In 1998, Mark McGwire and Steve Wilstein both became more famous than they had ever been. McGwire for shattering the home run record of the day with 70 that season, and Wilstein, an Associated Press sportswriter, for revealing that McGwire was using a performance-enhancing substance, androstenedione, at the time.
Reaction to both was sharply different. McGwire was showered with praise and glory as the new home run king, while Wilstein was all but vilified for raining on the parade with his discovery. [In a 2006 story for Editor & Publisher, Wilstein spoke at length to me about the impact of his 1998 reporting and his feelings on steroids]
Now, more than 11 years later, Wilstein is getting some vindication as McGwire this week revealed he was on a lot more than andro in those years, declaring he used numerous steroids. But the former sportswriter, retired since 2005, says the McGwire admission does not change his feeling about his work. He says his reporting was solid and proper no matter what McGwire said since.
“I’ve never felt a need for vindication,” says Wilstein, now 61, who spoke from a winter home in Florida. “It is not about me. It is about the ballplayers and what they are doing and what the players association was enabling them to do. They were not enforcing drug testing.”
He says McGwire’s confession is more proof that the problem is widespread and that the 1998 home run race was a sham. “They had an opportunity to take action,” he says of the baseball leaders and the 1998 revelation. “Nobody was unaware at that time with what was happening to [steroid user and Olympian] Ben Johnson]”
Asked what impact this has on baseball and steroid use, Wilstein said: “It is not a matter of my opinion or other people’s opinions. It is a matter of what the players did. It is not enough for McGwire to say he is sorry he played in the steroid era. He was the steroid era.”
He adds that players cannot blame sportswriters or those who discover their steroid use: “They are the ones who made this all happen.”
As a lifelong member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Wilstein still has a vote on the Hall of Fame each year. He says he has never voted for McGwire and never will. “I don’t see how anyone can reasonably vote him into the hall of fame when his biggest numbers were accomplished when he was on steroids,” Wilstein said. -- Joe Strupp