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?)