#6 The Death of Will McDonough (and others)

This decade has seen the passing of a number of Boston sports media figures, some big names, some smaller, some after a long life, some taken from us way too soon.

The passing of Will McDonough on January 9th, 2003 was among the biggest passings of the decade.

McDonough’s death was the true end of an era. He was the last of the “old school” style of reporter/columnist, who wasn’t really all about writing flowing prose, but about getting information from his sources and passing that along to the readers. McDonough got personally involved in many of his stories, a huge example being the Bob Kraft/Bill Parcells split, where McDonough was basically right in the middle between the two sides. Then was the time he got in an altercation with Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn in the locker room.

The day after his passing, McDonough was remembered on sports radio by one friend and colleague after another. There were dozens of articles and columns written about him.

McDonough was active right up to the last days of his life. He had hosted a sports radio program with Bill Parcells on 1510 AM that season, and had just had a public war of words with the Red Sox Larry Lucchino in his final columns. McDonough was a pioneer, becoming the first NFL reporter to take his act to television pregame shows.

The loss of McDonough was felt throughout the Boston sports media world.

There were other notable passings in the sports media world this decade. Another that really touched a lot of people was the suddenly, untimely death of Hartford Courant Patriots beat reporter Alan Greenberg. Greenberg’s death sparked off an organic outpouring of tributes to him and his like here on BSMW, and sports media people from around the country emailed in their thoughts and memories of Alan. This post from that week has links to the pages of tributes received after Greenberg’s death.

Sadly the person who first told me about Alan’s death was Dan Pires, who died himself just over a year later, also much too soon. Pires was extremely popular in Foxborough and on the Patriots beat, a huge family man, and by all accounts, a loyal and cherished friend.

Another pioneer we lost this decade was Larry Whiteside – the long time Boston Globe baseball writer, who died in 2007. In the 1970’s he was the only African-American reporter covering a major league baseball team on a daily basis for a major metropolitan newspaper. He was honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the baseball Hall of Fame and was the creator and keeper of “The Black List” of African-American reporters and copy editors designed to aid sports editors in helping hire black journalists. Nick Cafardo had some thoughts on a great man.

Television sportscasting legend Don Gillis passed away in 2008 at the age of 85.  

TV (and radio) Play-by-play legend Curt Gowdy died in 2006 at the age of 86.

Longtime Globe sports columnist  Clif Keane, the original Poison Pen died in 2003.

Earlier this year, we lost longtime Bruins voice Fred Cusick at the age of 90.

John Callaghan – longtime sports anchor for channel 7 died in 2008 at the age of 81.

George Bent – a pioneer in the world of sports radio, from the 1960’s to the 1980’s died in 2007.

Dick Radatz – the most dominant relief pitcher of the 1960’s, who went on to become a regular on WEEI and on various sports television shows, passed away in 2005.

I know I’ve forgotten some…there’s one name…another long time sports writer here in Boston, that passed away this decade, and for the life of me, I can’t think of it.

Who have I missed on this list?

EDIT: Here’s a few additional names as pointed out by readers:

Ernie Roberts, former Globe Sports writer and editor, died earlier this year.

Legendary Red Sox radio voice Ken Coleman passed away in 2003.

Legendary Red Sox TV voice Ned Martin died in 2002, while returning home from the Fenway Park memorial service for Ted Williams.

(How in the world did I forget Coleman and Martin?)

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#7 A-Rod is Coming…Wait, No He’s Not…

Continuing my look back at the 10 top Boston sports media episodes of the decade…

Remember December, 2003? Yankees hysteria was at an all-time high following the Red Sox loss in the seventh game of the ALCS two months earlier. The Red Sox had already hired Terry Francona to replace Grady Little, and brought Curt Schilling onboard – a pretty big event in itself.  

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Then word got out that the Red Sox were trying to land the reigning AL MVP, and in the process, attempting to change the entire face of their franchise. They had already attempted to rid themselves of Manny Ramirez, unsuccessfully, and now offered him up to the Texas Rangers (along with a kid pitching prospect named Jon Lester) for Alex Rodriguez. The trade was agreed upon, pending the Red Sox being able to work out a renegotiation of A-Rod’s record $250 Million contract.

In addition it was reported (by New York Newsday) that the Red Sox had also agreed to trade Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for Magglio Ordoñez, which would complete their makeover,  replacing Manny and Nomar with A-Rod and Ordoñez.

It was so much of a “Done Deal” that The Boston Globe was even refering to him as Alex Rodriguez, the Sox shortstop-in-waiting, and calling him for comment on other Red Sox player moves, such as the signing of closer Keith Foulke. Kevin Millar went on ESPN SportsCenter and declared that he was glad to have A-Rod, and would take him over both Manny and Nomar.

Then it all fell apart.

Gene Orza, associate general counsel for the players’ union nixed the deal that had been agreed upon by Rodriguez and the Red Sox. This resulted in angry outburts from Larry Lucchino and John Henry (who posted on SoSH) and a total media monopoly on this story.

The story dominated WEEI, and the newspapers, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Even the regular “news” outlets couldn’t get enough of this story, websites crashed from the traffic it generated, and the Patriots, in the midst of a 14-2 regular season, heading for their second Super Bowl title of the decade, were an afterthought.

A Gordon Edes story in the Globe from December 31st, 2003, lays out what went wrong with the deal.

Then, a few weeks later in early 2004, just when things had settled down a little bit, word got out that the Yankees were interested in A-Rod, and they did manage to successfully work out a deal, making him into a third baseman. This pushed the Yankee hysteria even further, lasting throughout the 2004 season.

Ironically, it was an incident with A-Rod, that spurred the Red Sox on later that summer. Jason Varitek and A-Rod got into a scuffle, resulting in Varitek’s mitt being stuffed squarely into Rodriguez’s face, which many mark as one of many turning points of that season.

With the gift of hindsight, we see that things actually all worked out for the best. The Red Sox finally got past the Yankees in the postseason, and Manny Ramirez ended up as the World Series MVP, as the Red Sox swept the Cardinals for their first World championship in 86 years. Rodriguez proved to be a head case, not the leader and captain that the Red Sox would’ve expected him to be.

This whole episode was a total circus, and even now, six years later, stands out in memory.

#8 Manny Ramirez Becomes The Easiest Target Ever

Like shooting fish in a barrel…

Twins v Red Sox

http://cdn.pis.picapp.com/IamProd/PicAppPIS/JavaScript/PisV4.jsTo borrow an antiquated phrase, that’s what ripping Manny Ramirez was like during most of this decade for the Boston sports media. Whenever things might be a little slow during the baseball season (or in Mike Adams’ case, any time of year, and even well after Manny left town) they could always call Manny lazy, or clueless or a clubhouse cancer, and immediately they had a polarizing topic that could be turned into days of heated, insulting discussion.

What helped embolden the media here was the fact that there was no danger that Manny would ever pull a Curt Schilling and call into their show and call them on their nonsense.

Manny was accused of many Crimes Against Baseball during his time here, including:

  • Not always running full speed to first base on a groundout.
  • Missing games because of questionable or non-existant injuries.
  • Not wishing to play in the All Star Game.
  • Potentially arriving late for Spring Training (Remember the car show?)
  • Boneheaded plays on the base paths.
  • Didn’t speak to the media on a regular basis.

During his last season in Boston, things escalated after an incident with Kevin Youkilis in the dugout during a game, and for “assaulting” the team’s elderly and feeble Traveling Secretary Jack McCormick.

Back in July 2006, I published a little 6-page ebook dealing with the subject of Manny and how he is treated by the media in Boston.

Manny Ramirez – Reality vs. Perception

Some things have certainly changed since then, but many of the arguments and statements I still stand by. I also believe the reasons I gave in that piece for why the media chose to rip Manny so frequently.  

Manny has certainly tarnished his own image following his 50-game suspension last season for testing positive for a banned substance. I can say that I am tremendously thankful that Manny didn’t get caught here, because the world might’ve ended right then and there.

But during his time in Boston, there were no allegations of drug use, and Manny put up historic, Hall of Fame numbers in helping the Red Sox to two World Series championships. Yet, he was villified more than any other player in newspaper columns by the likes of John Tomase and Dan Shaughnessy, and by sports radio hosts such as Gerry Callahan, John Dennis, Glenn Ordway and Mike Adams. For them, it was too easy, just start ripping the guy, and the calls would come. It was an instant, ready-made topic that could be brought up any time there might be a lull in the sports world.

Manny Ramirez may not have spoken to the media, but he sure made their lives a whole lot easier simply by just being Manny being Manny. That’s why the Manny Ramirez era is the eighth biggest episode in the Boston sports media during the last decade.

#9 Curt Schilling Arrives, Joins SoSH, Starts Blogging

Number nine on the list of the biggest episodes this decade in the Boston sports media is Curt Schilling’s arrival in Boston after the Red Sox acquired in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Schilling immediately caused headlines when it was revealed that he had joined the Red Sox messageboard Sons of Sam Horn, even before the trade was official, and chatted with members there about Boston and the Red Sox, in order to get a feel for the city and fans.

Initially, the media thought this was a great story, until Schilling started bypassing them and going directly to the fans, answering questions on SoSH, holding chats, even starting game threads during the postseason.

The media didn’t like this. An angry Tony Massarotti declared that if Schilling was going to go directly to the unwashed masses that he and his media cronies weren’t going to help Schilling promote his charitable works – an incredibly insensitive and immature outburst from the columnist.

(Update: A message board discussion reminded me of some more details from that day – Massarotti was on the WEEI Big Show, and Ordway was saying how even if SoSH password protected the forums Schilling posted in, the media would still get to, and publish his words. Someone leaked the password to Ordway, who then read it on the air. Then the SoSH admins got smart and made Ordway’s home phone number the forum password, knowing Ordway wouldn’t dare read THAT on the air. That REALLY set Ordway off. Good times.

Now, Ordway and Schilling are chums. Such a shame.)

Schilling took things a step further in March of 2007 when he started his own blog, 38 Pitches. It gave him another platform to reach the fans directly with his thoughts and message. The media didn’t like this, either. Dan Shaughnessy in particular began taking regular shots at Schilling and his blog, and Schilling would respond. For a while it was a mano-a-mano war of typed words between the two of them. Posting entries with titles like Why the media sucks… and CHB plays the fool, again brought the blog a ton of attention, and made some in the media very uncomfortable.

Schilling initially launched the blog independently, and had it hosted on the WordPress VIP platform, joining some other huge names. Then, the curious decision was made to join the re-launched WEEI.com and make 38 Pitches a part of that. I didn’t understand it then, and don’t understand it now. He was big enough on his own – why did he need to hitch his wagon to WEEI?

In any event, the arrival of Curt Schilling shook things up for the Boston media in many ways, both on the field and off. His decision to buck the tradition media and use the internet as a way to get his own thoughts and messages out directly to the fans, bypassing the media altogether certainly shook things up for the media this decade.

#10 Media Free Agency

This is #10 in our list of top 10 Boston sports media stories this decade…

One thing that is lamented in the world of sports is that players hardly ever spend their entire careers with one team any more. Two teams is even fairly rare, it seems that players change uniforms via trade or free agency several times throughout the course of their careers.

It sort of used to be the same with sports writers and media people. They were identified with their employers. You knew that if you tuned into channel four, you’d see Bob Lobel doing sports, or if you opened The Boston Globe you’d read a Bob Ryan column.

This decade has seen high-profile sports media figures jump from outlet to outlet with increasing frequency. In some ways, this is a reflection of the job market as a whole. People hardly ever spend their entire careers with a single firm any more, usually trying out a number of jobs throughout the course of their working life.

People moved from job to job in the past, or course, usually from a local job to a national gig, such as Peter Gammons moving from the Globe to Sports Illustrated, and the Globe to ESPN, or Gerry Callahan going from the Herald to SI. The legendary Globe sports staff of the 1970’s almost all moved onto national gigs. But it was fairly rare for someone to move from one local outlet to another.

This decade, especially in the latter half, we’ve seen a lot of movement across local platforms.  As an example, Mike Reiss has gone from Patriots Football Weekly to the Metrowest Daily News to the Boston Globe to ESPNBoston. Sean McAdam has gone from the Providence Journal (A paper he was strongly identified with) to the Boston Herald, to Comcast SportsNet. Rob Bradford has gone from the Lowell Sun to the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune to the Boston Herald, to WEEI.com.

This decade also probably saw the zenith in sports media figures appearing on multiple outlets during the same day or week. I think we may actually see a bit of a decline in this going forward, if only because several of the employers now have multiple outlets of their own. ESPN set the example with this earlier this decade when they declared their “talent” pretty much off-limits to other non-ESPN outlets (the exception being if they’re promoting a book or charity). Locally, this could work this way – Comcast SportsNet has all sorts of local media guests on their Sports Tonight and SportsNet Central programs. If they wanted, they could now limit those slots to their own writers – Sean McAdam, Tom E Curran, A. Sherrod Blakely, Joe Haggerty and others – saving themselves having to pay an appearance fee to other media figures. NESN could do the same thing.

With the future of the newspaper industry still shaky, it’s possible we’ll see still more movement in the years to come. I’ve always seen a future with outlets like what CSN is building, with multiple outlets, and I think newspapers need to embrace the internet and its opportunities for audio, video and chat even more in order to survive, rather than attacking it with hostility as Rupert Murdoch seems determined to do. Until they figure out the right balance, you can expect more movement as writers continually look for a more secure position.