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THE AGE OF SPORT 1954-2004 A.D.

The followingthesis, "The Age of Sport, 1954-2004 A.D.," is hereby submitted asevidence of research completed for the degree Master of Sporting Sciences(M.S.S.).

Graduate School
University of Levittown
Levittown, New York

FOREWORD: Beforeproceeding with an examination of sports over the past half century, thecandidate presumes to say a personal word in explanation of his interest in thesubject. The candidate comes from a family of sports zealots. His father, forwhom he was named, was in turn named for one of the storied figures of earlybaseball, Branch Rickey, whose teams won pennants in St. Louis, Brooklyn and(after his retirement) at Pittsburgh. Then, too, the candidate was stronglyinfluenced by the fact that he grew up in the extremely sports-minded city ofLevittown, N.Y. This city, it might be said parenthetically, was not evenincorporated in 1954 but was a mere housing development. But, as was the caseup and down the country, developments and suburbs time and again came to dwarfthe very cities that spawned them. And, as in the case of Levittown, toappropriate many of the parent city's institutions. It is scarcely necessary topoint out, in this connection, that the Levittown Subdivides were once known asthe Brooklyn Dodgers in the old National League.

GENERALINTRODUCTION: Although there is wide disagreement among historians as toprecisely when the Age of Sport began, this candidate has selected the year1954. Thus he is able to take in a half century of sporting history and topinpoint the beginnings of trends which were not always recognized as trends atthe time. The candidate confesses that he has been influenced in his selectionof the year 1954 by the fact that a national weekly sports magazine was foundedin that year and the sporting public's cordial reception of this magazine,SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, would seem to indicate that the Age of Sport was indeeddawning. The candidate has drawn heavily in his research on the files of SPORTSILLUSTRATED and, moreover, has been given access to certain confidentialinteroffice memoranda written by early staff writers who, from time to time,made certain predictions of sporting trends. Sometimes these forecasts turnedout to be surprisingly accurate. At other times they were (as will be shown)far wide of the mark.

The presenteditors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED—now, of course, the international as well asnational magazine of sport—in their 50th Anniversary Issue (Aug. 20, 2004) havethemselves called attention to what seems to this candidate (and them) adelightful naiveté of the founders. As long ago as 1954, these pioneers werereferring to the U.S. sporting scene as The Wonderful World of Sport andcalling the times The New Golden Age. In view of the enormous new importance ofsports in our day, this enthusiasm can only be compared to what surely musthave been wide-eyed wonder at the flight of the first jet airplane.

As one final pointof this introduction it seems relevant to remind the reader that the Age ofSport has also been the Age of Age (as it was so heralded in TIME, the weeklynewsmagazine, in its issue of July 23, 1956), and this fact makes comparisonsof individual performances before and after the Age of Age worse thanmeaningless. The amazing progress of the medical profession in "adding lifeto years, not just years to life" has been (as no one needs to be told)enormously successful. Working with hormones and estrogens and the laterdiscoveries, scientists have made the age of 75 a man's prime in such sports asarchery, soft-ball, bowling, golf and curling. Of course, the case of SatchelPaige (who emerged from intensive treatment at Washington University's MedicalSchool in St. Louis to win 22 games for the Kansas City Athletics in 1976)cannot be called typical—even now.

SCOPE OP INQUIRY:The detailed examination of some of the more popular sports will be limited inthis thesis to the United States. But mention should be made, at least briefly,of the transformation of certain national sports into world sports. Baseball,for example, is now played all over the world, a trend that began with itsadoption by Italy (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, June 25, 1956) and continued with itsrapid spread throughout Europe and Asia. Soccer, which was being called(erroneously) "the world game" long before 1954, became that in factwhen the U.S. revived it on a large scale after the all-weather stadiums madeit practical. The first World Cup final that matched the U.S. and England inWembley Stadium was played in 1963. (The U.S. won 4-2.) Tennis became truly aworld game when Russia took it up seriously in 1958, and the U.S. (looking fora game that required small playing space in the big cities) gave it tremendousimpetus in 1960 and thereafter, relegating Australia to the status of asecond-rate tennis power.

Some games, likePanamanian leg smashing, never became really popular outside the countries oftheir origin.

However, with theadvent of intercontinental television, in full color and three dimensions,there was always a world audience for every sport, even those not actuallyplayed on a world scale.[1]

As indicated, notevery sport will be examined in detail in this thesis, but those subjected toscrutiny will also serve to indicate the trends generally.

First, of course,is the U.S. national game.

BASEBALL: Researchdiscloses that Robert Creamer, an associate editor of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, madepredictions of uncanny accuracy at various times during the late 1950s. Hecorrectly forecast the death of the minor leagues as then constituted and alsoforesaw the creation of a third major league made up of cities from Kansas Citywestward.[2] As Creamer surmised, the function of the old minor leagues wasgradually absorbed by the Little Leagues, the Pony Leagues, the industrialleagues and a few subsidized minor "training" leagues to bridge the gapto the majors.

Creamer did notforesee (nor did anyone else) the great baseball dilemma known as the "homerun crisis." Home runs, as everyone is aware, became such a commonplace inthe late 1950s that the game itself was threatened. Sluggers like MickeyCharles Mantle of the New York Yankees began to hit the ball out of the parkwith such regularity that the fans became bored and sometimes booed the veryhits they formerly had cheered. Mantle, to take one example, hit 65 home runsin 1957, 72 in 1958, 98 in 1959 and 129 in 1960.

A council calledby Frank Lane, then commissioner of baseball and its natural spokesman, andattended by the league and club presidents, could find no solution to theproblem and were about to adjourn in admitted failure when a schoolboyballplayer named Mordecai Brown Williams was interviewed by an Associated Presscorrespondent (who intended the dispatch as a humorous feature story) andproposed that the major leagues now apply an old rule of schoolboy baseball,namely the over-the-fence-is-out rule. Lane and the other baseball leaderspounced gratefully on this suggestion, and it was put into effect over theviolent protests of some club owners and, of course, the sluggers themselves.After the excitement had died down, baseball became the game it had been at itsinception, with emphasis on such subtleties as the bunt, the squeeze, thehit-and-run and the steal. The inside-the-park homer was now regarded as thepi√®ce de résistance. Mickey Mantle, who had been bitter about theover-the-fence-is-out rule in the beginning, now concentrated on "theinsider"[3] and hit seven in one season before retiring to devote all histime to his turbojet automobile agency.

It seemsincredible now that in the old days fans might travel miles to a ball park onlyto have the game postponed because of rain. The first of the all-weather parkswas built here in Levittown in 1961. It was known as Kleinsasser's Stadiumsince it was the work of Theodore W. Kleinsasser, the distinguished architectstill practicing in Boston, who designed it as part of his graduate work atPrinceton University (where he had been a famous football star) in 1955. He hadvisualized the domed stadium for the old Brooklyn Dodgers, but Walter O'Malley,the Dodger president, after playing experimental schedules in Jersey City, N.J.and Yonkers, N.Y., sold out to the Levittown syndicate before anything could bedone about a new stadium. Historic Ebbets Field in Brooklyn was purchased bythe City of New York and used for girls' softball games and tug-of-warmatches.

Aside from thesechanges, baseball has remained the game it has always been and the fans'reaction to it has not altered since the heyday of Branch Rickey. In thisconnection it might not be amiss (especially in view of the fact that thecandidate is named for this baseball immortal) to quote the words of Mr.Rickey, speaking to the crowd at Kleinsasser's Stadium on his 90th birthday.Said Mr. Rickey: "Man may penetrate the outer reaches of the universe, hemay solve the very secret of eternity itself, but for me, the ultimate humanexperience is to witness the flawless execution of that impertinent baseballstratagem known as the hit-and-run."

BASKETBALL: Thispopular spectator sport had to face a problem comparable to baseball's"home run crisis." Roy Terrell of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED must be creditedwith forcing authorities to do something about the domination of this ancientgame by giant players. The formation (in 1960) of the Harlem 88s, a teamcomprising players of 7 feet 4 inches or more, was, as Terrell put it in thepungent language of the day, "the last straw."

"Why not,"wrote Terrell, "create an entirely new game and call it 'tallboy'? Then letbasketball be given back to players of average size."

The NationalCollegiate Athletic Association immediately seized upon this suggestion andadopted it, with the professional leagues quickly following suit. Old-fashionedbasketball, with its low scoring, became extremely popular again, although itmust be said that the new game of tallboy had (and still has) its share ofdevoted fans.

GOLF: For hisresearch on this fine old game, the candidate has had the extreme good fortuneof personally interviewing the dean of world golf writers, Mr. Herbert WarrenWind, whose flying golf cart is still a familiar sight at all majortournaments. Such is Mr. Wind's stature in the golf world that he is the onlywriter permitted to hover over the green while the contestants are putting.

Mr. Wind said hewas surprised at nothing that has happened in golf during his lifetime. Asevidence he produced the following interoffice memorandum, which he hasauthorized this candidate to quote. The memorandum, written July 13, 1956,states in part:

"In the next50 years, I do not think it would be excessive to say, at least 5 million moregolfers will be at large. The greatest barrier at the moment to their increaseis the lack of sufficient courses for them to play on. And the spread of thegame will depend to a large degree on how many courses can be built and howsoon they will be built. In this connection, what with the way cities keep onoverrunning the suburbs [Candidate's note: actually, it was the other wayaround], many observers believe that the courses of the future will have to bebuilt at considerable distances from the centers of population. Getting to andfrom them will not be too difficult. It is not unlikely that there will be airbuses [Candidate's note: how true!] leaving on weekends for public courses highin the mountains. Many of these will be located in state and national parks.The rich man will have the time of his life, zooming down to the Caribbean orover to Africa for a round of golf. These exotic courses certainly will be goodones. Improved grass strains will make courses in the tropic latitudesinfinitely better than they are today."

Mr. Wind predictedin the same memorandum that the average golfer would be three or four strokesbetter within 50 years, but he insisted that four rounds of 66 would be enoughto win the National Open. He also foresaw, correctly, that more and more youngwomen would turn to the game and that eventually, as in our day, taking golflessons would be as natural as taking piano lessons was in Mr. Wind's earlymanhood.

As is well known,Mr. Wind has fought vigorously against all attempts to make the golf balllivelier and the golf club more of a gimmick than an implement of sport. Mr.Wind believed firmly that golf was a mature game in the 1950s and should not betampered with. However, he was the first to applaud such innovations asspectator trains running along the sides of fairways. Summing up his feelingsabout changes in the rules and equipment, Mr. Wind declared: "It is veryimportant that a golfer in the year 2000 be able to recognize that he isplaying the same game that Francis Ouimet played in 1913, that Bobby Jonesplayed in 1930, that Ben Hogan played in 1953."

BOXING: "Theday will come," said Martin Kane, an associate editor of SPORTSILLUSTRATED, in a television interview conducted by Jinx Falkenburg McCrary onDec. 8, 1957, "when the $50 million gate in boxing will be taken forgranted. In other words, it will be proved that Jack Kearns [Candidate's note:Jack Kearns was an early boxing manager in part responsible for the first $1million gate] was born 50 years too soon. The $50 million gate, of course, willresult from the spread of closed-circuit theater television, now popularlyknown as TNT. Indeed, the day may soon arrive when a heavyweight championshipfight may be contested in a large hotel room, as predicted by one boxingpromoter years ago.

"I see manyother drastic changes in the present setup of boxing. An electronic system ofscoring will be devised, one that will record the frequency and effectivenessof blows landed and also determine the effective aggressor in the contest. Thereferee will not be permitted to participate in the judging. Consequently,there will be three judges, and they will be left free by the electronicscoring device to judge such subtleties as defensive ability and ringgeneralship.

"There will bea better enforcement of rules. As televised boxing becomes more and more aliving-room sport, viewers and sponsors will insist on clean fights."

Mr. Kane alsocorrectly predicted that amateur boxing contests would replace the old"club fights" and that the big business aspects of the game would forcepromoters to plow back revenue in order to insure a supply of talent."Something," asked Jinx McCrary, "like the baseball farmsystem?" "Exactly," replied Mr. Kane. "And before closing,Jinx, let me make one final prediction: I believe I can safely and positivelysay that 50 years from now Stillman's Gym will have received a new coat ofpaint."[4]

HORSE RACING: At aParent-Teachers Association picnic held at Old Westbury, Long Island inSeptember 1956, several comic monologues were delivered by a number of parentsfor the entertainment of the children. One of these, recited by Mr. WhitneyTower, then racing editor of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, was so astonishingly close tothe truth that the candidate has asked and received Mr. Tower's permission toquote it in full:

"Well, here weare in the year 2000, and a look back over the years shows at a pretty quickglance just what progress has been made. Remember, children, how in 1956 therewas all that clamor for improved conditions and facilities at the major tracks?The expression 'dream track' was overworked. Today every track is a dream trackby 1956 standards. Soft cushioned seats to accommodate 100,000 are the rule atmajor tracks rather than the exception. Our solid Thermopane glass wallsfronting on the track assure clear visibility and, of course, our weather iscontrolled completely within this glass casing, so that not many of us canremember how our forefathers in 1956 occasionally returned from the races notonly broke but also soaking wet. If we want to stand outside, of course we canbecause over our heads throughout the entire park is another sheet ofprotective glass. Remember the term 'mudder'? It's almost out of use now,naturally, because when our track surfaces become rain-soaked all that trackmanagement has to do is to summon the 'drying truck.'

"Naturally, weare operating on a bigger scale than was ever dreamed of in 1956. In that yearthere were about 35 races during the entire year worth more than $100,000 each.As a matter of fact, when you come to think of it that wasn't too bad when youconsider that the first race worth $100,000-added ever run in the United Stateswas in 1935 at a track known as Santa Anita (rebuilt in 1970 and renamed StrubPark). The enormous prosperity that racing has enjoyed during the last 50 yearsmakes it possible for us to stage races worth $500,000 almost twice a week, andthe Triple Crown events at $1 million each make it difficult for us to imaginethat it took a great horse like Citation 45 starts to earn a milliondollars.

"Basically,our races today haven't changed too much since 1956. The big difference aroundthe stable areas is that in 1956 horses ate lots of oats and hay and today weseem to have proved without much doubt that concentrated kelp capsules andother nutritious pills seem to make horses not only healthier and sounder butalso faster. Remember how the mile record of 1:33 1/5 set by Swaps in 1956stood up for so long—10 years, wasn't it? Well, now a lot of ordinary horsesrunning in $40,000 claiming races click off at 1:33 with no trouble at all.

"Trainers inthe old days, men like Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Max Hirsch, Ben Jones and JohnGaver, held to a theory that a horse had to have quite a bit of rest—as much asa week, for instance, between races. Of course, we know today how wrong theywere, and to illustrate the point one has only to go back to the 1998 seasonwhen the filly Saturn (down on her first invasion of Earth from the planet ofthe same name) stopped off at Mars on a Tuesday, competed at Melbourne onThursday, Paris Sunday and then made it on to Chillicothe, Ohio for the WoodPulp Derby the next day. In view of the fact that Saturn had six legs insteadof the usual four, of course her records didn't count. [Laughter, whistling,etc.] As a matter of fact, her trip was more in the nature of a publicity stuntby the Ford Rocket Ship Co. than anything else.[5] [Scattered laughter.] Thisis only mentioned to illustrate how our air travel has progressed since 1956.Not only do horses get around at supersonic speeds, but so do their owners,trainers and even the fans. It's nothing nowadays to see 1,000 people lining upon a cold December day in New York to catch the California Racing Jet Specialfor the 90-minute flight to the coast—and get back in time for dinner. Yes,children, it looks like racing is here to stay. [Laughter, applause.]"

FOOTBALL ANDPROBALL: The story of college football and its eventual division into amateurand professional leagues could fill a fat volume. Perhaps Mr. Frank Leahy Joyce(who made the historic proposal in 1977 that the players of the big-time teamsnot be permitted to attend college at all) would be entitled to a volume allhis own. The prompt adoption of the Joyce Plan led, as is well known, to thecoining of the name "proball" to describe the big-time game (which ofcourse replaced the old professional leagues almost at once), with"football" being retained by the amateurs—actual students—who played(and still play) the old-fashioned game.

In one of his"year-end reviews," written after proball took hold in the U.S., AlfredWright, an associate editor of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, wrote that "some peoplewere shocked when Yale and Harvard, which had been so belligerent about'purity' in athletics, took the lead in proball, but a look at the history ofthese two universities showed that they had been pioneers in many of the mostradical academic departures throughout their histories. And neither of them hadbeen doing very well in intercollegiate football for some years."

Mr. Wrightcontinued: "For a while Yale and Harvard dominated proball as they had theearly years of football, but one by one the great state universities followedsuit until there were 10 large regional proball leagues. However,intersectional proball became much more common, since the top teams playedtwice a week—what with the players no longer burdened with scholastic problems,and coast-to-coast transportation a matter of only a couple of hours.

"As a typicalproball game commences, the substitutes climb into their electricalthermosuits, which massage their muscles and keep them limber on the sidelines.The starting players put on their helmets with built-in radio receivers fromwhich they receive their instructions from the coaches located in towers highabove the playing field.

"Proball is arelatively high-scoring game. For those who have not kept up with recenthistory it should be pointed out that proball scoring is on a much differentbasis from old-fashioned football. The old touchdown is still worth six pointsand the field goal three points, but there are two additional ways to score. Atouchdown scored on a run—one of the rarest maneuvers to be seen in thegame—counts 10, and each first down by running counts two points and by passingone point. Since everyone on the team is eligible to receive passes, a plannedrunning play is extremely rare—in fact, you almost never see a run fromscrimmage except when the passer can find no receivers. However, some teamswith exceptionally fast men will purposely down the ball on the one-yard linewhen a man is on his way to a score from a pass and hope to put it across on arunning play for 10 points instead of the six they would have hadotherwise.

"Also, thefact that the players are in shorts and wear virtually no protection other thanthe helmets (which are primarily for the radio receivers they contain) and verylight shoulder pads may stand some explanation. The proball player of today ismuch bigger (quarterbacks average 240 pounds) and not nearly as vulnerable toinjury as he used to be since the rules committee outlawed all but shoulder, orbrush, blocking. In other words, the body contact is not much greater than itwas in Rugby, the daddy of the game. This has reduced the dangers of thekickoff as for the punt, another dangerous play in the old days, one rarelysees it now. When a team reaches fourth down it invariably place-kicks forthree points, since every decent team has a kicker who can make nine out of 10such kicks from any part of the field.

"At theconclusion of every proball game, most of the crowd (usually 110,000) and thebig-name sportswriters leave the all-weather stadiums. But college students andthe hopelessly sentimental 'old boys' always wait for the game of football thatfollows. Football is not written up in the big papers (although SPORTSILLUSTRATED faithfully carried the scores in its SCOREBOARD department), andthere is no such creature today as a 'college football hero.' However, thefootball players and their games are covered in detail by college newspapersand the star players are usually fairly well known all over thecampus."

CONCLUSION: ASstated in the introduction to this thesis, the candidate feels that a more orless close examination of the sports already touched upon should be sufficientto indicate general trends during the Age of Sport. The candidate believes (andhe again acknowledges his debt to some of the "elder statesmen" whoassisted him) that he has been able to give a unique insight into the agethrough the quotation of forecasts made in bygone days. Although, as the readerhas seen, these forecasts were sometimes intended to be frivolous, time hasproved some of them to be quite sound.

If the candidatewere to tell the whole story, sport by sport, he would, of course, require ascore of volumes to contain it. And probably a longer lifetime than he mayexpect—even in this Age of Age.

The growth ofaquatic sports alone, with boats now as numerous as automobiles were at thedawning of the age, could be recommended as the subject for another student'sthesis—to say nothing of skin diving.

And would notbowling, which now claims 50 million devoted adherents, also be entitled to avolume of its own? Who but Victor Kalman of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED could haveforeseen the great boom of bowling as a spectator sport with a televisionrating only a fraction of a point behind baseball?

There are so manystories[6] to be told that the candidate (granted the agreement of the jurorswho will pass judgment on this thesis) hopes to spend the rest of his life inthe finding and the telling of them. There will be the story of the 3:40 mile,the 8-seconds-flat 100-yard dash, the 8-foot high jump and the 76-footshotput.

And now, beggingthe indulgence of the jurors, the candidate presumes to close this thesis withanother apt quotation from the baseball immortal for whom he was named, Mr.Branch Rickey. Speaking to the crowd at Kleinsasser's Stadium in Levittown onhis 95th birthday, Mr. Rickey explained that he would like to paraphraseanother great man of his times, Sir Winston Churchill, who expressed a similarsentiment on the occasion of an alliance between Britain and the United States.Mr. Rickey then went on to say:

"I have seenthe Age of Sport coming. I have fought for it and labored for it and prayed forit. And now that it is here, I say to you good people of Levittown, 'Oh, let itroll on and on and on!' "

Levittown, N.Y.
January 20, 2005.

[1] Televisionentertainment was revolutionized by the new importance of sports. In 1961 TheEd Sullivan Show, a fabulous mid-century hit, abandoned its vaudeville formatand was devoted to 60 minutes of golf instruction by leading professionals.

[2] Other citiesin the western major league are Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Seattle, LosAngeles, San Francisco, Oklahoma City and Spanish Gardens, Texas. SpanishGardens was once a suburb of Dallas.

[3] With the newimportance of "insiders," some club owners attempted to move back thevery fences they had once moved forward to get more of the old-fashioned homeruns. Commissioner Lane acted promptly, however, and froze the fences as of1961.

[4] The candidatepaid a visit to Stillman's Gym as part of his research. The gym has not beenrepainted (as Mr. Kane predicted), but J. Stillman Burkholder, the presentproprietor, said a paint job is definitely "in the works" for sometimenext summer.

[5] In this onedetail Mr. Tower was quite wrong. As we know, horses imported from otherplanets have only four legs. And they are never raced, since they cannot befitted into our starting gates because of the two heads.

[6] In hisexamination of track and field events, the candidate plans to discuss at lengtha phenomenon of the 1960s during which a strange athletic cult made itsappearance. Calling themselves the Brothers of Avery, members of this cultdeclared themselves to be the only true amateurs. Bands of the Brothers, withtheir shaven heads and monkish robes, were a familiar sight up and down thecountry as they went from town to town giving exhibitions of running andleaping. They would accept no fees of. any kind and lived "off theland."



ARCHIVES yielded this likeness of Mantle on 1956 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover before his specialty, the home run, was outlawed.