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Original Issue

There AND Back

The sports landscape, like society, has changed immensely in the six decades since SI first hit newsstands. But in many ways we're back where we began. Vin Scully is still baseball's poet laureate. When Jay Z sits courtside at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn again feels like the center of the universe. And we stare at smartphones the same way we once listened to transistor radios: immersed in our fandom. Sixty years on, the game remains the same

I | "Cigarettes and Popcorn"

On the evening of Jan. 31, 1954, Edwin Armstrong dressed as the man of means he'd once been. The engineer had exhausted his $9 million fortune in a legal war with RCA over the patents to frequency modulation (FM), the broadcast signal that would carry radio and television voices around the world—static-free!—in a distant future that Armstrong couldn't see from his apartment in the opulent River House, which afforded commanding views of everything else: Manhattan, the East River and, beyond it, the world.

In his apartment 13 stories above East 52nd Street, Armstrong put on gloves, a topcoat, a scarf and a hat to protect himself against the winter chill. He wrote a note to his estranged wife, Marion. Then he stepped through an open window and into oblivion.

Or what would have been oblivion, had Armstrong not given the world the FM signal, and the tower he personally erected to broadcast it. A latticework of steel 425 feet tall, it would be known as the Armstrong Tower to the 21st-century commuters who noticed it as they crawled past on Route 9W in Alpine, N.J. Yet it would host broadcast and mobile radio, television, cellphone and satellite uplinks (for a time it housed the broadcast and production operations of the USA cable network) and myriad other technological marvels still undreamed of on the last day of Armstrong's life—the last day of the first month of that auspicious year for "new media," a phrase that didn't yet exist on Jan. 31, 1954.

On that Sunday night, television was still shiny and new and monolithic. The previous January, when Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, 44 million Americans watched, in 72% of all homes with a TV.

Nine months later, on Sept. 30, 1953, Vincent Edward Scully awoke from a restless sleep in Bogota, N.J. He was 25 years old and still lived with his parents and sister. The Brooklyn Dodgers were visiting the Yankees at one that afternoon for Game 1 of the World Series, and Scully was going to call that game with the great Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen for NBC on that all-consuming monstrosity called national television. That morning the gravity of this did what gravity does, and sank in.

"I got up, I got dressed, I went downstairs, and my mother—red-haired, Irish—made a big breakfast," Scully recalls 61 years later, over coffee in the press box that bears his name at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. "It's the most important meal of the day and all that. So I had the big breakfast and excused myself. Then I threw everything up. Everything. Because I kept thinking: My God, I haven't done any television."

Few sports announcers had. On New Year's Day, 1954, NBC would make the first national color broadcast, sending the Tournament of Roses Parade to a small but enraptured audience over 22 stations that fed a growing demand to see the world as it was: In Living Color.

Near the end of 1954, just in time for Christmas sales, Texas Instruments and a company called IDEA revealed, to great fanfare, a more accessible technological marvel: the Regency TR-1. TR stood for transistor radio, and the device came in six colors: black, ivory, mahogany, olive green, "mandarin red" and "cloud gray." There was an immediate clamor for this 12-ounce wonder, because it made voices on the radio—from Elvis Presley's to Vin Scully's—portable.

Baseball announcers enlisted their listeners as accomplices, requiring them to use their imaginations. And so a young player from Oak Lawn, Ill., had recently given up his dream of playing third base for the White Sox and imagined another life for himself. "I listened to Mel Allen and Vin Scully," says Bill Rasmussen, who graduated from DePauw in 1954, "and thought, If I can't play, at least I can get into the sports business."

No one yet knew that the TR-1 was the first in an infinite line of what the airline industry would come to call "personal electronic devices," easily taken to the ballpark or to the backyard bomb shelter. For the time, it was enough that the TR-1 put live baseball and football games in a man's shirt pocket, which it was specifically designed to fit.

Until then the radio had been an immobile piece of furniture, as Scully knew well growing up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. "We had that big four-legged radio," he says, as if describing a piano, "with a cross piece underneath to give support for the legs, and I was about eight and I'd take a pillow and I would crawl under the radio so the speaker was right over my face, and the roar of the crowd came out of the speaker like water from a showerhead. I would get goose bumps from head to toe."

But with the introduction of the transistor, sports fans were liberated: World Series games could be smuggled into classrooms for illicit consumption, like the pack of cigarettes that the radio resembled.

At Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Dodgers offered all manner of promotions. It was not unusual to show up at the park and see it filled with nuns in habit, as if a flock of penguins were basking in the sun at the corner of Sullivan Place and McKeever Place. Another special event was a day for the blind, when Flatbush was enlivened by 200 sightless people for whom the transistor radio was a godsend. "They loved it," Scully says, "because of the sounds and the smells of the ballpark—the cigarettes and popcorn—but also because of that roar amplified by the radio. Apparently that made a nice picture for them." That roar—of Scully and his partner, Connie Desmond, calling a Dodgers game; of a crowd in full throat denouncing the umpire; of the distant cry of popcorn vendors filtered through a tiny speaker—placed for the first time a complementary medium between the spectator and the spectacle.

It was not the only complementary medium introduced that year. Between NBC's first colorcast and Texas Instruments' radio in six colors, Henry Luce launched a colorful magazine, which he was wont to do from TIME to TIME (from Time to Life). Not every idea that caught Luce's enthusiasm went to press, mercifully (or regretfully, depending on your inclinations), which is why you never heard of the Murder magazine he once mooted. But on Aug. 16, 1954, Luce did publish the first issue of his much-anticipated Sports Illustrated.

"He had a profound sense of other people's interests," David Halberstam would later write of Luce in his book The Powers That Be. "He started Sports Illustrated even though he had remarkably little interest in sports. He stayed with it when it was a very expensive loser and most of his associates wanted to junk it, because his instincts told him the audience was there and growing. (Ironically, television, which would help kill Luce's beloved Life magazine, was responsible for the explosion in sports and leisure life that eventually made SI so successful.) Luce knew somehow that sports was about to become big business in America, that others were interested in it."

What Luce didn't yet know was why fans were interested in sports, or which sports mattered to them. Scully saw the first issue of SI in the visitors' clubhouse at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It looked promising, with Milwaukee Braves slugger Eddie Mathews on the cover. But when Scully opened the magazine and riffled through the pages, he thought, What is this?

"It wasn't a sports magazine," he says. "This was a rich man's magazine. I think there were big articles on sailing and dog shows and that kind of stuff. And I thought, Wow. Why aren't these guys doing sports?"

Luce was appealing to his wealthy friends, and toward that end SI ran ads for luxury items such as the Regency TR-1, which retailed—in time for Christmas shopping—at $49.99, not including the battery, single earphone or leather carrying case. From the remove of the 21st century, the copy in the ad would read like a prophecy: AS A SPECTATOR, AS A SPORTSMAN, HAVE THE WORLD OF SPORTS WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.

On the evening of that first issue date, Aug. 16, the Dodgers and the Phillies met at Ebbets Field. It was Ladies' Night and the hottest day so far in the boiling engine room that was New York City in August. Though the temperature would hit 88.3º and the humidity 97%, Scully dressed then as he does now, in a jacket and tie. ("Like any New Yorker," he said of that August, "you took your shower, you got in your car and by the time you got to work your shirt was stuck to the leather of your seat.") As the voice of the Dodgers, Scully knew he was entering each listener's home, and he dressed as if for a dinner party. This particular guest came calling with a carton of Lucky Strikes and a 40-ounce bottle of Schaefer, sponsors' products with which Scully sometimes had to pose on-camera on WOR-TV.

Leaving his house nine miles south of the Armstrong Tower, the Dodgers announcer drove in a heat shimmer, past apartments and houses with aerial antennae on rooftops straining toward the sound of a human voice like flowers to the sun. Had he picked up that morning's New York Times, he would have read that a record 2.8 million television sets had been sold in the first six months of 1954. The previous September, Swanson's had introduced the TV dinner, so that a viewer sealed to his seat by the maddening heat would not have to miss an inning of Dodgers baseball for something as secondary as sustenance. Ten million of these dinners were sold in 12 months, at 98 cents a pop, in what might have been the Big Bang of America's obesity epidemic.

As a story that summer in Mechanix Illustrated noted, aerial antennae were fast becoming a blight in the U.S., except in some 250 cities with "community antenna systems that pick up signals on a master antenna and relay them by cable to individual sets." Among the first of these systems was the one in Williamsport, Pa. The Williamsport-Jerrold Television Cable Company had already signed up 4,300 subscribers in 1954, every one of them getting "clear pictures, free from snow" in that valley unreachable by conventional TV signals.

Indeed, all over the U.S. these cables were being laid in cities and towns beyond the geographical reach of broadcast television. Men had returned from World War II with radio and electronics experience, gone to work at TV sales and repair shops and found themselves climbing mountains with a small TV set and a portable generator and an aerial antenna, looking for broadcast signals they could send through cables into towns in the valleys and hollows whose residents knew The Ed Sullivan Show only as an unsubstantiated rumor. And so it was that Williamsport, isolated between the Appalachians and the mountainous Allegheny Plateau, suddenly got CATV. The men running the wires into houses were often offered, while up a ladder, cash to hook up a homeowner's house immediately, such was the desire of every American to dip a toe into the national stream of television.

It would have been inconceivable to any of those viewers that one day expensive national cable programming would not just be imported into Williamsport but also exported from Williamsport, whose Little League World Series would have its own $60 million contract with a network that was exclusively carried by cable or satellite and that broadcast nothing but sports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to more than 100 million subscribers paying on average more than $5 a month for the privilege. But ESPN did not yet exist in 1954, when Bill Rasmussen was still fresh out of college, hoping to be the next Vin Scully.

As sports and technology were wed in 1954, and thought of starting a family, their physical world was still a small one. Of the 16 major league baseball teams, three played in New York City, two in Philadelphia, two in Chicago and (until just the previous season) two in St. Louis. Four U.S. cities had claimed 56% of all big league teams.

In Brooklyn, Scully had the rarest of commodities on arrival at Ebbets Field: a parking space. The scarcity of parking, the borough's changing demographics and the aging of the 41-year-old ballpark—whose toilets perpetually malfunctioned—had Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley agitating for a new stadium. He envisioned a futuristic dome that would loom like a colossal igloo over the Atlantic Yards train terminus near downtown Brooklyn, where the Long Island Rail Road could deliver prosperous fans from the suburbs directly to the Dodgers' doorstep.

By 1956 the team had an enormous reservoir of goodwill in Brooklyn. It had won its only World Series the previous Oct. 4, at Yankee Stadium, and that night half of Brooklyn seemed to gather outside the team's victory party at the Hotel Bossert at 98 Montague Street, to which Vin Scully arrived with his date, Joan Ganz. From behind police sawhorses, the fans serenaded their Dodgers.

Riding that wave of goodwill, O'Malley in 1956 revealed a model of a roofed stadium designed by the visionary architect Buckminster Fuller. Its dome would be 300 feet high, and there would be underground parking. But its construction would have to be approved by New York City's powerful chief of all projects, Robert Moses, the urban planner who shaped modern-day Gotham. While countless observers (historians, pundits, cuckolded Brooklynites—many of them one and the same) would come to see that stadium proposal as a fig leaf to cover O'Malley's true desire to move his team to Los Angeles—1,356 miles beyond baseball's western frontier, in Kansas City—Scully says those people are wrong. "Had Robert Moses allowed Walter O'Malley to build a new ballpark in Brooklyn," Scully says flatly, "the Dodgers never would have moved."

It is a difficult point to argue, for the principals were Scully's contemporaries and sometime confidants. To Scully, Jackie Robinson is not—or not just—a man on a postage stamp. "To me," he says, "he was just Jack," a young man with a wife and a baby daughter, waiting for another spring in New York City. "This was maybe my second year in Brooklyn," says Scully, shaking a sweetener packet over a paper cup of coffee three hours before the first pitch of a Dodgers game, "and Jackie and I were sent to Grossinger's, the resort in the Catskills, to have a little symposium with the customers there. We arrived about the same time, and I had my racing ice skates with me, and Jackie said, 'You're gonna skate?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'Great, I'll skate with you.' And Rachel said, 'I'll go with you too.' Well, she was about seven months pregnant. And we went to the rink, and I'm putting on my skates, and Jackie gets a rental pair and he's putting them on and he said, 'When we get out there, I'll race you.' And I was just flabbergasted.

"I said, 'Jack, I know you were a great athlete, a long jumper, a basketball player, a football player, but I didn't know you skated too,' " Scully says. "And Jack said to me, 'Oh, I've never been on skates in my life.' So I said, 'Aww, Jack, I'm not a great skater, but I know how to skate. There is no way you can beat me.' It was so typical of Jack. His face got so serious, and he said, 'No—but that's how I'll learn.' That was his mentality."

Down a hall from Scully's broadcast booth, in the elegant Dodgers offices once occupied by O'Malley, sits the club's current president, CEO and part owner, Stan Kasten. Or rather, stands. "Vin and I both have this thing," says Kasten, having risen from his chair to make a point about Scully and the difference between life and history. "We hate the way major leaguers bungle rundowns. Whenever there's a rundown, Vin is thinking of me and I'm thinking of him. The way you handle a rundown is, you go at the runner and you do the full-arm fake." Kasten rears back as if he's going to throw the baseball on a beeline to a teammate. "You don't do this bulls---." He holds the ball in front of him, coyly feinting with his right hand, like a drugged cobra preparing to strike.

"How do I know that?" Kasten says. "Branch Rickey wrote that 70 years ago, O.K.? I've got Branch Rickey's little blue book right there"—he gestures to the bookshelf behind his desk, to Rickey's Little Blue Book: Wit and Strategy from Baseball's Last Wise Man—"and I read in it that a full-arm fake always stops the runner and ends the rundown. And Vin says, 'You know, that's exactly right: Branch and I used to talk about that.' " Kasten is 62 years old. Scully is 86. "So that's the difference right there," says Kasten. "I read it in Branch Rickey's book. Vin talked about it with Branch Rickey."

And so anyone who wants to understand the last 60 years in sports, the journey from the Regency TR-1 to the iPhone 5s, would do well to stop at Dodger Stadium, high atop Chavez Ravine. On the endless climb to the press entrance and the Dodgers store and the fifth-deck seats—at what is called the Top of the Park—a pilgrim feels as if he's climbing to visit a mountaintop guru.

"We have people still working in this office who were at the game the day Bobby Thomson hit his home run off Ralph Branca," Kasten says reverently. One of those people, Don Newcombe, now 88 and a special adviser to team chairman Mark Walter, was the starting pitcher in that Dodgers-Giants playoff game at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951. Newcombe was lifted in the ninth inning for Branca, who surrendered the Shot Heard 'Round the World.

"Ask Vin about that," says Kasten. "Ralph Branca was lying prostrate in grief on the clubhouse steps, and Vin had to step over him to get into the Dodgers' clubhouse." He repeats it, as if to remind himself that Scully still works down the hall from him: "He had to step over Ralph Branca to get into the clubhouse."

The distance in time from that day seems not nearly as large as the distance in space, 2,448 miles, from the Polo Grounds to Chavez Ravine. Because—spoiler alert—the Dodgers did move west. "The biggest change of the last 60 years in sports was the expansion from one coast to the other," says Scully. "We used to think it was a big deal to go out west—and that meant St. Louis, by train. How long did it take? It seemed like forever. However, there was a joy to it. They would take three cars and hook them onto a commercial train, so that we were private, and it meant you could sit around in your shorts and tell baseball stories.

"There was the wonderful old writer with the Brooklyn Eagle, his name was Harold Burr—B-U-R-R—and I would sit almost literally at his feet, and he would tell me stories about Babe Ruth. Because he covered Babe Ruth. And we've lost that now. Today it's singlefile: On the plane, off the plane, adios."

Burr sounds like purr in the honeyed voice of Scully, who has a courtly way of spelling names for writers, so that the guy who called him on behalf of Gillette to hire him as the NBC announcer on the 1953 World Series, launching him on the high seas of national television, was "Ed Wilhelm, W-I-L-H-E-L-M, of the Maxon advertising agency, M-A-X-O-N."

There are fewer plane rides for Scully these days—he does road games only in California and Arizona—so there are fewer single-file deplanings with young men in headphones, their faces bent to tablet and smartphone screens, those "personal electronic devices" at once new and ancient.

It was in Los Angeles that those airplanes became essential, as did another form of transportation, the transistor radio, which bridged the distance between fans in the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (some of them in bleacher seats 710 feet from home plate) and the baseball being played on the field. "People were 74 rows away," Scully says. "They knew the stars—they knew Mays and Musial and people like that—but they didn't know the rank and file, so the transistor was a great break. For me, a newcomer out here, it was a huge break."

During a dull game in the Dodgers' third season at the Coliseum, in 1960, Scully idly flipped through the umpires' guide and discovered that one of the men in blue—"Frank Secory, S-E-C-O-R-Y"—was celebrating his birthday. "So on the air, I explained to a big crowd that it was his birthday," says Scully, "and I said, 'I'll tell you what, we could make history tonight. For the first time ever, we could all holler together, 'Happy Birthday, Frank!' No umpire in history has ever had a crowd say 'Happy Birthday.' Let's say 'Happy Birthday' on one ... two ... three...."

And on three, 27,626 people shouted "Happy Birthday!" to a startled Frank Secory. The other umpires gathered about and wished him a happy birthday too. And when Scully got into his car that night for the drive home, using the commute to analyze the broadcast, as he does to this day, he was briefly sobered by the power of the radio. "I thought, Whoa: Supposing I had said, 'one ... two ... three ... Hap—' and nobody joined in?"

But there was no chance of that happening, because sports fans were eager for this secondary communal experience—this early harbinger of crowd-sourcing. The transistor was a social medium without hashtags or raised thumbs. "If I said something on the radio, the crowd would either groan over a pun or laugh over a joke," Scully says. "The worst pun: We were playing the Brewers in the Coliseum, they must have had 70,000 people there, and the night before, Joe Torre [had been] the catcher and suffered a foul tip on his hand. The next night he played third base, and I said, 'Isn't it interesting? If Joe never goes behind home plate again, he'll forever be known as Chicken Catcher Torre.' And you never heard 70,000 people groan like that. It is still my worst pun since we've been out here. To this day Joe and I kid about that."

In Los Angeles, games had become a call-and-response revival, the Church of Dodgers Baseball, Rev. Scully presiding. "I talked to the people as I'm talking to you," Scully says, "because I knew they were listening and they would react."

The balk rule required a pitcher to set for a full second, which was difficult for visiting pitchers in Los Angeles, because Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills was almost certainly going to try to steal second. One afternoon Reds pitcher Joey Jay was called for a balk, and Cincinnati manager Freddy Hutchinson kicked off an enormous argument that stopped the game dead. "And I've got nothing really to say except that they're arguing," says Scully. So he said into the microphone, "To all of you folks in the ballpark, how long do you think a complete second is?" He paused and said, "I tell you what I'll do. I'll say 'A,' and after a second is gone, you answer 'B.' " In the booth Scully said "A," and the fans shouted a mistimed "B!" "That's terrible," Scully told them. He asked them to try again, and the exchange was repeated.

A phone rang in the booth. It was Walter Alston, the Dodgers' manager, who said, "Why in the hell is the crowd yelling 'B' in the middle of this argument?"

"That," says Scully, "was the fun of the transistor radio."

A handheld electronic device linked fans watching a game in a way that was at once ancillary and indispensable—until it was largely dispensed with in 1962, when the Dodgers at long last moved into Dodger Stadium, and the 80-year reign of the radio ended. O'Malley had told Scully he could see the day when fans paid to watch games on TV. "I also remember reading an article prophesying that the day would come when the ballpark would be a studio, and there wouldn't be anyone in there," says Scully. "They would just be televising the game. I thought, That can't be, can it? I mean, people are gonna come to the games."

With pay-TV still a Jetsonian fever dream, O'Malley helped finance Dodger Stadium by selling the broadcast rights for Dodgers games—and exclusive advertising in the new ballpark—to Union Oil for $10 million over 10 years. It was a new kind of ballpark, with softening features like the San Gabriel Mountains beyond the outfield "pavilions" and but a single ad that didn't mar the view but enhanced it: an orange ball—the Union 76 gas station logo—rising like a second sun above the pavilions, which were fragrant with more than the cigarettes and popcorn of Ebbets Field.

"Walter O'Malley loved to get his hands in the dirt and grow things," Scully says, "and what he really loved to grow were orchids. So when he built this ballpark he envisioned flowers. If you go outside, where you walk in the Dodgers' office, there are these planters that look like enormous cocktail glasses? He envisioned flowers spilling over those, and flowers on the mountains. There is really no place quite like this."

Dodger Stadium would be different in other ways too. O'Malley hired a promotional savant named Danny Goodman from the minor league Hollywood Stars to become his advertising director, and Goodman filled Dodger Stadium with all manner of new products, so the team was the first to offer everything from replica batting helmets to bobblehead dolls.

"Why would anyone think it unusual to pick up a hat or a sweater when he's at the ballgame?" Goodman asked an interviewer in 1962, that first year at floral, fragrant Chavez Ravine. "They go to drugstores for everything from automobile tires to hardware as well as their medical supplies.... I think eventually we'll have full-scale shopping centers inside the parks. After all, we're dealing with a captive audience for three or four hours."

Scully has been out here for 56 years now, a Southern California institution like Disneyland and the HOLLYWOOD sign and the Dodgers themselves. Dem Bums left Brooklyn to whatever fate awaited it, which would turn out to be a long fallow period followed by a startling renaissance.

Ask Scully when he last went back to where it all began, at 55 Sullivan Place, and he says, "The last time I was in Brooklyn was the last game ever played there." He called the Dodgers' final game at Ebbets Field, on Sept. 24, 1957, before 6,702 fans. Fabled organist Gladys Goodding played "After You're Gone" and "How Can You Say We Are Through?" and "Auld Lang Syne" as a coda for baseball in Brooklyn, and possibly for Brooklyn itself.

"I had no reason, really, to go back," Scully says softly of the borough that had by then given the world Bugs Bunny and Mae West and a wild-throwing Dodgers prospect named Sandy Koufax. "There wasn't anything there for me."

II | "Sports Are Changing, Kid"

At the symbolic dawn of the 1960s, President Kennedy went hatless at his inauguration, and by the time he got to "Let the word go forth from this time and place," American men had stopped wearing hats altogether. By 1963 a men's accessories merchant in suburban Philadelphia named Ralph Roberts sold his business-attire firm, the Pioneer Suspender Company, and bought the community-access TV system in Tupelo, Miss., with 1,200 subscribers.

That same year Robert Edward Turner II committed suicide. His billboard business, Turner Advertising Company, was passed down to his 24-year-old son, Robert Edward Turner III, known as Ted, who then bought a radio station, giving him two old media, relics of the previous decades.

Bill Rasmussen was 30 in 1963, and that milestone—reached the previous Oct. 15—had given him cause for reflection. He had started an advertising business but was not ready to abandon his bigger dream. So he'd left his job and by April had signed on at WTTT radio in Amherst, Mass., one small step closer to becoming Mel Allen or Vin Scully. "I gave myself three years to make it," he says.

Scully was still the voice of the Dodgers, still wearing a jacket and tie in this new era of informality, and blessed to be calling the games of baseball's most dynamic pitcher, Koufax. Among the lefthander's growing legion of fans was a bookish boy in Philadelphia named Arn Tellem, born in 1954, the year the transistor radio debuted, Scully took over from Red Barber as the Voice of the Dodgers and Sports Illustrated was first published.

Tellem treated the magazine as kids before him had treated the transistor radio. "Every Friday night when SI came, there was this special moment when I would get into bed with my magazine and read it cover-to-end," he says. "The magazine fueled my dreams. It was such a powerful thing, to finally read SI after wondering all week who would be on the cover. My grandparents and my mother had always encouraged me to read, and I became absorbed in biographies of historical figures, but I had total immersion in the world of sports. For me, reading about sports became more enjoyable than watching them. The writers were so terrific that when I finished reading the magazine, I would fall asleep dreaming of a life in sports."

That life, Tellem was beginning to think, would be as a sportswriter or as the coach of one of Philadelphia's Big 5 basketball teams. He was a Phillies fan, but like many Jewish kids, he became a Dodgers fan every fourth day, when Koufax pitched. "His greatest seasons, 1961 to 1966, were the prime of my childhood," Tellem says. His father, Milton, was at Connie Mack Stadium on June 4, 1964, when Koufax no-hit the Phillies. That season was notable for the Phillies' historic September collapse, in which they blew a 6½-game lead with 12 games to play, driving Arn further into the arms of his idol, at a time when distance nurtured legend.

"Dodgers games weren't on TV in Philadelphia," says Tellem, "and that made Koufax more of a myth. My whole idea of him came from reading about him. He became bigger in my mind because I couldn't see him." It was exactly the reason that Steven Spielberg, a decade later, would withhold a full view of the Great White shark in Jaws until the end of the movie.

But Koufax didn't enter the canon of 20th-century sports icons until the season after his Philadelphia no-hitter, when the Dodgers reached the 1965 World Series and he refused to pitch in Game 1, which fell on Yom Kippur. The Dodgers started their other ace, Don Drysdale, and the righthander was a disaster, giving up seven runs to the Twins in 2 2/3 innings. When Alston came to the mound to remove him, Drysdale famously said, "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish too."

"Koufax's refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur in '65 and the collapse of the Phillies in '64 were my two defining moments as a baseball fan," says Tellem. "Koufax stood up for his faith and put it above his individual performance. For someone who grew up post--World War II, that moment of conscience set an example."

The Dodgers won that World Series in seven games, Koufax was named the MVP (he won his second Cy Young that season as well), and his conscience began to extend beyond religion, to an even more hidebound institution: baseball. A ballplayer—even the best player on the best team in what was still America's favorite sport—had little power over his own life. The reserve clause bound each player to his employer for the duration of his career. When Koufax and Drysdale jointly held out in the spring of 1966 for three-year contracts that would pay them each $500,000 over the life of the deal—$1 million for the pair, spread over 36 months—their only leverage was in their joint resolve. Koufax promised to retire if the Dodgers didn't pay him, and Drysdale planned to sit out the season.

But they required a man who could work that leverage. So Koufax and Drysdale hired a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer named J. William Hayes, of Hayes & Hume, to negotiate with Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi. Hayes was a former American Airlines pilot who was married to a film actress named Nancy Gates and represented actors such as Lloyd Bridges and executives such as Aaron Spelling.

Bavasi refused to negotiate with Hayes and insisted—per long-standing baseball custom—on dealing directly with Koufax and Drysdale. "I told them I would negotiate only with them, that the amount of money they were asking was ridiculous and that nobody on the ball club, including me and Walter Alston, was ever going to get more than a one-year contract," Bavasi said.

"You're both athletes," the GM told his top two pitchers, "and what you're selling is your physical ability, and how can you guarantee your physical ability three years in advance?" Since "not even Cassius Clay could make a guarantee like that," Bavasi said, "the meeting broke up."

Or so Bavasi recalled in a first-person article in 1967 in Sports Illustrated, a magazine that by now was hitting its stride with stories on sports and their role in the larger society. "If I gave in and began negotiating baseball contracts through an agent, then I set a precedent that's going to bring awful pain to general managers for years to come, because every salary negotiation with every humpty-dumpty fourth-string catcher is going to run into months of dickering," Bavasi wrote. "Sandy knows I've got better sense than that."

On the eve of that season Drysdale, with Koufax's blessing, met Bavasi at a restaurant called Nicola's near Dodger Stadium. There the two worked out a deal that would pay the lefty $125,000 and the righty $110,000 for the 1966 season, still hefty raises from their previous salaries of about $70,000. Baseball management was saved, after a 32-day holdout, from the specter of every humpty-dumpty fourth-string catcher wanting legal representation when signing a contract. At the end of that pennant-winning season, in which Koufax had 27 wins and a 1.73 ERA and won his third Cy Young Award, the man sometimes called the Left Arm of God retired with painful arthritis in that arm. He was 30.

"And that signaled the end of my childhood," says Tellem, who was 12 years old. "Koufax retired, and two months later my father died, right before my bar mitzvah." The definition of bar mitzvah, Tellem says, is when a Jewish boy learns he has a better chance of owning a sports team than of playing for one.

His mother eventually remarried, to a man named Hank Stern—"a wonderful man," says Tellem, "and we bonded over sports"—who took his stepson to the Philadelphia Sportswriters' Dinner, mainly to hear Howard Cosell deliver the keynote address but also to let Arn mingle with the sportswriters he hoped would be his future colleagues. By a stroke of fortune, stepfather and son were seated at the Philadelphia Daily News table, and Arn next to sports columnist Stan Hochman, to whom he confessed, "I want to be a sports columnist."

Hochman listened patiently and said, "Sports are changing, kid. If you want to have an impact, become a lawyer."

Sports were changing because America was, but the reverse was also true. On March 7, 1968, after speaking in Los Angeles, Martin Luther King Jr. had dinner at the home of Don Newcombe, the Dodgers' pitcher who had yielded the mound to Branca, who had in turn given up the home run to Thomson. Dr. King thanked Newcombe that night. "Don, you'll never know how easy you and Jackie and Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field," King said, referring to Robinson and Larry Doby and Roy Campanella. Twenty-eight days later, in Memphis, King was assassinated, and a summer of urban discontent was ignited.

The Dodgers' former home, Brooklyn, had been troubled by racial tension since before the team departed Ebbets Field. The white flight from Brooklyn was described by one of that borough's bards, columnist and novelist Pete Hamill, in an essay in 1969: "Leaving was made easier by four central factors in the period of postwar decline in Brooklyn. All, in their special ways, were emotional. The four factors: 1) the folding of the Brooklyn Eagle; 2) the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers for California; 3) the long years of insecurity and the final folding of the Brooklyn Navy Yard; 4) the migration of southern Negroes, most of whom settled in Brooklyn, not Manhattan."

These first two were symbolic blows, a powerful right-left combination. The Eagle was the paper of Harold Burr, B-U-R-R, who used to regale Scully on the train rides to St. Louis with tales of the Bambino. The Dodgers, in turn, were the principal reason to buy the Eagle.

With the "migration of southern Negroes," Brooklyn became easy to block-bust, as Hamill wrote in New York magazine. Which is to say, realtors bought a property and moved black tenants in, encouraging and precipitating white neighbors to sell their own properties quickly, at below-market prices, and leave. "So Bedford-Stuyvesant exploded," Hamill wrote. "Whites began leaving by the hundreds." But something else was changing in Brooklyn in 1969, at least according to Hamill, who was writing that summer before the Dodgers' replacement—the Miracle Mets—won the World Series in October and Shawn Corey Carter was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant in December.

That Carter would go on to global fame as a hip-hop artist with the stage name Jay Z—and the ancillary handle of J-Hova, with its intentional echo of Jehovah—does not imbue the birth with a messianic quality. But 1969 was the year that Hamill portrayed as Year Zero, the start of a new calendar, the beginning of Brooklyn's revival. Young people with no ties to the borough were moving into the neighborhoods of Park Slope and Cobble Hill. The New York Port Authority predicted 7.7% job growth in Brooklyn by 1985. Three previous scourges—street gangs, heroin and the Mafia—appeared to be in decline. What's more, "The wound of the Dodgers' departure seems finally healed," Hamill wrote that July. "The arrival of the Mets gave the old Dodger fans something to cheer for, and there are no more of the old Brooklyn Dodgers now playing for the Los Angeles team. Baseball itself has declined in interest; it's slow, dull, almost sedate these days, especially on television. Pro football excites more people in the Brooklyn saloons."

Hamill's declaration of a "renaissance" for his native borough, while born of hope, was a quarter-century premature. Neighborhoods gentrified glacially, and the economy had its own designs: By 1975, New York City would be on the brink of bankruptcy. Crack cocaine would fill the vacancy left by heroin. Of course, none of that mattered to residents of Brooklyn and Queens on Oct. 6, 1969, when the Mets won the National League playoffs.

The next day the Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Phillies. Arn Tellem was 15, and without Koufax, he had gone all in with his hometown Phillies. But even then, reading about Flood in the papers for which he one day hoped to write, the boy was awakening to the hubris of baseball owners. Flood had already done so. He declined to report to his new team, and he wrote in a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn, "After twelve years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes"—thus challenging the reserve clause that had bound Koufax and Drysdale to the Dodgers in perpetuity.

"Curt Flood was a huge moment for me," says Tellem. "Howard Cosell and Marvin Miller would later talk about a player's right to have a say in his career, and as a child of the '60s, I started to see that sports were on the cutting edge of the issues we would all confront as a society." More and more, these issues were infiltrating and informing his weekly Friday-night readings of SI.

That year, 1969, the onetime seller of men's clothing accessories, Ralph Roberts, changed the name of his growing collection of cable-TV systems by mashing up Communications and Broadcast to form something called Comcast.

Joan Ganz Cooney—Vin Scully's date at the Dodgers World Series party at Brooklyn's Hotel Bossert 14 years earlier—debuted her new show on public TV. It was set in a New York City very much like that Brooklyn of brownstones and neighbors on stoops and racial diversity. The show was called Sesame Street.