A BRIEF ORAL HISTORY OF ONE OF THE MOST UNGODLY COVER PHOTOS IN THE SI PANTHEON
STEVE FINE SI director of photography, 1996-2013: This is 1998. Baseball is going through a rough time. But McGwire and Sosa are creaming the ball. "Chicks dig the long ball" is the motto. We get to the end of the year, and of course we are going to put them on the cover of Sportsman of the Year. I said, "They have rescued baseball. They are on Mount Olympus, where the guys with the long beards live. Let's treat them like gods." So we had this idea for the togas.
MAUREEN CAVANAGH [SI photo editor, 1993--2007): The season ended and we tried to get them together a couple of times in L.A. Mark was like, "I'm ready whenever you need. Any day." Sammy was the tough one. He went back to the Dominican Republic and he was like, "If you fly me to L.A., I'll do the shoot."
MARK MCGWIRE: I lived in Southern California. I drove up myself.
July 2, 2018
MARGUERITE SCHROPP LUCARELLI [SI photo editor, 1993--present): The night before Maureen flew to the D.R. we had been at a bar on the Upper West Side [in New York]. She asked, "What if he doesn't get on the plane?"
CAVANAGH: There's nothing like a blonde 20-something with a flip phone, cabbing around the D.R. using 10th-grade Spanish, looking for Sammy Sosa. We finally found him, but he wouldn't get on board. Sammy was really scared of flying. He said, "I'm not getting on a prop plane." We got him on board to take a look at it; then we just shut the door. He had a couple of Bud Lights, fell asleep and was totally fine as soon as the plane took off.
LUCARELLI: Did we think it was crazy that we were [using a Learjet]? A little bit. We had so much money back then, it didn't really matter.
CAVANAGH: We got him a suite at the Peninsula Beverly Hills, but he wanted a bigger one. He really was lovely, but he said, "That's not going to do; that room is so small." Later I took him to the shoot in a limo. Mark was already there. He was early. Then we had to show them the togas. You could kind of see them saying, "What? I'm not putting on a toga."
WALTER IOOSS JR. [SI photographer, 1959--present): They were worried about not looking masculine enough. They [knew] there'd be a lot of abuse in the locker room. We worked our way into the togas. You have to loosen them up. But I don't remember them saying, "You have to be out of your f------ mind."
SAMMY SOSA: I thought it was a little corny. But I said, "Come on, Mark! Let's have some fun!" Mark is a little shy; I'm loud and love to have a good time.
MCGWIRE: It felt very uncomfortable. I had in the back of my mind when we did that toga thing: Oh my gosh, this is probably the [shot] that's going to end up on the cover.
SOSA: I was excited to shock the world: the good guy and the bad guy together on the cover of SI!
IOOSS: When we finished the shoot I said [to Sammy]: "Are you going back to the Dominican?" He said, "No man, I'm going to the Playboy Mansion." I'm sure McGwire wasn't going. But Sammy was going to have fun. He commandeered [our jet] for a few days. (A rep for Sosa says he flew to New York and then D.C., but that he had SI's permission to do so.)
CAVANAGH: We mocked up three shoots for the cover—the togas, [one on a beach set, wearing Hawaiian shirts; and one in workout gear]—and we put them on a big table.
FINE: And that's when the managing editor [Bill Colson] lost his mind. He said, "Let's try the togas [for the cover]." To this day, my eyes are still bugged out of my head. Like, "What!? No, that picture was shot for the inside." I thought: This might go down as one of those covers people talk about. Well, it did, but I don't think in a well-received way. Everything was fine for a while. There wasn't any real backlash; the PED stuff hadn't come out yet.
IOOSS: No one likes [those guys] anymore. It's like Barry Bonds.
FINE: My job was to make memorable covers. I'm not so sure it's our finest moment. But it is a memorable cover.