Henry R. Luce was the mastermind behind the modern news magazine, a new style of journalism defined by clear writing filled with sharp adjectives. It was a place for in-depth stories on business and politics that newspapers couldn’t always cover. And it came to life on the pages of his magazines — Time, Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated.
Sports Illustrated was his final magazine endeavor. Luce was not a sports fan, but he recognized its cultural value, calling it “the wonderful world of sport.” After World War II, sports could be enjoyed much more and Sports Illustrated aimed to capture America’s imagination and succeed in a genre that so many others had failed.
The magazine, first published August 16, 1954, has done more than just succeed since its humble beginnings. SI has become the iconic sports magazine of America. The cover is the face of each issue. And the cover history provides a snapshot of sports from week to week, year to year, decade to decade, and generation to generation.
The St. Louis Cardinals have been a rich part of that history as one of baseball’s most storied franchises. The Cards have won 10 World Series championships, six of which came before the magazine’s time. Still, the Redbirds have been featured somewhere on an SI cover 52 times. Over the next few months here at Redbird Rants, we’re going to take a look back at each Cards cover.
No. 1: March 5, 1956
By spring training in 1956, the Cardinals glory days were behind them. The team that had won four National League pennants and three World Series during the 1940s was only a memory now. Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst were the lone holdovers from the 1946 World Series team. Future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter was traded by general manager Frank Lane in April of the 1954 season. Schoendienst followed in June 1956, just a few months after this cover shot. Lane, who is featured in this SI cover story, was known as “Trader Lane” among many nicknames for his wheeling and dealing. He even tried to trade Musial to Philadelphia for future Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts during that same 1956 season. Cards owner Gussie Busch vetoed the trade.
The club was coming off a brutal 1955 season, in which it finished 68-86 and seventh in the National League. The 1956 team improved, going 76-78.
Sports Illustrated reporter Gerald Holland described the scene at spring training in the cover story, “It Happens Every Spring.”
A NEW MANAGER SPEAKS
Excerpt from March 5, 1956 cover story via Sports Illustrated Vault:
"But the sun was shining in the morning and at 12 o’clock the uniformed players (Charlie Purtle of Texarkana wearing No. 81) sat on the benches in the clubhouse and listened to Manager Fred Hutchinson‘s low-pressure remarks. Apologizing for any names he might mispronounce, Hutchinson read off the roster (he had quite a bit of trouble with Dick Czekaj, a catcher) and then explained that there would be one three-hour workout a day. “Don’t overdo it right away,” he said, “and don’t baby yourself either. You pitchers [Charlie Purtle sat up straight], go ahead and throw curve balls if you want. You’re going to have sore arms anyway; might as well get it over with. Just remember, all of you, you’re here for a reason.”Hutchinson looked around and then turned to Trainer Bauman: “You got anything to say, Bob?”Bauman got up and said. “Well, I’ll just say this—don’t neglect blisters. A little merthiolate on a blister today may prevent a bad infection later on. I guess that’s all I’ve got to say right now.”Hutchinson then introduced his coaches and explained their assignments, and at 12:25 he said, “Well, let’s go.” The players filed out of the clubhouse and up the green walk over the bleacher wall and down onto the field. As their spikes dug into the grass, they broke into a trot and big league baseball’s spring training was officially on for the 1956 season.At home plate the sportswriters and club officials gathered around Frank Lane, the general manager, and after a minute 85-year-old Al Lang took a stance at the plate and shouted, “Oh, my, I’m ready right now—Frank Lane, you tell Schoendienst he’ll have to move over; put me down for second base!” Then he suddenly clapped a hand to his forehead and cried, “Oh, I forgot! Don’t you expect me to hit so good, Frank Lane! Oh, no, not until you get that open space fixed up in center field!”“Pepper games!” yelled Fred Hutchinson suddenly, and the jogging players headed for the bats and balls. As the familiar sounds of wood on horse-hide rose over the field for the first time, somebody in the grandstand bit into the first hot dog of the spring season, and at home plate the group of privileged observers began to drift to the sidelines, and soon the familiar virus was at work on them. Somebody had the word that Red Schoendienst (due to report with Stan Musial and the rest of the regulars a little later) had been taking eye exercises all winter and now was enjoying perfect vision. Another had late information to the effect that Pitcher Frank Smith, bothered with a sore arm last year, was in such terrific shape that he could throw a ball through a wood plank, loosely speaking. How, exploded a club man, could you do anything but upgrade the pitching with Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell back from the service, and Harvey Haddix, just on the law of averages alone, due for a great year after a below-par 12-and-16 record in 1955? Just use a little plain arithmetic, demanded the Schoendienst eye man, and what have you got? You got great youngsters like Ken Boyer , Bill Virdon, Wally Moon and Alex Grammas with a year’s, two years’ major league experience behind them. On top of all that, you got a new manager who is bound to get the most out of his pitchers because he was a pitcher himself; you got a new general manager who’s one of the smartest men in the business, look what he did with the White Sox—and, man, doesn’t it begin to figure?Frank Lane modestly withdrew to a spot of shade. Looking ruggedly youthful (at 60) in his sports jacket and open-collared shirt, he shook his head.“I’ve got to fight it,” he said slowly, “I’m just as vulnerable to the high spirits around a training camp as anybody else. But, as general manager of this club, I’ve got to be realistic and look at the hard facts. Now, some people have said that last season the Cardinals were the greatest seventh-place ball club in history. Well, maybe I’d rather have the lousiest first-place ball club in history.”He knelt down and pulled out a blade of grass and nibbled at it. He stood up and thrust his hands in his pockets and spoke more forcefully.“We’ve got a great manager in Fred Hutchinson—I got another great manager out of Seattle in Paul Richards. I told Mr. Busch when I nominated Hutchinson, I said, ‘Mr. Busch, you can be sure that any manager I pick will be the best man for Frank Lane.’ That’s the way I look at Fred Hutchinson.“But, as I say, a general manager can’t let himself be carried away. Of course, there’s no point in glossing over the fact that we’ve got some terrific young talent here. Now, in the normal course of development, these boys are infinitely better for this season. But what I sense in this camp, to a degree that I’ve rarely seen in all my years in baseball, is an attitude, a great attitude. That’s the big thing if you’re playing ball, preaching a sermon or selling shoes. It’s the attitude that counts.”He seemed to be breathing a little faster now.“But I’ve got to be realistic, as I said. I don’t want to let myself get carried away here in camp. I don’t want to say we’re going to beat out Brooklyn and Milwaukee.”The new boss of the best seventh-place club in history looked across the infield at the sun-drenched panorama of young athletes throwing and hitting and fielding against a background of gently swaying palm trees and the blue waters of Tampa Bay. He opened his mouth and almost blurted something. Then he caught himself and by a great effort forced himself to face the hard facts of the National League race for 1956:“The Cardinals,” said Frank Lane, the realist, “will finish third.”"
Lane wasn’t far off. His Cardinals finished fourth. Musial batted .310 with 27 home runs and 109 RBIs on the year despite the trade rumors. In 1957, the Redbirds were back in the pennant race, but settled for second place behind the Milwaukee Braves.