Wilt the Stilt, Stan the Man, Slammin’ Sammy, Sugar Ray
1958 - A Pivotal Year for Professional Sports
Americans grew up with sports: high school basketball games in the local gymnasium, college football on Saturdays in the fall, and professional baseball all summer. Sports showcased contradictions—teamwork and individual accomplishment—planning and reflex—dynasties and upsets— power and finesse. With no free-agency, players stayed put and towering dynasties ruled the professional leagues—the mighty Yankees in baseball, the incredible Celtics in basketball, and the Canadiens in hockey. 1958 was a critical year in sports: professional baseball moved to California, the ‘Greatest Football Game Ever’ was played, and money and television began to change the professional landscape.
Superstars reigned: Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan in golf; football’s Jim Brown; great jockeys Willie Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro; and basketball’s Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor. Collectors of bubble gum trading cards treasured baseball heroes Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Stan Musial, who got his 3000th hit in 1958. Professional golf stars helped create the idea that, to succeed in business, men needed to play golf. In track and field, Glenn Davis set a record of 49.2 in 400-meter hurdles, and in the first America’s Cup sailing competition since 1937, the U.S. Columbia, designed by Olin Stephens, defended successfully against the English challenger Scepter.
Unlike many areas of society in the decade, athletes were a racially diverse group. Althea Gibson was the first African-American to play at Forest Hills in the U.S. Tennis Nationals. Black players began to appear in professional sports and the teams that were the quickest to incorporate the talent of black players became the more successful teams.