You are stranded on a desert island. You’ve got enough coconuts to stay alive, but your laptop can only access one sports website (work with me!). What would it be? Until a couple of weeks ago, there might have actually been a debate about this. But that was before Sports Illustrated’s website launched its "SI Vault" in conjunction with CNN. Through the vault, hundreds of thousands of articles in Sports Illustrated’s archives can be accessed going back to 1954 and virtually every single article can be viewed in the form of its original issue (advertisements too). And best of all, it is all FREE… or more accurately, "priceless". For sports junkies, sports nerds, sports historians, and sports media critics this is a dream come true. Personally, this author has been a kid in a candy store the last 24 hours.There is something special about reading about an older athlete how they are remembered today, and how they were written about in their day. Pick a player, type in their name, narrow it down with a time period, and read away.
Personally, I’m really getting into the old stuff. Perhaps you want to read these extremely interesting first person accounts from Floyd Patterson on "How I Lost the Title"…or Wilt Chamberlain on why "I’m Tired of Being the Villain". You might also stumble upon William Faulkner on his first hockey game or the gutsy George Plimpton PLAYING in his only professional football game. And maybe you want to check out some Robert Creamer articles on how the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers began their season or a young Mickey Mantle the following season. And in that same Mantle 1956 issue, another article asks whether the baseball is "Lively or Not"… and in 1961 SI brings up the lively ball again — except with proof this time. 1977? More lively ball controversy and more testing… 1987? Here we go again. And all this before "the steroids era"… But the appeal of SI Vault really has nothing to with lively balls. Of course, the moral of the story is: The more things change, the more I want to read about history repeating itself! Fair warning: Once you get started, you might get sucked in for a while!
On the business side of things, it is amazing that SI put this stuff out for free. Even the New York Times annually charges $25 – $50 for its annual archives (okay, its a daily paper). This is truly a public service. In one swift business decision, CNNSI has elevated itself to become the most important sports website out there. It’s no contest. Perhaps it is a new business strategy to compete with ESPN. It’s sort of like a fight between Yankee fans and Red Sox fans the last few years: When in serious trouble the Yankee fan will always pull out that good ole "baseball history card". What took SI so long? And although we haven’t written about it, there seems to be an upturn in the quality of writing at Sports Illustrated’s magazine during the last few months. It is something that I started to notice sometime after snarky Rick Reilly left them for ESPN, Dan Patrick joined SI, and stories like this one on Kevin Everett began to land on the cover. Perhaps SI agreed with COSELLOUT’s first tip offered last October that they will never beat ESPN at their own game of dumbing-down sports news. Given its recent resurgence (I think) and this bold "SI Vault" move, perhaps there will be a mainstream place for "the thinking sports fan" to go. And even if SI never printed another issue, it may still take another 50 years to catch up on the last 50.
Now please excuse me while I try to find and read every article that Gary Smith and Ralph Wiley has ever written… and perhaps a little Frank Deford circa pre-Kirby-Puckett cover-stories…