Decade In Review Recap

 Here’s a handy landing page for the recent Boston sports media decade in review series that wrapped up yesterday.

#10 Media Free Agency

#9 Curt Schilling Arrives, Joins SoSH, Starts Blogging

#8 Manny Ramirez Becomes The Easiest Target Ever

#7 A-Rod is Coming…Wait, No He’s Not…

#6 The Death of Will McDonough (and others)

#5 The Brady/Bledsoe Decision

#4 Plagiarism Scandals

#3 The Dominance of WEEI, the Decline of Newspapers

#2 Spygate

Top Sports Media Story of the Decade – Red Sox win 2004 World Series

Others worthy of mention:

Patriots win first Super Bowl in Franchise history –  February, 2002. (Despite Ron Borges picking the Rams to win 73-0)

The death of Ted Williams, and the surrounding media circus with the cryogenics lab.

Dan Shaughnessy’s role in Theo Epstein’s resignation in the fall of 2005. (Theocracy & Theo, Explained – by Scott’s Shots and More Theo from BSMW)

Part of this was covered in Spygate, and the Brady/Bledsoe entries, but the overall theme of Bill Belichick and the New England Media this decade is a story in itself.

The Dennis and Callahan METCO Gorilla incident/suspension.

Howard Bryant’s return to Boston, his time here with the Herald, and what he had to say upon his departure.

The New York Times Co/Boston Globe’s 17% ownership stake in the Red Sox. 

Shaughnessy labeling David Ortiz “A giant sack of you-know-what”  before he had ever played for the team.

What else will you remember about the Boston sports media this decade?

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Farewell to 2009

Our top ten links of the morning as we get set to sail into 2010. (That’s Twenty Ten, not Two Thousand and Ten or Two Thousand Ten.)

Bruins deliver a thrashing – Kevin Paul Dupont with the game story on the Bruins 4-0 shutout of the Thrashers.

Bruins remain a Cup contender – Stephen Harris gives us seven reasons to be optimistic about the Bruins.

On golden ponds – Matt Pepin talks to a number of Bruins about their days playing hockey outdoors in their childhood.

Frozen, festive Fenway quite a sight – Despite not being much of a hockey guy, Chris Forsberg is impressed with what he sees at Fenway for the Winter Classic.

No KG, no shot at beating the red-hot Suns – A. Sherrod Blakely reports on the Celtics getting waxed in Phoenix last night without Kevin Garnett.

Some C’s New Year’s Resolutions – Jessica Camerato talks to the Celtics about their goals for the new year.

Maroney tries to hold on – Mike Reiss wonders if Laurence Maroney dropped his role as lead back with his fumble on the Patriots first drive last Sunday.

A Look Back: Legacy Of 2009 Patriots Is Still To Be Determined – Christopher Price looks at the 10 most important moments for the 2009 Patriots, and what they might be leading up to.

Mankins is taking guarded approach on contract – Some in media declared that Logan Mankins lobbed a grenade at the Patriots yesterday with his comments about his contract. I didn’t see it that way, and Adam Kilgore talks to the agent for Mankins, who says that the Patriots “properly value” Mankins, and says he knows the Patriots won’t let his client walk.

10 events that shaped the Red Sox’ decade of excellence – Mike Fine looks back at the most important decade in history for the Red Sox.

On Patriots Daily, check out Trading Places – Chatting With a Texans Blogger

Top Sports Media Story of the Decade – Red Sox win 2004 World Series

Spygate may have been a more shameful episode, but the top Boston sports media episode this decade was the Red Sox ending 86 years of futility and winning the 2004 World Series.

Why is it greater?

While Spygate was scandalous and shameful, it did not change the actual manner in which the New England Patriots were covered, not significantly, anyway. If anything, it’s been more of the same in the last two years, especially nationally, more speculation, more focus on the negative, more snide comments.

When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, the very nature of how the club was covered by the media was changed forever. No longer could columnists and writers refer to some ridiculous curse hanging over the club. No longer could they revisit endlessly the past failures of the franchise and apply them to the current team. This didn’t apply just to the Boston media either, this impacted sports media nationwide.

Dan Shaughnessy lost an entire cottage industry because of this win. He was personally benefitting from the failure of the Red Sox. (Even after his employer became a part-owner of the franchise) Each time the Red Sox ended another season without a World Series victory, Shaughnessy got to publish an updated version of “The Curse of the Bambino.” That ended here. He tried one last time to cash in with “Reversing the Curse” but faced enormous competition as dozens of books on the 2004 Red Sox flooded the market.

Before 2004, the Red Sox were associated with failure, with late season collapses, with getting so close and still finding ways to lose. After the Red Sox roared back from an 0-3 deficit to their longtime nemesis, the New York Yankees in the ALCS, winning the series in Yankee Stadium and doing something no MLB team had ever done before, and then swept the St Louis Cardinals (to whom the Red Sox lost heartbreaking World Series in 1946 and 1967) in the World Series, past failures were left behind.

Before the Red Sox got over that hump, and won it all, the media warned fans of getting what they wished for. They said that things would never be the same if the Red Sox won the World Series.

Bob Lobel, the long time WBZ-TV sportscaster conducted a Boston.com chat in 2003. During the course of that chat, he said:

This is the ultimate dilemma. Of course fans want the Red Sox to win the World Series, but the dilemma is be careful what you wish for because you might get it. And if the Red Sox played the Cubs in the World Series, one of those two franchises will be permanently and forever altered. One of them will never be the same. So remember, while winning is the ultimate goal. If you’re a Sox fan or a Cubs fan, it carries a steep price tag. Life will never be the same. (10/9/2003)

I never quite understood what that “steep price tag” was. Lobel wasn’t the only one spouting this type of opinion. It continued even in the aftermath of the Red Sox World Series victory in 2004.

Chaz Scoggins has covered the Red Sox for The Lowell Sun since 1973, and has been the chief official scorer at Fenway Park since 1978. In December, 2004, following the Red Sox victory, he wrote in The Sun:  Sorry to spoil the party, folks, but the worst thing that could have happened to the Red Sox was to win the World Series.

The worst thing for the Red Sox? I really don’t think so. The Red Sox have gone on to become one of the model franchises in all of professional sports, and passed 500 consecutive sellouts of Fenway Park in June of 2009.

The worst thing for the fans? Many in the media believed that things would change for the fanbase once the Red Sox won it all. They theorized that Red Sox fans were more interested in “the chase” and being a part of the experience, and that once the goal was achieved, many of these fans would lose interest in following the Red Sox. That hasn’t happened. As the Red Sox won a second World Series of the decade in 2007, interest was just as fervent. The consecutive sellout streak speaks to the passion that Boston fans continue to have for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox World Series victory in 2004 was really in many ways, the worst thing for some members of the media, who relied on recycled clichés when talking about and covering the Red Sox. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for the very existence of this web site is because I was so sick of hearing about the curse, reading about the curse, and not being able to get away from all the silliness that came with it.

2004 forced these members of the media to come up with a new way of covering the Red Sox. Previously we couldn’t get through a national TV broadcast of the Red Sox without a Babe Ruth graphic being shown, and highlights of the 1986 World Series being forced upon us. We would read day after day, week after week about how the Red Sox were cursed because then-owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. But as the late Jerry Gutlon chronicled in, It Was Never About The Babe, there was a lot more to the Red Sox failures.

With the 2004 World Series victory, the media was forced to come up with new angles and storylines around the Red Sox. After decades of revisiting the same incidents of failure over and over, the very nature of how the media covered the team had to change.

That makes this the most significant episode in the Boston sports media for this decade.  

New Year’s Eve Eve Top 10

Quite a bit going on yesterday with Jason Bay agreeing to terms with the Mets, and the Pro Bowl rosters being announced.

Bay was a nice player here, a professional guy who hit for power and drove in runs, but wasn’t the type of guy you build your lineup around. Despite his durability over the course of his career, there was also apparently something in his physical that prompted the Red Sox to move on. Speaking of moving on, I think most of us had moved on from Bay a couple of weeks ago, so all these columns and talk about Bay this morning are not nearly as interesting as the media seems to think it is.

As for the Pro Bowl selections…the NFL is trying their hardest to make the selections an “event.” They had a show dedicated to the Pro Bowl last night, where the selections were announced. The most notable part of that show however, was a rambling interview with Colts president Bill Polian, who took shots at his own fan base, intimating that they were too stupid to understand what was really important, and outlined what he felt was really important: he stated that he didn’t think 16-0 was of any significance, (“inconsequential” he called it) and that they had set two goals this season – the first was to get to 23 straight regular season wins, and the second was to get the most regular season wins this decade. No mention of the Super Bowl. (You can see a similar rant on the Colts web page.)

Anyway…on to the links.

They looked coordinated on offense – Albert Breer notes the improvement in play-calling for the Patriots on Sunday. (Of course, the picture with the column is actually of defensive coordinator Dean Pees.)

‘D’ is the key to Pats’ surge – Rich Garven looks at lineup changes on the other side of the ball that have made a difference for the Patriots.

They finally grasped The Patriot Way – Tom E Curran says that the team is finally coming together.

Patriots drop back to the pack – Karen Guregian isn’t optimistic about this team.

Cold, Hard Football Facts That Defined The Decade Of The Patriots – Kerry Byrne with 81(!) numbers that stand out for the Patriots in the last ten years.

Life Comes Full Circle for Jason Bay, Mets – Alex Speier looks back at how the Mets deemed Bay utterly expendable seven years ago.

Pioneers and Racism in Major League Baseball – Scott Coen with some thoughts after the passing of former baseball writer Lester Rodney.

Mental lapses are proving to be a real headache – Gary Washburn looks at the Celtics recent struggles.

Goal within reach? – Kevin Paul Dupont has Tim Thomas still dreaming of Olympic gold.

Rink can freeze out Mother Nature – Rich Thompson looks at how rain won’t deter plans for the Winter Classic.

#2 Spygate

Number Two?

Really?

Aren’t I the one who wrote Why Spygate Is The Most Disgraceful Episode In Recent Sports Media History as well as The Most Miserable 18-1 Season in History?

Yes. I’ll still say that Spygate was the most disgraceful Boston sports media episode this decade. But was it the most significant? No. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out that one.

Spygate. Ugh. I still shudder when I hear or see that word. The whole episode was more of a national media episode, that is, until the bastard child of Spygate appeared – Tomasegate. When John Tomase reported in the Boston Herald prior to Super Bowl XLII that the Patriots had taped the walkthrough of the St. Louis Rams prior to Super Bowl XXXVI a whole new explosion of screaming jackals on the airwaves and in print came out.

Even though the Tomase story was later retracted and the Herald forced to issue an apology to the Patriots, the damage was already done.

Let’s get this out of the way. Did the Patriots break the rules? Yes. Were they punished? Yes. Did the media go over-the-top in a manner unprecedented in this decade? Absolutely.

If you have the stomach for it, go ahead and re-read the first link above, on why Spygate was just so disgraceful. Looks at how the sensationalistic aspects of the case were emphasized over cold analysis. Look at the willingness to shoot before looking by the media, examine some of the obvious agendas by some of the biggest media outlets and names, as well as the real reason for the hatred aimed at the Patriots.

It still lingers to this day. Just this weekend, I was watching NFL Gameday Morning on the NFL Network, which features Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Steve Mariucci, Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin. With the Pro Bowl announcements coming this week, they were listing out the top 10 players of the decade.  Tom Brady came out on top of the list, just ahead of Peyton Manning. When Brady’s name was mentioned, there was an audible groan on the set. They were  then reviewing Brady’s accomplishments, and Eisen, I believe, mentioned that Brady had the three Super Bowl titles. One of the rest of the crew, and I couldn’t tell which one, as the screen was showing the Brady graphic and not the panel, snidely said “Yeah, but how many were without asterisks?”

Spygate was media at its worst. The aftereffects are still lingering.

The Terrific Tuesday Ten

The sports articles you’ll need to read today:

Boston transforms from Loserville to Titletown – Gerry Callahan chronicle’s Boston’s transformation this decade.

Should Pats hit brakes or accelerator? – Mike Reiss says that Bill Belichick has done both in the past.

The Pats’ top 10 role players of the decade – Jonathan Comey compiles a list of good-not-great guys who never made it to Hawaii or into the national consciousness, but possess at least an AFC championship ring for their troubles.

Ron Borges’ Patriots Report Card – Straight “A’s” for Bill Belichick’s team? You betcha. (Be sure to also check out the Patriots Daily report card – Making The Grades by Jeremy Gottlieb.)

Lightning strikes down the Bruins – Joe Haggerty wraps the Bruins 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ice men cometh – Kevin Paul Dupont looks at how the Winter Classic came into being, and how it came to Fenway this year.

Celtics fall once again on their trip – Gary Washburn’s game story of a frustrating 103-99 loss to the Warriors.

Celtics Find Fools Gold Against Warriors – Paul Flannery with some things we can take away from the Celtics second consecutive loss.

Red Sox’ Casey Kotchman on Claus’ nice list – John Tomase tells us why the Red Sox might already have their 2010 everyday first baseman on the roster.

Mike Lowell May See Time at First Base During 2010 Season – Terry Francona’s mailbag on NESN.com answers a number of Red Sox related questions.

#3 The Dominance of WEEI, the Decline of Newspapers

Continuing my series on the top 10 Boston sports media storylines of the decade.

They’ve dominated the ratings book, shrugged off all challengers thus far, and used their bully pulpit to sneer at critics.

WEEI has enjoyed unprecedented success as a sports radio station in a sports-mad town. With the success of the local professional teams this decade, they’ve ridden high, and benefited from a fan base that can’t get enough of their teams.

They’ve been challenged three times by rival sports radio stations this decade, two of them were KO’d and the third just started up a few months ago. Both 1510theZone and ESPN850 made a lot of noise as they got started up, but neither really made any sort of impact in the ratings book. Ultimately, they were both doomed by poor signal and with few exceptions, lackluster programming. WBZ-FM has had the most initial success of any challenger, but having been on the air only a few months, they have to prove they can keep it going.

WEEI has a power few media outlets can boast. In many cases, they create and dictate the coverage and storylines, and should anyone challenge or criticize them they can simply rant on air about them, or yell over them and hang up should the hapless challenger actually dare to call them up.

It’s really about entertainment first, and sports second, this is evidenced by their ability to milk a single storyline for weeks at a time. Remember the time in June, 2005 that Edgar Renteria bunted for a base hit with two out in the bottom of the ninth? He was successful, and it set up David Ortiz to be able to get to the plate and knock in Mark Bellhorn from second base for the win, yet WEEI killed Renteria over it for weeks. (Kevin Millar even called up to defend Renteria – over two weeks later, and they were still talking about it. Ordway blamed the callers.)

More so in the early part of the decade, WEEI’s success also forced the sportswriters who appeared on their airwaves into tough decisions. If they were a guest of the show and had gotten some information that day, did they divulge it on the WEEI airwaves, or sit on it for their newspaper the next day? (The addition of blogs to newspaper websites around the middle of this decade took out some of those situations.) Were they more loyal to WEEI, hoping for additional appearances, or to their newspaper?

In 2008 WEEI extended their online presence by re-launching WEEI.com with a number of high-profile reporters, hiring some away from their newspapers, such as Rob Bradford and Alex Speier. Now they were competing directly with the newspapers for content and getting news stories themselves rather than mostly relying on the newspapers to get the information first.

The rise of WEEI this decade coincided with the decline of the newspaper industry, as news became more instantaneous rather than waiting for the morning paper. More and more stories were being broken on the air, and online, rather than in the newspaper. While the sports sections of newspapers here in New England were still devoured by sports fans, the nature of the content changed. Since most people had already seen the game, and listened to some analysis of it, there was more emphasis on opinion, and getting noticed amongst all the noise.

WEEI has the power to make and break sports media people in Boston. If you get on their airwaves, you’re going to benefit from the recognition that comes with that. Larry Johnson and Fred Smerlas are among those who have benefited greatly from their association with the station. 

This power, along with the dominance of all competition and their ability to shape discussion about sports in Boston makes WEEI’s  presence one of the top stories of Boston sports media this decade.