Steve Wilstein

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Steve Wilstein (born September 1, 1948 in New York) is an American sportswriter, author and photographer. Wilstein broke the news of St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire's androstenedione use during his record-setting 70-home run season in 1998—a report that gave the public its first look at what became baseball's "Steroids Era," and ushered in changes in the sport as the story continued to unfold for more than a decade.

Wilstein's story for the Associated Press, written with the help of AP colleague Nancy Armour, who confronted McGwire, was the first to report evidence of a baseball player using steroids and the first to quote a player who acknowledged using them. His succeeding reports and commentaries were central to the longest-running series of stories in baseball history on a single subject with continuing developments.

Wilstein's stories and columns led to a series of revelations that resulted in Congressional hearings, drug-testing in the major leagues for the first time, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on androstenedione, and the federal Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004.

His work was cited as pivotal by former Sen. George Mitchell in his 2007 report to the commissioner of baseball on steroids in the sport, after a 20-month probe, and was chronicled in the books Game of Shadows[1] and Juicing the Game, and detailed in the ESPN the Magazine series, “Who Knew?”[2] In 2009, the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America nominated Wilstein for the Hall of Fame's J.G. Taylor Spink award "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing." In 2010, Wilstein was featured in filmmaker Ken Burns' PBS baseball documentary, "The Tenth Inning."

Wilstein is the author of "The AP Sports Writing Handbook," (McGraw-Hill, 2001), which is used as a primary text in many college journalism classes. Wilstein continues to provide commentary and insight about developments in the “Steroids Era,” although he retired from the AP in 2005. He exhibits photography at several galleries and has also written children’s stories and magazine pieces.

Journalism awards[edit]

Although best known for perhaps the most influential story in baseball history, Wilstein's 34-year career as a sports writer, business writer and general reporter garnered him 26 national awards on a variety of subjects.

His awards include the National Headliner Award for a feature on boxer Jerry Quarry’s brain damage, the John Hancock business writing award for coverage of the 1987 stock market crash, and three AP Managing Editors awards for features on injured New York Jets player Dennis Byrd, illegal sports gambling’s ties to organized crime, and former Los Angeles Dodger Glenn Burke’s struggle with AIDS. Wilstein won a record 20 AP Sports Editors awards for his work covering the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, college football bowl games, the Grand Slam of tennis, sports business, race and gender in sports and other issues.

Wilstein's collaboration with Nye Lavalle of Sports Marketing Group on The Business of Sports Series[3] was the first to quantify the financial size of the U.S sports industry, at the time $180 billion,[4] and earned Wilstein the AP Sports Editors Award for best enterprise story. The series became the foundation for several sports business publications, which now carry on similar studies.

He also won an award from the National Marrow Donor Program for a story on the illness of Hall of Famer Rod Carew's daughter, which led to tens of thousands of people registering as bone marrow donors.[5]

Major League Baseball's "Steroids Era"[edit]

The use of steroids by players had been only hinted at until Wilstein’s story on August 21, 1998, when McGwire and the Chicago CubsSammy Sosa were closing in on Roger Maris’ 1961 record of 61 homers—a chase that captivated the country. After Wilstein saw the bottle of andro in McGwire’s open locker while covering the chase, McGwire first denied using it, then admitted he’d been taking it for more than a year. McGwire commented, "Everybody that I know in the game of baseball uses the same stuff I use."[6]

Wilstein’s story focused on the disparity of steroid rules in different sports. Andro, sold at the time as an over-the-counter supplement that boosted testosterone levels, was allowed in baseball but not in the Olympics, the NFL, pro tennis and all college sports. Shot putter Randy Barnes, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder, had recently drawn a lifetime ban for using andro, reported Wilstein, who had written extensively about steroids in the Olympics since the mid-1980s.

"The ensuing AP news story led to renewed scrutiny of the use of 'andro' and other substances by major league players," the Mitchell Report said. "... commissioner (Bud) Selig and others in baseball have said that this incident more than any other caused them to focus on the use of performance-enhancing substances as a possible problem."

Wilstein had witnessed an episode of “roid rage” by Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson after a preliminary heat at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and watched from the finish line as Johnson beat Carl Lewis in the 100-meter final. Johnson soon lost his gold and was sent home in disgrace after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. Andro, Wilstein wrote in the story about McGwire, “is seen outside baseball as cheating and potentially dangerous.”

The story set off a controversy that has gone on for more than a decade of follow-ups by Wilstein and those who joined in about steroids and the related sports and social issues, among them McGwire’s former “Bash Brother,” Jose Canseco, in his tell-all books, and reporters covering the BALCO federal investigation in San Francisco.

McGwire was the first among numerous stars on various teams - including pitcher Roger Clemens, sluggers Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro, and former MVP Ken Caminiti—whose reputations and records were tainted as revelations appeared about their alleged or admitted performance-enhancing drug use.

Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell in 1988 and the Los Angeles Times’ Bob Nightengale in 1995 had touched on the baseball steroids issue, but without specifics were largely ignored. “Instead of sparking a wave of follow-up articles or investigations to ferret out the details of steroid use in baseball … sports writers essentially left the story alone,” Editor & Publisher writer Joe Strupp wrote in a 2006 report headlined, “Sports writers say they dropped the ball on steroids in major league sports.”[7]

Strupp noted in an earlier E&P report in 2006 that “Wilstein’s discovery marked the first real press probe into which substances and supplements baseball players were using, and what effect they were having on their accomplishments, abilities and health.” “But then a funny thing happened,” Strupp wrote in his account of the media’s response. “Instead of being praised for discovering a questionable act by a baseball star in the middle of a record-breaking season, Wilstein was vilified.”[8]

Wilstein "noticed a bottle of androstenedione and opened up a can of worms," USA Today baseball columnist Hal Bodley wrote in 2005. "This was baseball's feel-good story that no one, including Selig and the union, wanted tainted by a performance-enhancing supplement few of us knew anything about."[9]

Wilstein, Bianchi wrote, “deserves a spot in Cooperstown for setting the record straight on a bogus record; for uncovering baseball’s dirty little secret when nobody else would … “Back then, baseball, the national media and everybody else associated with the game buried their heads in the euphoric sands of the time and ignored what was literally right in front of their eyes. While everybody else rooted for the story, Steve Wilstein rooted out the truth.”[10]

Wilstein, in several columns, criticized the weak early testing by baseball. “Baseball may think it’s satisfying Congress and fooling the public with its drug-testing plan, but it’s probably doing neither,” Wilstein wrote on August 27, 2002 as the sport shaped its first stab at testing _ anonymous and without punishments. “More than likely, it will result in greater drug use, not less, as players figure out how and when they can take steroids and beat the tests.

“It will do nothing to reduce the perception, suggested by several players, that steroid use is rampant. Worst of all, it sends the message to young fans and prospects that the national pastime has a high tolerance for steroids.” Those tests ultimately found 104 players using performance-enhancing drugs, but all the names were kept anonymous—until it was revealed by Sports Illustrated in 2009 that Alex Rodriguez was among them. A-Rod then admitted he had been injected with a steroid from 2001 through 2003. Wilstein criticized players and owners when they reached agreement on a new drug-testing program in January, 2005, calling for more banned substances, a 10-day penalty for first time users, and the release of the names of those who test positive.

“Don’t be fooled,” Wilstein wrote the same day. “The new policy … is progress but it’s still just a bunt, not a home run in the effort to rid baseball of performance-enhancing drugs. … It’s more PR and a dangerous delay in acting decisively.” The penalties were paltry, Wilstein wrote, and the program still didn’t call for random, unannounced, year-round testing, nor did it include amphetamines. Wilstein’s lengthy investigation of amphetamine use by players in 2005 was followed a few months later by baseball’s strongest testing program, which included amphetamines for the first time and much stronger penalties for failed tests.[11]

On January 11, 2010, Wilstein's suspicions and Jose Canseco's allegations of McGwire's steroid use[12] were confirmed by Mark McGwire in a statement to and interview with the Associated Press[13] and later interviews with Bob Costas and others by McGwire.[14] Upon the news, many sports columnists and media spoke of Wilstein's vindication and asked Wilstein to provide his views in an op-ed piece. Wilstein wrote that McGwire should be banned from Major League Baseball for life and that his acts hurt baseball more than those of Pete Rose.[15]

Professional writing and photography careers[edit]

Wilstein approached the issues of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball not as a beat writer, but as a journalist with vast experience writing about those drugs in the Olympics—including seven Summer and five Winter games. He also had been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1972, covering World Series and playoff games and writing about the game throughout the year. His writing style was distinguished by its depth of detail about players and events, among them: Rickey Henderson’s romp to the stolen base record; the drug-related deaths of pitchers Eric Show and Rod Scurry; Glenn Burke’s battle with AIDS; Ted Williams’ emotional appearance at the All-Star Game shortly before his death; Kirk Gibson’s World Series homer on two injured legs; and Curt Schilling’s “bloody sock” performance in 2004 as the Boston Red Sox rose to world champions after an 86-year drought.

Wilstein interviewed and profiled all the major stars of baseball over the past three decades, as well as many from earlier eras, including Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Bobby Doerr, and Mark Koenig, who had the locker between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on the 1927 Yankees.

Wilstein also profiled a wide range of people as a general reporter, sportswriter, business writer, foreign correspondent and columnist, including: Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi, Andy Warhol, Clint Eastwood, Edward Teller, Milton Friedman, Gen. Jimmie Doolittle, George Shultz, Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Nolan Bushnell, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Jimmy Connors, Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Venus and Serena Williams, Joe Montana, John Elway, Bill Walsh, John Wooden, Dean Smith, Mary Lou Retton and Dorothy Hamill. In 1994, Wilstein led the AP's award-winning coverage of the Tony Harding-Nancy Kerrigan drama.

Wilstein graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970 with a political science degree and began his career in journalism a year later working for United Press International as a sports writer from 1971 through 1978.

Wilstein covered the last third of Muhammad Ali’s career for UPI. His black and white photographs of Ali are exhibited at the Panopticon Gallery in Boston.[16] Wilstein's color images of the Boston Red Sox have been exhibited at the Griffin Museum gallery in Boston[17]

Wilstein left UPI to accompany his wife, Cynthia Reader Wilstein, on her three-year assignment to Kathmandu, Nepal as communications officer for UNICEF. Their daughter, Tara, was born in Kathmandu in 1980. He briefly served as a foreign correspondent for UPI in New Delhi, covering Indira Gandhi’s return to power and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He also worked as a photographer for several international organizations.

Upon returning to the United States in 1981, Wilstein joined the AP in San Francisco and later became the San Jose correspondent, covering the boom years of Silicon Valley, medical research at Stanford University, the glory years of the San Francisco 49ers and the rise of two young stars on the Oakland Athletics -- Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. In 1990, Wilstein became the AP’s national sports writer, then national sports columnist.

Cynthia Reader Wilstein died on Sept. 11, 1998. Wilstein married fine art dealer Sara Joy Bloom on May 5, 2012 and now lives in Boston.


  1. ^ Fainaru-Wada, Mark; Williams, Lance (7 May 2006). "Game of Shadows". The New York Times. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Steven Wilstein, "The Business of Sports," an Associated Press article reprinted in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, August 26, 1991
  4. ^ Part I Spending for Fun and Fitness, STEVE WILSTEIN, 20 August 1991, The Associated Press (4,024 words) - 1536, 13 October 2009
  5. ^ Wilstein, Steve (17 December 1995). "Carews Wait, Pray, Cry -- Teenage Daughter's Life Hinges On Finding Rare Genetic Match For Bone-Marrow Transplant". The Seattle Times. 
  6. ^ "Who Knew?". 11-9-2005. Retrieved 2010-12-22.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-06. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  9. ^ "MLB, teams, even media share blame". USA Today. 21 February 2005. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Wilstein, Steve (22 May 2005). "Speed Still the Name of the Game for Some". Los Angeles Times. 
  12. ^[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Jenkins, Bruce (14 August 2010). "McGwire truthful in emotions, not words". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  14. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  15. ^ "Ban McGwire from baseball". CNN. 12 January 2010. 
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-10-04. Retrieved 2009-03-11. 
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2011-07-20.