I was going to take the high road. Really. I didn't want this moment to be about me. But the insults rained down upon me through Twitter, a deluge of trash-talk filled talk radio, and the woofing even reached the stately pages of the Wall Street Journal. I had to respond. A man's gotta live by a code.
By now, of course, you have heard about the 2014 Sports Illustrated cover that foretold the Astros' World Series win. How could you not? That cover has been everywhere, its author Ben Reiter marinating in the glory. As an SI lifer I shared in the institutional pride. I was even happy for Reiter, despite all the joy he has stolen from me. The print media is under daily assault, and any time one of my fellow travelers can shape the narrative it reflects well on the profession. But then on Thursday, Reiter went on The Dan Patrick Show and practically the first thing out of his mouth was a regurgitation of my longstanding beef with the Astros story, saying I was "furious" it had been given the cover. "He's still mad about it," Reiter added. Here I was, being a good sport, even faking a little mirth on Twitter, and Reiter cut my heart out all over again.
This sordid tale begins in the spring of 2014. After years in the wilderness, Michelle Wie was suddenly resurgent, winning for the first time in four seasons and running off a string of high finishes. Her handlers at IMG have always fussed over her like overbearing parents, but I sold them on a big feature. I spent time with Wie at her home base in South Florida and a tournament in Atlantic City and then, in early June, turned in a long story that charted her growth from an overwhelmed teen phenom into a stylish, self-possessed young woman who had finally made peace with her place in the golf world. The story was slotted into the June 30, 2014, issue (as with every SI, it would go to press a week ahead of the issue date). That magazine had plenty of pages to spare because both the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals had been lopsided series that wrapped up earlier that month. Then, on June 22, Wie went out and won the U.S. Women's Open on an iconic course, Pinehurst No. 2. It was the breakthrough we had been waiting on for more than a decade, and the biggest story in women's golf in forever.
On the orders of SI's top editor, Chris Stone, I stayed up all night following the win to rewrite the story, conducting phone interviews and then melding the feature with scenes from Pinehurst. The next day, between naps, I assured Wie's handlers that of course she would be on the cover — after all, it was an utterly dead week in the sports world. And we owed her one.
Way back in the spring of 2004, when Wie was still a schoolgirl whose prodigious gifts had generated keen interest, she was on the cover of SI. Well, sort of. Legendary snapper Walter Iooss took the portrait and it was awarded a lovely cover, of which I got a sneak peek a couple of days before it went to the printer. Then Pat Tillman was killed in the mountains of Afghanistan. That breaking news bumped Wie from the cover, a no-brainer decision.
So a decade later, I walked to my mailbox like any other SI subscriber, eager to peep the cover of Wie winning the Open. Imagine my utter shock and despair to find that waiting for me instead was the garish uniform of the crappiest team in baseball. Was this a prank being pulled by my mailman? Sadly, no. I took to Twitter to vent my frustration: "My @themichellewie feature is in this week's SI. The one with the, uh, last-place Astros on the cover. #KillMeNow #Please."
My colleague Richard Deitsch replied, "Admire this Jason Bourne-like stand by you. #gostros." To which I wrote back, "Like Bourne, I'm fighting against the forces of evil, a.k.a. those who keep golf off the cover. a.k.a., our bosses."
Funnily enough, that was the week Stone finally decided to join Twitter. I pointed a mob of golf-mad followers in his direction and they gave him the warm welcome he deserved.
In the ensuing three years the Wie-Astros affair became a running joke between Reiter, Stone and me, much of it playing out in fizzy tweets. One lesson I learned was to be more aggressive and proactive in pitching golfers for the cover. (You're welcome, Brooks Koepka.) But over the last few months, as the Astros roared into the post-season, my tongue-in-cheek feud with Reiter became a thing. The f'ing Journal devoted an entire article to SI's prodigal son — Reiter, not me — in which I was quoted as saying, "It was a great story, a terrific story — and shouldn't have been on the cover. But it sets us up to look like absolute geniuses right now. So I guess I apologize, begrudgingly." I didn't mean it, but I was trying to be a team player!
Well, with Reiter using the bully pulpit of Internet fame to continue hazing me, I could think of only way to get some closure from this lingering trauma. On Thursday afternoon I begged Stone and various other editors to recreate the Wie cover that never was. At long last, here it is.
Bite me, Reiter.