The SportsLifer has been a Sports Illustrated subscriber since his high school days in the 60s.
In other words, a loyal reader for more than 40 years.
And in all that time — and dating far beyond that first SI in 1954, a total of 55 awards — no New York Yankee has ever been named Sportsman of the Year.
A total of 12 awards have been won by baseball players — from Brooklyn’s Johnny Podres in 1955 to the Red Sox team in 2004. But no Yankees.
Among that group were Pete Rose in 1975, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. Think SI would like to have those two back?
Where are the Yankees, the most successful franchise in North American sports history, the most visible team in the world?
It’s certainly tough to argue with this year’s winner, eight-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. But there were several other instances where the Yankees deserved strong consideration.
What about The Mick?
Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in leading the Yankees to the World Series in 1956, but Olympic sprinter Bobby Morrow took the Sportsman of the Year award that year.
In 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record with 61 home runs, yet the SI award went to Ohio State basketball player Jerry Lucas.
Jockey Steve Cauthen took honors in 1977, the year Reggie Jackson’s three home runs on three swings buried the Dodgers and gave the Yankees the World Championship.
SI could have picked Ron Guidry and his incredible 25-3 season in 1978 over Jack Nicklaus.
And what of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera and the rest of the Yankee dynasty that won four World Series in five years between 1996 and 2000. Wouldn’t a team award for the 1998 squad, which won 114 games, look good now? Better than a couple of heralded juicers.
Cover Shots: Football and basketball have produced eight Sportsman of the Year apiece, golf six, the Olympics and track and field four apiece, boxing, hockey and tennis three apiece.
Tiger Woods, who won in 1996 and 2000, is the only two-time individual winner. Curt Schilling shared honors with Randy Johnson in 2001 after the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees, and was a member of the Red Sox 2004 champions.
Phelps is the only swimmer to win the award, and joins Olympians Morrow (1956), gymnast Mary Lou Retton and hurdler Edwin Moses (1984) and skaters Bonnie Blair and Olav Koss (1994).
Basketball legends Bill Russell (1968), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985) and Michael Jordan (1991) won Sportsman of the Year honors.
The hockey winners were no-brainers: Bobby Orr in 1970, the US Olympic hockey team in 1980, and Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, in 1982.
Brett Favre was last year’s winner, joining fellow NFL QBs Terry Branshaw in 1979, Joe Montana in 1990 and Tom Brady in 2005. Oregon State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker, who had a brief NFL career, is the only college football player to win, in 1962.
Other big name Sportsman of the Year winners include Sandy Kourfax (1965), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Tom Seaver (1969), Cal Ripken (1995), Rafer Johnson (1958), Lance Armstrong (2002), Muhammad Ali (1974) and Arnold Palmer (1960).
Roger Bannister, the first sub-four-minute miler, won the inaugural award in 1954.
Boston Corners is a quiet, obscure hamlet nestled in southeast Columbia County, New York, bracketed by the Taconic Mountains to the east and Route 22 and the Harlem Valley to the west. A town of mountain views, open spaces and farms.Boston Corners occupies a spot near where Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York converge, roughly 110 miles north of Manhattan,
It’s probably one of the last places on earth you’d expect to host a championship prizefight. Yet that’s exactly what happened more then 150 years ago, when John Morrissey bested James “Yankee” Sullivan in a 37-round bare-knuckles bout.
Due to the violent nature of the sport, boxing was illegal in most places during the 1850s. However, tiny Boston Corners, offered some, shall we say, advantages that hindered the local constabulary. For one, its mountainous terrain made it difficult for police to find the village, bad for Commonwealth of Massachusetts law enforcement but ideal for illegal activities.
To put it mildly, Boston Corners was a den of thieves. It was particularly favored as a handy place to dye racehorses stolen from nearby Saratoga so that they could be raced incognito on Long Island.
On Wednesday, October 12, 1853, an event took place that would change the face of Boston Corners forever. On that date a brash young fighter from Troy, N.Y., by the name of John Morrissey met the famed Yankee Sullivan.
Tale of the Tape
Sullivan, age 40, weighed 145 pounds, giving away more than 30 pounds to the younger Morrissey, who was 22, stood 6’2″ and weighed 175 pounds. The purse for the winner was $2,000.
It was estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 fight fans converged on an abandoned brickyard in Boston Corners the day of the fight. They came from New York City, Albany, Troy and all points in between. They came by train, by stage, by horse and on foot. to see the fight of the century. Never mind that the population of Boston Corners was less than 150 people and had only one inn.
Sullivan dominated the match for most of the early rounds, but Morrissey held his own according to reports and would not quit, though his face became distorted and unrecognizable. In the 37th round, more than an hour after the start of the fight, a riot broke out when Sullivan hit Morrissey while he was on his knees. Crowds started jumping into the ring, and after the chaos had been quelled, the referee awarded the victory and American Championship to Morrissey, making him a national celebrity.
The fight resulted in the transfer of Boston Corners from Massachusetts to the state of New York. The citizens of Boston Corners petitioned the New York State and the U.S. Congress to bring them into the jurisdiction of New York. On January 3, 185,5 an Act of Congress changed the state line and made Boston Corners officially part of New York.
Two Fighters, Different Fates
The two contestants, Morrissey and Sullivan, experienced dissimilar fates. After establishing a successful gaming house in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Morrissey created the Saratoga Race Course with the help of William R. Travers, John R. Hunter, and Leonard Jerome. He also established “The Club House,” a casino in Saratoga that attracted such notable guests as former Presidents Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller, and Mark Twain.
In 1866 he ran for Congress with the backing of Tammany Hall and served two terms in the House (1867-1871). Morrissey, pictured at right, was later elected to the New York State Senate in 1875 and was re-elected in 1877, serving in that capacity until his death in 1878 at age 47.
The state closed all offices and flags were flown at half-mast upon his death. The entire State Senate attended his funeral in Troy, and 20,000 mourners lined the streets to pay respects. At the time of his death, Morrissey’s estate was valued at more than $2 million.
The life of Sullivan, pictured at left, ran a far different course. After the contest, he moved to California where he had a criminal reputation. He was arrested by the San Francisco Vigilance Movement, and he died in his prison cell. The circumstances of his death are unclear — some reports say he was hanged, others
indicate that he slit his wrists. Sullivan is buried in the Mission Dolores cemetery in San Francisco.
Today there is a historic marker at the site, on Undermountain Road just north of the Dutchess County line. Unfortunately the date on the marker—1883—is incorrect.