How the Dodgers’ Johnny Podres became your SI Sportsman of the Year 55 years ago

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The latest coffee-table sized production from Sports Illustrated, “The Covers” ($29.95, Time Home Entertainment, 208 pages, linked here) is a giant reminder about the impact the magazine’s display covers have had over the last 50-plus years, setting a creative standard in sports photography and marketing that others have tried to imitate with various degrees of success.

Showing the covers in chronological order – starting with Aug. 16, 1954 – through 2009, it’s also a way to measure a sports franchise’s worth.

Through a tally taken last May, the Lakers have made 64 covers (second to the New York Yankees’ 70), but we remember at least one or two more during their NBA title repeat run against the Celtics in June. The Dodgers (40), UCLA basketball (24), USC football (21) and the Los Angeles Rams (12) are the others in double digits.

UCLA also has the edge over USC, 29-27, in colleges making the cover, with Bill Walton appearing a college-record eight times in a Bruins uniform.

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The book also answers a question we’ve had for years: Why was the Dodgers’ Johnny Podres, who actually had a losing record, named 1955 Sportsman of the Year? Simply for beating the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series?

The magazine’s Jan. 2, 1956 issue had planned to honor horseman Bill Woodward Jr., and he posed for a cover shot with his wife, Ann, his prized thoroughbred Nashua, who won the Preakness and Belmont, and jockey Eddie Arcaro.

But the weekend before the magazine was to come out, Ann accidentally shot and killed her husband.

“SI managing editor Sid James hastily shipped to the engraver a head shot of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres,” writer Alexander Wolff explains in the book. “The picture was lame, and so was the choice of Sportsman of the Year . . . But Podres had the inestimable advantage of not being dead.”

Robert Cremer somehow pounded out a new story (linked here) about Podres, which is actually pretty good.

But, in this case, as one man dies, the SI cover jinx is born.

Podres, it should be noted, didn’t die until January of ’08.

“The Covers” is the latest in some giant-sized SI staff-project books that includes “The Football Book” in 2005 and revised in ’09 (linked here), “The Baseball Book” from 2006 (linked here), “The Basketball Book” from 2007 (linked here), “The College Football Book” from 2008 (linked here), “The Golf Book” from 2009 (linked here) and “The Hockey Book” from Sept., ’10 (linked here),

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