal play seems cause for chest-thumping, I liked it much better back then when it took a lot to be a cause for celebration!
However, two Yankees had already made the cover in the months preceding Larson’s perfect game: one of my earliest heroes, Mickey Mantle in June and his soon-to-be traded and trouble-maker friend Billy Martin in April.
Sports Illustrated has always been about more than just documenting events. If you missed it, I recommend an excellent article in last week’s issue about THE MICK, who in that magical year of 1956 had become only the 12th player in history at the time (only 14 today) to earn the Triple Crown – most home runs and runs batted in and highest batting average in the Major Leagues.
Here are few memorable quotes from the excerpt, especially the last one:
- “Mantle didn't want to stick out, but he did. He didn't wish to be treated as special, but he was. He was uncomfortable being the center of attention, but he was the centerfielder for the most famous franchise in sports.”
- “For Mantle, the Yankees' locker room was a sanctuary, a safe haven where he was understood, accepted and, when necessary, exonerated. He was a guy's guy who called everyone "bud" or "pard." But he was unafraid to show tears, whether they were generated by a country-and-western song or a dying child placed in his arms outside Griffith Stadium in Washington,D.C. Gentle was the word his teammates used most often to describe him.”
- “Mantle was the Last Boy in the last decade ruled by boys, when it was O.K. to laugh at them for being themselves, and O.K. not to know and O.K. to forgive what you did know.”