At the end of World War II, Harry Peckham was an airplane mechanic in the Air Transport Command outside San Francisco. After being mustered out of the service, Peckham bought a single-speed bicycle and, on impulse, rode off over the Golden Gate Bridge, arriving back home in Athens, Ohio, 44 days later. Peckham has traveled many roads since then, but the most important to SI is the one that brought him to our library in 1969.
In the course of Peckham's 17 years with the magazine, the library has grown to become one of the largest collections of sports information in the world. It contains folders crammed with clippings on almost every conceivable sports-related subject. The system works well because Peckham has spent much time and energy refining it.
Peckham created the bible of the SI library, a dog-eared black volume containing every subject heading on file. His colleagues refer to it as "The Sayings of Chairman Harry," while our writers think of it as a miracle. "Harry is never too busy if you have a question," says staff writer Herm Weiskopf. "Within minutes he will appear in your office, chewing on a broken, unsmoked cigar, and hand you what you couldn't find and so desperately needed."
Baseball is Peckham's sport, and he grew up as a lonely Cleveland Indians fan in Cincinnati Reds country. Peckham's loyalties have never wavered, and he even formally dedicated "The Sayings" to Ken Keltner, the former Indian third baseman whose two theatrical fielding plays ended Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941.
In 1953, Peckham earned a degree in theater at Ohio University, then came to New York to become an actor. He trod the boards by night while working days at Time Inc. Once, an urgent telegram sent him hurrying home to Athens to play Stanley Kowalski in a summer theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire. An English professor who attended Peckham's hastily crafted performance came backstage afterward to tell him that he'd seen Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn play the role, but only Peckham had made him really understand the play.
Peckham's favorite author is Shakespeare, who wrote, "My library was dukedom large enough." When Harry Peckham retires next month, our dukedom will seem smaller for it.
PECKHAM: THE MAN WHO WROTE THE BOOK ON THE SI LIBRARY HANGS 'EM UP