As you may have seen, heard, or read about, a travesty in sports media occurred earlier this week, when the brand formerly known as Sports Illustrated laid off their entire staff, seemingly bringing the iconic publication’s run to a close after 70 years. The company sent out a vague press release indicating that it’s not dead yet, but the outlook is nothing if not grim. It’s the latest blow in a January that’s been rife with them, in what I can best describe as the ghoulish mass of venture capital’s ongoing assault on anything dear that would stand in the way of a slightly raised quarterly profit margin. Maybe that’s not actually my best, but you get the point.
The Yankees being the Yankees, they’ve graced more than their share of Sports Illustrated covers over the years. Nearly three dozen by my count, as I scrolled through their archives earlier today. There’s a lot to look at, but I picked out one from each decade of the magazine’s existence to show you all, not for any particular ranking or reason other than myself and my PSA colleagues thinking they’re cool. Let’s get going!
The first issue of Sports Illustrated was published on August 14, 1954, and it was a little under a year later, on July 11, 1955, that a Yankee graced the cover for the first time. It feels fitting, somehow, that Yogi Berra’s homely visage is the first and only one of them to be a super-close-up. Yogi wouldn’t care about that too much though — he was featured in the midst of what would eventually be his second consecutive MVP-winning season, with the Yankees 55-29 and a comfortable five games ahead at the top of the standings. They’d famously lose the World Series to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Berra’s MVP was closely contested (Cleveland’s Al Smith received an equal number of first place votes), but it’s not as if the Yankees would be lacking for more moments in the sun anytime soon.
The ‘60s offered a LOT to choose from, and I went with this one for two main reasons. First, Roger Maris didn’t make an appearance until a relatively boring 1961 World Series edition cover. Second, I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’d seen a clear, bright, color photograph of Mickey Mantle in his prime. The Comet was 30 years old in 1962, and won his third and final AL MVP (after two consecutive runner-up finishes) despite missing a full month of the season with a leg injury. There’s a vibrancy in that cover that most action shots of Mantle at his best just don’t quite capture. I can only imagine how it might have registered with someone whose eyes haven’t been bombarded with digital photorealism for the entirety of their developed life.
If you were making a list of the most interesting Yankees seasons ever, 1977 would probably be somewhere near the top, and given what the earlier part of the ‘70s looked like for the club, there weren’t quite as many covers to choose from as in some other decades. So we get one from the most interesting of times. You wouldn’t know it from the cover, but at the time this issue was released on May 2, when Reggie Jackson was hitting .290/.400/.493. Remember, this well over a month and change before the infamous “straw that stirs the drink” and Fenway Park Fight Night incidents — that sure tells you something about the media environment Reggie dealt with, one way or another.
There wasn’t necessarily a ton to laugh or smile about in the Bronx in the 1980s, especially the latter half, but this is just two cool baseball dudes sharing space in a city and on a magazine cover. It really captures the era since Don Mattingly simply was the man of the moment for the Yankees, and Darryl Strawberry certainly fit that bill for the Mets as well, alongside fellow embattled superstar Doc Gooden. The captions are, however, quite ironic. Although the Mets were 9.5 games out of first place at the time of publication, they went 45-30 from that point on, winding up with a respectable second-place finish. The Yankees, meanwhile, took the three=game lead they had in the division at the time and went 34-39 to finish off the year in a distant third. The ‘80s, right?
Look, there was a lot to choose from for the nineties. I could’ve mixed-and-matched combinations of Yankees legends like a Wendy’s 4-for-4 deal. And then this appeared in front of me. There’s so much going on here. Why is he dressed like Napoleon if the reference is to King George? Are we acting like he left voluntarily, and not because of a pretty sizable scandal? Whose idea was this? Can we try Steve Cohen as Winston Churchill? What?
Hey, there’s George, looking a little more... subdued! This one is just fun to look at. Peak “remember some guys” fodder, you might say. It doesn’t quite lean into the absurdism of his previous appearance, but there’s plenty to like (and ask) about this one, too. The magic of photography is real, because I was alive in 2003 and I know that Roger Clemens did not look younger than Mike Mussina on my static-y television. Why is Jeff Weaver even here? Was David Wells still asleep?* And hey, look, it’s 2005 World Champion José Contreras! I once watched him warm up for a start with 12-inch softball that might as well have been a tennis ball in his hands. Anyway, back to the program.
*The boring actual answer: No, he was just mad at SI.
There it is! You knew they had to be in there somewhere before the end, right? We’ll wrap up with this one, because at least a plurality, if not a majority, of the subsequent decade-and-a-half’s worth of covers involve Alex Rodríguez looking sad and/or reflective. 2010 was, of course, the last year of the Core Four, as Andy Pettitte hung them up after the season, and by the time he hit the comeback trail two years later, Jorge Posada had already followed him into retirement. One thing that this cover sure got right? You really won’t see that again in any sport. Just like we will never quite be able to fill the SI-sized hole in our memories. Sports Illustrated is dead, long live Sports Illustrated.