Q&A with Michael Felger

Michael Felger has been a member of the Boston sports media since 1992.

Michael Felger has been a member of the Boston sports media since 1992 when he graduated from Boston University. He has spent time with a number of media outlets with various roles for each from beat reporter to now radio and television host. He has become one of the most prominent members of the Boston sports media. Like him or not, for every major Boston sports story or game everyone wants to know what Felger has to say. Felger celebrated two milestones this week, one being the three year anniversary of 98.5 The Sports Hub and also the 5,000th Sports Tonight Show on Comcast Sportsnet. Boston Sports Media Watch had the chance to catch up with Felger for a Q&A on a wide variety of subjects.

BSMW: What do you miss most about being a beat writer and covering a team on a day-to-day basis? Do you miss the writing side of journalism?

MF: There was nothing better than breaking a story in the newspaper (i.e., the actual thing you held in your hands over morning coffee), which was still possible during most of my time as a beat reporter. Now, of course, that rarely happens. So the thing I miss the most doesn’t really exist any more.

Otherwise, I liked this time of a year a lot on the Pats beat. I thought that if you went to those training camp practices every day, paid attention and knew what to look for, you could learn about the team. Once they got out of camp and closed practices, forget it. Everyone was back in the dark. But right now was one of the few times you could provide true insight. Covering hockey was great because of the people– the players were mostly humble and fun and there were characters like Pat Burns and Harry Sinden who I enjoyed even as they crushed me. The hockey culture is unique. And the games were great.

But to say I  “miss” any of that would be an overstatement. I’d rather be doing what I’m doing now. I don’t miss writing.

BSMW: Do you enjoy working full-time in radio and TV more than when you worked in print? Has not being on a beat/covering games allowed you to voice your opinion on players more than you would if you were still covering games?

MF: There were many days when I categorically did not enjoy being a beat reporter. There are very few days when I don’t enjoy commentating on radio or TV. The radio, in particular, is a blast. There’s nothing else like it.

As for the voicing of my opinion — yes, of course, there’s more freedom now. And that’s essential, because I pretty much can’t  put a sock in it, so to speak. It ultimately made me a pretty average beat guy. If I was doing a report card in the Herald and Joe Andruzzi (one of the best guys to ever come through there) had a bad game, I couldn’t downplay it just because I was friendly with him. Or if I felt the Pats should have paid to keep Deion Branch or Adam Vinatieri, I wouldn’t hesitate to criticize the team even though Bill Belichick wrote the epilogue for my book or the Krafts had been good to me (both true). So relationships were frayed, and I grew to hate the politics of the job.

This is hardly unique to me, by the way. If you want sources, you pretty much have to play favorites. That’s not a criticism of reporters who do it. It’s just the nature of the job. It’s a hard, hard thing to pull off. I’m a heck of a lot more comfortable coming at it from the outside and just saying what I think.

BSMW: What is your take on being labeled a “DB”? Does it bother you at all? Is it what you’re trying to be? Have you always been this way?

MF: You mean, was I born a douche bag? No. I’d say it’s a skill I’ve developed over time.

Seriously, it doesn’t bother me, but it’s also not what I’m trying to be. I’m not trying to be anything other than myself and, hopefully, entertaining. How it actually comes across to listeners  is up to them.

BSMW: Having worked at WEEI for some time, what do you see are the biggest differences between WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub? Has there been a time where what Felger & Mazz and 98.5 in general has done has surprised you, in terms of growing so quickly? Is there something you’d like to see your show to do in the near future to help it grow?

MF: I’ll pass on most of the first part of your question, except this: When Tony and I came on the air (exactly three years ago, Aug. 13, 2009), I said we would be different because we wouldn’t be held hostage by the relationships we had. Too often when I listen to sports commentary (the radio, ESPN, etc), I feel punches are being pulled because of a friendship, or a business relationship, or a broadcast rights agreement, or a weekly interview segment, or whatever. Just too much protecting of the brands and the people. I like to think Tony and I avoid that better than most. We try to go after everyone the same way. And I think the Hub and Comcast deserve a lot of credit for allowing it. Comcast doesn’t stop me from speaking my mind on the Celtics and the NBA, and the Hub doesn’t prevent me from going after the Bruins or NFL owners. That’s rare. We’re lucky.

As for the how quickly the competition heated up on the radio, I was surprised by it. I thought if we were lucky, that by Year 5 we’d have made it a ball game. Instead, we starting winning in 2010 and were No. 1 in the demo for a year starting in the spring of 2011 (the only sports show to do that since we came on). By this spring, it was actually treated like a failure when we finished third. We also got the simulcast deal in place. All that happened within three years.  So, yes, I was not expecting all that so soon.

BSMW: Why aren’t you on Twitter? Will you ever be on Twitter? Do you think it is good or bad for sports journalism?

MF: Excellent question. Laziness. No other reason. I have nothing against it. It seems like a great tool for news events (like a trade deadline), and as a marketing vehicle, it’s not just the future, it’s the present. So you can add “dumb” to “lazy.”  I should be on there.

BSMW: Where do you see yourself in the coming years? Have you ever considered moving to a national platform?

MF: No one has ever asked me to move to a national platform, so I’ve never really considered it. Basically, if I can do what I’m doing now for the rest of my professional life (on the radio every day in Boston; some TV at night), I would consider myself extremely lucky. In fact, I’m sure they will have to tell me to leave, not the other way around.

Follow me on Twitter at @hannable84. Shoot me an email at [email protected]

  • Jamie Folk

    Felger,
    The fact that you feel like you have to “go after” people is what makes you a douche bag. Your whole show is one big bitchfest and it’s popularity speaks to how miserable the fans really are here.

  • whitey b

    What a douche bag.

  • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

    “often when I listen to sports commentary , I feel punches are being pulled”

    That’s the problem I have with Felger, he thinks he should ALWAYS be “punching” so his entire show is nothing more than playing the “blame game” and acting like he knows all the answers (who doesn’t with hindsight being 20/20??) ….hey the guy has made a great career for himself, he gets props for that. however he’s still a DB

  • J.R.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When Felger initially covered the Pats he was Mike Reiss, which is to say a damn good beat writer who pretty much played it straight and down the middle. Somewhere along the line, as his personal “brand” and (over) exposure grew — especially on radio and TV — he morphed into an amalgam of the worst of all Boston sports media: contrived and miserable contrarian (Borges), general ass clown (Shaughnessy), and fake tough guy with a Chicken Little mind set (Tanguay).
    Now, I realize (hope?) that 99.999% of this transformation was probably because, at the end of the day, he’s no dummy and just decided to take the easy and great money (hello, Ordway) by playing a role, cashing the checks, and living a cushy life.

    • Glenn

      Funny, I remember exactly the moment that Felger transformed from a “Reiss” to a “Borges”. The Pats had just gotten Doug Flutie as a Brady back-up, and Felger was on TV grousing that he was absolutely certain that Flutie would be a terrible guy to have on the team because he had just come from San Deigo where he wanted to be the starter, would be pissed off backing up Brady, would be a distraction because he wanted the ball, etc etc blah blah blah. I had the distinct sense that Felger was yapping just to be a contrarian, and not because he truly felt that Flutie would really come to NE in his career twilight to be a jerk behind a Super Bowl QB. For me, that was when the shark jumped on Felger, a long time ago.

      • Winning_Again

        Another classic contrarian stance from early Felger was saying he wouldn’t trade Clay Buckholz for Albert Pujols. I think that was in 2005-06 when Clay hadn’t even reached the majors.

      • tl;138

        I thought it was when he said something at a BB press conference to the effect of, “Can I you ask a stupid question?” and BB replied “I haven’t stopped you in the past”.

  • Frank

    Felger I know you’ll be reading this today, your ego won’t let you not read it. You were so much better when you weren’t trying to be Boston’s Skip Bayless. I used to enjoy listening to you go back and forth with Borges, but now I don’t care what you have to say because it all seems to be designed to elicit a response rather than provide insight or provoke thought. And you may love Tony, but he does nothing for you. You were always at your best when someone challenged your ideas, rather than having someone agree with everything you spout off on.

  • Gary T

    Douchety douche douche douche.

  • bsmfan

    I didn’t see something from Chad Finn, but the July #’s are out:

    http://www.radio-info.com/markets/boston

  • NutCracker

    The Felger shtick has served him well but he’s morphed into a one-trick pony. No matter the topic, you can bank on him whining; John Henry sucks, Randy Moss sucks, the Kraft’s suck, the Pink hats suck, Belichick sucks, the Texas tough-guy sucks, the Celtics suck, the Jacob’s suck, Peter Chiarelli sucks, Claude Julian sucks etc. He’s way too predictable and he’s often wrong on a lot of topics especially in regards to hockey, ironically. Every once in awhile I’d like to see him have an intellectual dialogue with Massarotti about sports instead of pissing and moaning all the time. At some point he’ll have to change his stripes to stay relevant but I can’t say I blame him for milking this act as long as he can but I can only take him in small doses anymore.

  • SteveFromYellowstone

    Felger’s a mixed bag to me. I do find him very entertaining at times, particularly when I agree with him (ex. the Sox this season, the greed of certain NFL owners), and he’s typically the guy I want to hear an opinion from first after a big event regarding Boston sports. The bad side is the considerable over the top negativity and behavior on things solely to get a reaction. Such as his over the top Jets love (done solely to elicit a reaction from Pats fans), and extremely arrogant comments. For example, saying stuff such as “Congrats Pats, you’ve finally passed the Jets after 4 years!” while completely neglecting the fact that the Pats have a winning record over the Jets during that time period, the Jets never won the division during that time period (Pats won them all in fact outside of the Brady injury year), and over the life of their franchises, the Jets are nothing next to the Pats (0 Super Bowl appearances in 40+ years). The “cap is crap” stuff is also quite old and is done solely so he can call the Patriots cheap and bash them to death for that after they made what was ultimately the correct decision in trading away Deion Branch a few years ago instead of signing him to a long term contract.

    I think the Felger & Mazz show could be an elite sports radio talk show if they had someone in there to challenge Felger when he goes off the rails. Unfortunately they’ve paired him with the ultimate yes man and someone even more negative than him in Tony Mazz. Unfortunate that as long as ratings are good there, they won’t consider firing Mazz and bringing in a more competant cohost.

    • TonyC66

      The fact that he won’t admit that his “cap is crap” stuff is complete b.s., and that just because the Jets out-executed the Pats in a single playoff game two years ago doesn’t mean they’ve been a better team and a better organization than the Pats for “four years”, have been the final straws for me with Felger. It’s one thing to decide you’re going to be a contrarian and needle the local fans on purpose in order to drive ratings, but it’s quite another to do so based on completely false premises that you refuse to admit are false once they’re proven to be false. He STILL pushes the “cap is crap” mantra despite that fact that “superior” organizations like the Jets, Colts, and even the Steelers, have had to slash huge parts of their rosters during the past offseason in order to become cap-compliant. He’s jumped the shark and is no longer listenable/unwatchable.

  • latetodinner

    Ryan…first off nice job getting Felger to answer a few questions for a “blog”….an entire writing world he seems to disdain.

    I understand why people hate Felger. I have gone after him pretty hard for some things he has said unfairly about the Patriots and the Patriots organization. Likewise his man love with all things Hockey is completely baffling to me. Having said that, say what you want about him and his ‘negativity” but he was so far ahead of the rest of the Boston media on pointing to the false front that is the Boston Red Sox organization it is not even funny. As each day passes we get a new revelation (today it was the 17 person anti Bobby meeting) that makes Felger look like the Oracle at Delphi. Likewise his critiques of the NBA and the Celtics were also right on. The reason why both of these observations are so infuriating to fans is because they distract from the breakdown of the play on the field. At some point some fans are saying…we get it Red Sox management sucks…can we please talk about what happened ON THE FIELD last night. Felger’s response is…not until the off field mess is cleaned up because it is just too juicy.

    I agree with him. I listened to D&C hammer Penn State for the same reason. Its why game stories no longer appear in the paper…we know what happened. Sportstalk is all about WHY. Felger is better at WHY than anyone else in town right now…he might be better than anyone in the country. So go ahead and call him DB or the other assorted names. I am the first person on this board to call for quality (give me Dale Arnold or Chuck Wilson)…but I understand why Felger is successful and I don’t fault him for it. Instead I applaud him for shining a light somewhere others do not dare to go. Its actually refreshing is a DB sort of way.

    • bsmfan

      Let me take it one step further because I think the “why” points you make are spot on. We listen/consume media now for the “why” because the “what” is provided by the Internet.

      Remember when Schilling gave this grave omen in April? “Tisk, tisk” what does that guy know? Remember when Buster Olney had his own warning? the also 2 national stories that all the local media here went “tisk, tisk” and “You’re not here, you don’t know” “What does some national loser know? (Kinda funny when he works at ESPN and you don’t)” How many other national articles on ESPN, even Gordon Edes, who seems to be held in respect here by the locals, just get brushed off? But, when Yawkee Way shovels the horse dung, the Globe is more than happy to run rampant with it. Good Job! Good Effort!

      The local media here, which baffles me, does one of the biggest cover jobs for the team I’ve ever seen. But, then, if you go and piss in their pool, they get territorial like dogs do. At some point, they have to write what they see and what is going on because this “we have to cover for players” is garbage. Lets say someone writes a column like Passan did, which is hard hitting but also not gossip/libel. What if someone from Yawkee Way came down and grabbed their media pass? How fast would the BBWAA rally around access for this person or even MLB step in? On a professional level, if it takes a national guy to “see the truth” or a Sports Talk Radio guy who isn’t there that speaks with more veracity than guys there in the clubhouse each day, doesn’t that speak volumes to how inept your coverage is and how bad you’ve been doing your job?

      (As a side note, this is why I enjoy Bruce’s work and am here. Much of the media, even outside sports, seems to do a great job at selectively reporting certain things, these days.)

    • Frank

      “Felger is better at WHY than anyone else in town right now…he might be better than anyone in the country.” Sorry I completely disagree. Ask him why the Jets haven’t won a Super Bowl in 40 years. Ask him why the Bruins won a Stanley Cup with Tim Thomas, Claude Julien, and Zdeno Chara. Ask him why the NBA finals absolutely smoked the NHL finals in ratings this year. I could go on but I think you get the point. The “why” should be good information that has not been reported widely, like Tom Curran saying the Pats brought Plaxico Burress in because his agent Drew Rosenhaus has a good relationship with the Patriots, and may have just been doing him a favor by trying to create a buzz for his client. The “why” isn’t popping off with some ridiculous made up theory that you repeat over and over hoping that someone accepts it as fact without ever really having to produce solid evidence to sustain your absurd ideas.

      • latetodinner

        You misunderstand me…and looking back at what I wrote I am not sure I was as clear as I needed to be. I am not saying Felger’s explanation of the WHY is superior than anyone else’s. I am saying his ability to focus the conversation on WHY something is happening is. On some topics he is clairvoyant (The Red Sox) on others he looks dumb (The Jets) but in all cases he is able to generate conversation that at times…a lot of times…others are unwilling to have. That is his skill.

      • Frank

        LTD – Maybe I’m not getting your point again, and I don’t mean that to be a rude as it sounded. But are you saying because he generates conversation by taking an unpopular position, or by taking on a topic that other Boston media members would prefer to avoid, that he is to be commended? Because by that logic Dan Shaughnessy should be the most lauded writer in the area, although Ronnie B could give him a run for his money.

        George – Get this straight, Felger is from Wisconsin, he roots openly for the Packers, Brewers, and sometimes the Bucks (whenever that suits him). And from what I’ve heard he likes the Bruins because Minnesota didn’t have a hockey team when he was a kid so he picked Boston. He’s not a Boston sports fan at all. He roots more for a story, as this is the market he covers, than for any of the teams to have success.

  • GRBSPR

    Surely Felger knows he’s on a par with ditch-diggers when it comes to career choices. Actually, ditch-diggers work hard, which puts Felger and other sports media hacks beneath them. All you need to enter the field is a willingness to eat hordes of free food and ‘know someone.’ Happily, Felger–being a sports media hack–will waddle over here to see what’s being said about him. Win.

  • scott

    Tony Mazz is off this week which makes the show so much more listenable. As someone noted,Felger needs an opponent,not a squeaky echo. Felger,Bertrand and Jim Murray is a younger group who can argue and discuss while entertaining. Does Massarotti still try to do that stupid Boston accent? I hear that voice and instantly click away.

  • Evan

    I remember Felger saying that Calvin Johnson had no instincts and was going to be a bust

  • Sarah Silverman

    Look at that photo! He even smiles like he’s getting douched.

  • A.M.D

    yesterday’s show was so much better than the Felger & Mazz rant fest. McAdam challenged Felger on his claim of rampant use of steroids in baseball, saying the numbers (stats) didn’t back that up. It made for good discussion and an interesting show. Felger & Mazz together seem to slide into hysteria very easily.