If the byline on page 36 of this issue sounds unfamiliar, that is because you are a new reader, not because Walter Bingham is a new writer. Walt's byline has been missing from our pages for the past six years because he has been occupying an editorial chair and thus planning and polishing stories that appeared under other writers' bylines. But in the years before, the name Walter Bingham frequently headed stories about baseball, tennis and, indeed, most every other sport.
Over those years that same name appeared in every category of the masthead at right as Walt advanced from his first job clipping newspapers in the SI morgue in 1955 through successive rankings as reporter, writer-reporter, staff writer, associate editor and finally senior editor. Just to wrap things up, he even married into the masthead. His wife Betty was an SI reporter.
Born in New Jersey within sight of New York's Empire State Building, Bingham wandered all the way to California to go to college (UCLA) and get his first newspaper job (the defunct L.A. Examiner) before wandering back East again. He was an actively minded desk bound editor, and would occasionally charge north to run in the Boston Marathon (he was 130th out of 356 in 1966 in about 3:22.35).
Thus it came as no shock when, at the start of this year, Bingham asked to be relieved of his blue pencil to head out into the field again. Ironically enough, he made his first reappearance as a legman hobbling about on a crutch (left). Before going to California for the Bing Crosby with Dan Jenkins (another writing senior editor), Bingham stopped off at a doctor's to have a plantar wart cut out of his foot. The operation, performed with Novocain, was an apparently painless success. Walt felt so good he even packed his running shoes. That night in Carmel, however, the foot began to throb so fiercely he couldn't sleep. But let Walt tell the rest of it himself: "I thought about going home but decided I couldn't face the embarrassment of returning from my first reporting assignment only 24 hours after arriving. Dan drove me to a drugstore that carried crutches, and I rented one. Then Dan and his wife drove me to Pebble Beach, where I hobbled up to the pressroom and sat down, my right foot propped on another chair. Golfers kept coming into the pressroom all day for interviews and I found something out immediately: nobody can refuse a man with a crutch. I'd say 'Hey, Bert' or something, and Yancey or whoever it was would turn around. For just a second you could see on his face that frosty reserve that athletes keep for interviewers they don't want to talk to. Then he would see the crutch and drop his guard. I'd be saying 'Hi Bert, I'm Walt Bingham of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED,' and he'd say 'Yeah, hey Walt, what happened?' and the ice would be broken completely. Now I'm considering keeping a crutch in my act all the time."
As you can see by the picture, it does add a certain cachet, and as you can tell by reading Walt's story, it seems to work.