Column: What I’ve Learned Since Starting BSMW

In a previous post, I outlined how BSMW came to be. It’s been four years since that time and I’ve learned so much since those early days. Here are just a few of the things that have become clear to me.

1) I never want to be a sports writer. ( But I knew that already)

I knew that being a beat writer or even a columnist for a paper was not something I wanted to do. The hours are horrible, the pay isn’t great and you’re away from your family much of the time. Believe it not, I have a ton of respect for the guys who go out there day in an day out and do a solid job covering the game or team to which they are assigned. If you’re someone who likes routine and steadiness, this is not the profession for you. Having a chance to chat with to many of the local representatives of the Boston sports media certainly confirmed my feelings on the job that they have. For many, it’s little wonder that they scramble to increase their income by doing as many radio and TV gigs as they can get. Their articles are among the most-read in the paper, and yet even within their own offices they’re treated as the “toy department” of the paper. It’s not a life of glamor, that’s for sure.

So for anyone who thinks I’m just a frustrated sportswriter who desperately wants to be one of “them”, think again. I have no desire for that life.

2) Sports media people are the thinnest skinned people on the face of the planet.

The site couldn’t have been more than a few months old and still only attracting mere 500 visitors or so a day when I got my first indignant email from someone in the Boston sports media. Sadly, it’s so long again, and so many computer/email accounts ago that that historic email is now just a cyber memory. I can’t even remember who it was from, though I believe it was from someone at a smaller media outlet. It wasn’t Shaughnessy or Borges or any of those big time guys. I remember thinking at the time “What I wrote was not really all that harsh”.

It was just a foregleam of things to come. The site grew, and I heard from more and more media people. Sometimes it was positive, thanking me for helping their work reach an increased audience. Much of it was negative. Shaughnessy contacted me within that first year. Since that time, I’ve come to realize that he does this all the time. He, the master of the cheap shot, is perhaps the thinnest skinnest (?) person alive. I’ve heard tales from readers who tell me of the time they emailed him to complain about his column, and then received a confrontational phone call within an hour. The thing is, they hadn’t left their phone number. They emailed from their company email address and he tracked down the phone number of their company and asked to be put through to them. He emailed me, demanding that I call him, so, not knowing any better at the time, I called. His first words to me were “Did I sleep with your wife or something?” the conversation went downhill from there, and I believe it ended up with him insulting me and hanging up the phone. Since then, I vowed never to talk on the phone with the guy again. He’s tried. He’s demanded that I call him, he’s mocked me, telling me that I’m afraid to speak with him. Not true. I simply know that it would be an unproductive conversation where he would shout me down, insult me, and hang up. I explained to him that I am perfectly willing to have a dialogue with him via email, and that the content of our conversations would be kept private. He didn’t like this, knowing that this way, a record would be kept of everything he said. We went back and forth for a bit, and each email opened by saying that I was too chicken to talk to him. After we went around for a while in this manner, I haven’t heard from him since.

Sadly Shaughnessy is by no means alone in this behavior. He is the most egregious in this area, but many of his colleagues in the media and at the Globe are very similar to him. I’ve always wondered if the media people who have no qualms about taking personal shots and getting on athletes who complain about the media grasp the irony of coming to me complaining that I am treating them unfairly. The next person is an exception to these ones:

3) Bob Ryan has just as much passion in an email or private conversation as he does on a radio or TV show.

In sharp contrast to Shaughnessy, there is is Ryan. The guy genuinely loves sports. He loves talking sports. If you disagree with him, he’ll talk to you about it, passionately, but without the insults. Most of the time, I get the impression that Shaughnessy and others just dislike sports and someone feel demeaned with their lot in life of covering, writing and talking about sports. You’ll never feel that way talking to Ryan. The guy loves his job, and that is what makes him the best, in my opinion. People tell stories about running int Ryan at a restaurant, or on a plane and then finding themselves involved in a deep and animated discussion about the 1984 Celtics or about the Pete Carroll Patriots or any number of topics.

There are others in the market who have passion for what they do and are civil in conversation. I’ve had some great experiences with some media types. I’ll always remember the guy who got a promotion, and a week or so later, he sent me a hand-written thank you card stating that he thought that my linking to his work on the site really helped him get the exposure that led to his new job. Those are the best moments for me in this business.

4) Sports Radio in Boston is faked as much as pro wrestling.

Sure, we knew for years that The Big Show and other WEEI programming was done with an entertainment slant. They admitted as much. But since the Patriots first Super Bowl win, they’ve taken things to a whole new level. The reason? Glenn Ordway, Jason Wolfe and Julie Kahn believe that sports radio thrives on conflict and negativity, they believe that without something for people to complain and whine about, that the programming will be stale and boring. They’ve made references to pure sports talk as simply “reading box scores”. After the Patriots first Championship, there was less negativity around. They needed to create the conflict, and so “roles” were handed out. The daily “script” was tightened and each day a new drama appeared. Sometimes it could come out of a positive incident, one of the few things Edgar Renteria did right in his lone season in Boston was bunt for a basehit to get on base in front of David Ortiz, who then hit a game winning home run. Somehow this move by Renteria was turned into a negative and talked about for about three weeks on the station. Hosts and co-hosts play their roles on a daily basis on the station, sometimes being a “hero”, other times being a “villain”. Ordway is a big fan of WWE’s Vince McMahon (so much that he was convinced that the XFL was going to be a rousing success) and his influence can be seen in how the station operates. Everything is done for drama, it’s all about the show.

5) Boston does have a lot of intelligent fans, but none of them call radio stations.

If you want to get a good feel for what the average Boston sports fan feels on a certain topic, then don’t listen to the radio. The average fan is not going to get fired up on a topic that they will sit on hold for 45 minutes to be able to scream and rant for a maximum of three minutes on the air. The people who make it onto WEEI for the most part are ones who have an extreme view that the average fan does not. Where do you go to find intelligent Boston fans? They’re probably among your friends. Your closest friends that have been through years of following the teams together. You can find some great, intelligent fans on certain messageboards. I happen to think the group at the BSMW board is top rate for the most part. They can discuss almost any aspect of sports at a higher level than anything you’re going to hear from a talk show caller.

6) I love the Red Sox, but the on-air coverage of this club absolutely sucks out there right now.

The newspaper coverage of the team is solid, (except for Dan Shaughnessy) I’m not talking about them. The on-air broadcasting is at times annoying, but is overall pretty good. But the radio and television talk shows about the club suck all the joy out of following this team. I cannot stand it. Every game must be scrutinized and analyzed as an individual entity, with no regard to the big picture or context. Every day it’s “This guy sucks” or “Francona’s an idiot, he should’ve done this…”, or “Will Johnny Damon get booed in his first time back to Fenway?” The need to create a daily soap opera around the team is just terrible. Some will try to justify it by saying “THAT’S WHAT WE DO HERE!!!” But I don’t buy it. Sure, fans like to second-guess decisions and players. But certainly not in the edgy, mean-spirited way that it is done on the air. Every year there is a whipping boy, a villain who can do nothing right and is castigated daily on the airwaves. Last year was Edgar Renteria. This year it is Wily Mo Pena. Some weeks it is Manny Ramirez. True Red Sox fans need to tune out and not allow these mouthbreathers to ruin just a great period in Boston sports. Forget the storylines…just play the games. I may need to take a month off during every Red Sox season, as I write this I am looking forward to getting away from the nastiness, vitriol and idiocy that is Red Sox talk on radio and television in Boston.

7) There is a future in this for me.

What that future is exactly, I’m not sure. I have something of an idea of what things would be like if BSMW was a full time venture for me, and that will be the topic of a column for next week.

Tomorrow: Best/Worst Sports Radio Show