It’s Monday, Oct. 8, 1956, and New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen is throwing a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series. A 26-year-old Sports Illustrated writer named Walter Bingham is covering the game at Yankee Stadium, and he lets his passion for the Dodgers get the best of him, even though he’s supposed to be a neutral reporter.
“It was so early in my career I was still a Dodger fan,” Bingham said by phone this week. “As the game went on, I kept rooting for someone to hit one.”
It didn’t happen. Larsen completed the only perfect game in World Series history and the Yankees went on to win the series in Game 7.
It was the first of many singular events in Bingham’s 35-year career as a writer and editor for Sports Illustrated. After retiring to his home in Truro, he began writing a weekly sports column for the Cape Cod Times, which he continues to this day.
Bingham and his wife, Betty, are currently staying at a senior residence in Duxbury as his 90th birthday, on Aug. 27, approaches.
“My heart is really in Truro,” he said. “I’d like to be thought of as a Truro boy.”
Bingham spent his first summer here as a teenager in 1945. “After the first three or four years, I was hooked,” he said. He worked at the Shell gas station in what is now Jams. The village green, opposite the station, was where he and friends would gather to play croquet.
“Cars would come to a halt and someone would get out and ask, ‘Excuse me, do you know where the center of Truro is?’ I’d say, ‘You’re standing in it.’ ”
His favorite beach was Ballston — a three-mile bike ride from his house. “Life was different then, of course,” he said.
Bingham joined SI in 1955 and began working at the clip desk. By the time he left he had become assistant managing editor.
He covered golf, tennis, college football, and baseball. He worked with writers like Frank Deford and Dan Jenkins. Bingham credits SI’s success to editor Andre Laguerre, who joined the magazine in 1959.
“It would be an overstatement to say I owe my journalistic career to a portly, hard-drinking, cigar-smoking Frenchman named Andre Laguerre,” Bingham wrote in his April 5 column, “but no one else comes even close.”
Bingham covered the Masters golf tournament 20 years in a row. You can still find his stories in the SI online vault: vault.si.com/author/walter-bingham.
He especially remembers Jack Nicklaus’s heroics, particularly his historic one-stroke victory in 1986. “I was there for the first three rounds,” Bingham said. “At the end of three rounds they weren’t really talking about Nicklaus. He was long past his good playing days. I had to go back to New York because I was the golf editor and spent Sundays in the office, so, sadly, I had to watch the final round on television. I can tell you right now, he birdied 9, birdied 10, birdied 11, bogied 12, birdied 13, par on 14, eagled 15, almost made a hole in one on 16, birdied 17, and par on 18.”
Bingham found his love for sports early on as a runner.
“The first time I realized I was a pretty good runner was when Cookie Ryan threatened to punch me in the nose,” Bingham wrote in his April 16 column. “He was almost a full year older and slightly bigger, but when I reached home, he was far behind.” The title of the piece is “Born to run — but not forever.”
Bingham ran in five Boston Marathons, three New York marathons, and countless 5K races.
“The feeling of floating, dancing on air” is how he described it.
His last race was about six years ago when he ran the Pamet 5K in Truro. He was hobbling at the end, but his son appeared at his side to help him finish the last 20 yards. Bingham truly ran until he couldn’t anymore.
Sports Illustrated, he lamented, is not the same. The office is no longer in Rockefeller Center. A weekly for decades, it now comes out only 16 times a year.
“There’s something that’s called Sports Illustrated,” Bingham said, “but it is absolutely nothing like it was.”
The magazine and much else in the publishing world may have changed, but judging from Walter Bingham’s elegant and lively writing, his own run is far from over.