This column is sponsored by Sports Illustrated, which had the good grace to tank in the offseason so I could wring a few thousand words out of it just when topics are so thin that we’re strongly considered a piece on All the Bugs Trapped in Riverfront’s Ticket Windows: A Fond Look Back.

Fan as I am of digital media, I’m not exactly glad about the fate of SI. I’ll leave it to others to dissect the reasons why Sports Illustrated is folding, because as a writer, I’ve just lost a brass ring for which to reach.

SI wasn’t just a place to catch up on industry news and rankings. By mixing pop culture with sports, it tracked the increasing merge of personality, business, and athletics. And as much as we talk about the covers, Sports Illustrated was also known for its excellent writing. You weren’t at the top of your profession as a sports writer until you had the SI notch on the keyboard.

I’ll figure out a way to replicate it. Maybe ESPN 8: The Magazine is hiring.

For now, let’s talk about the fact that pretty much the only way the Reds made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated in the 80s was to serve as an ineffective obstruction for Ozzie Smith. This is from September 28, 1987:

Assuming you existed in 1987, it’s a good bet you don’t remember much about what you were doing when this issue was on the stands. I was ten, and everything was either pastel or neon.

But the good news is that the Reds, upon studying the stats, were much better than you might remember in the 80’s.

It just felt like a long time to get where we got in 1990, and as the exhaust drifted from the remains of the broke-down Big Red Machine, we found that scrambling for second place wasn’t much to our liking. We were the spoiled brats of baseball.

Then again, this was the only time the Bengals made the cover in about the same time frame:We constantly played the role of Best Supporting Team in movies starring other, better teams.

You might have forgotten that the Reds had a winning season in 1987 (84-78), and given that we were ecstatically contemplating the opportunity to actually break .500 last season right up to September (we were 82-80), that second-place finish seems like a gladiatorial victory.

Succumbing to Ozzie here is Number 22 in your programs, Number Oh Yeah That Guy in your heart, Dave Collins.  Dave Collins played for 9 different teams over 15 years and the Reds on two separate occasions.

And if you think you’re having a bad day, consider Mr. Collins, whose last year with the Reds was in 1989.  So he missed out on a ring by what, five months, and he had to live in St. Louis with the guy who threw him out on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  God bless you, sir.

Let us conclude with some cleansing memories. Good memories! This is Johnny Bench, November 1, 1976, on a cover I don’t understand, because I’m fairly certain there were Johnny Bench photos in existence other than this one. Then again, the cover was probably mocked up in New York by a bitter Yankees fan:

(I was there, as an increasingly pissed off fetus. Were you?)

13 Responses

  1. Melvin

    haha I didn’t know Dave Collins played for the Reds in 1987. I would have guessed that cover to be in the low 80s. I checked the 87 roster and he sure did. 🙂

  2. Mark Moore

    And the pictures were from physical negatives to boot … no instant gratification of seeing how you framed a shot!

    I remember when Dave Collins first came up. I’m thinking it might have been SI that anointed him (pardon the slight twinge when you read this), “the first white man to steal 90 bases since Ty Cobb” … 😮

    Love the Bench cover. That does cleanse the memories quite a bit and give me a reset for the day. But I’d even read the piece about the dead bugs, MBE.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      awwwwwww thanks! I originally typed “stadium bathrooms through the years” but then I was like “Actually…” and added it to the ol idea folder.
      Off-season does things to people.

  3. LDS

    “We were constantly Best Supporting Team in any story involving other, better teams.” Great line. Now the Reds aren’t even that and may not be for some time to come. The Angelos’ are bailing in Baltimore. Maybe Castellini and son will follow suit. As for SI and the next phase of your career, what would we do here without your columns to break up the contentiousness of RLN’s daily baseball columns?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That Baltimore situation requires a giant tub of popcorn and a folding chair. Crazy. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

  4. Rednat

    ahh, MBE, I LOVED THE MID -LATE 80’S REDS. I was in my late 30s. My son was a teenager and my dad was in his 70s. we would all 3 head down to riverfront. We still had Rose, Concepcion and Perez. we had the great Dave Parker and up in coming guys like Paul Oneil and Eric Davis and Larkin. my son just couldn’t believe that the BRM teams were better. Just as i couldn’t believe my father when he would say the great reds teams of ’39 and 40′ would give the BRM All they could handle.
    the picture brings back great memories. Collins was fairly heavily touted early in his career as a red. had really good speed. I do remember him coming back to the team later in his career but not contributing much. thanks for these articles

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks for chiming in! I love hearing everyone’s memories. They’re all different, even if they’re of the same team 🙂

  5. Daytonnati

    I have that Sports Illustrated with Bench, along with the Pete Rose cover as “Sportsman of the Year” for 1975. (I always kept the Reds, Ohio State, Bengals covers separate from from my neat stacks in the basement and garage!) 🙂

  6. Puravive Review

    I am not typically one to read blog posts; however, this article almost compelled me to do so. Your writing style has truly impressed me. Many thanks for this excellent post.

  7. Grover

    Collin’s career wasn’t as good as my memory said it was. Mostly because I remember those 3 good years from 79-81.