It’s not really fair to pull out 1998 Rick Reilly and generalize from him to the rest of the sporting world … but it sure is fair to generalize to the rest of the sportswriters who have since disowned and demonized baseball’s so-called Steroid Era and the new power hitters in the game. (Like, for example, when Reilly did this.)
Last offseason I shared a piece from The Sporting News, and this year I’ll do Sports Illustrated. It’s fair to say these were among the baseball publications of record at the time, and so they reflect the opinions of the writers who now have, by more than a 3 to 1 ratio, seven years running, denied Mark McGwire entry to the Hall of Fame.
This is from September 14, 1998. It’s a letter written to Reilly’s granddaughter — what a fresh take — about McGwire and Sosa.
That was such an odd time in this country. Washington seemed to be filled with liars, cheats and scumbags, yet our games were as pure and shiny as I’d ever seen them.
…the best of all was this simple, joyful home run chase that didn’t involve salary caps or parole boards or even Don King … the whole nation was brought together by a giant playing a kid’s game.
…[McGwire] was as quick to laugh as any man I’ve known … he stayed decent and next-door through it all …
… The home run race was as American as a Corvette … Sometimes you were sure the whole thing was a DreamWorks production …
Got all that? Pure. Shiny. Simple. Joyful. Dreamy.
The standard excuse for people who have done the about-face between 1998 and 2008 is that they didn’t know. McGwire lied. He deceived a nation. And so on.
Except he didn’t. They just didn’t care. At no point in this story does Reilly refer to the drugs found in McGwire’s locker, which were reported nearly a month earlier and would certainly be known to him. (In the same SI issue, Tom Verducci has a four-page feature on McGwire that never mentions anything even remotely related to them, either.)
The most negative description of McGwire in the Reilly piece is this: “He had this withering glare at the plate, like a bouncer with bunions.”
A bouncer with bunions. You know, there’s probably a cream for that.