BSMW Retro – Clif Keane, The Original “Poison Pen”

Something I stumbled across while doing a little research for an upcoming post/poll for the site was this 1966 Sports Illustrated article by Frank Deford entitled Lots Of Fun With A Poison Pen.

Deford follows and writes about legendary Boston Globe sports columnist Clif Keane in this feature, focusing on Keane as “an irreverent humorist, a Boston sportswriter who gets his best stories from the athletes he needles the most.”

Here are a few snippets from the piece:

At 54, Keane believes that he is mellowing, but few people he writes about would agree, even after they get the hatchet out of their backs. As a reporter, Keane remains a model of brutal objectivity-or objective brutality. When President Eisenhower visited Newport to play golf, the Globe dispatched Keane, a golf nut himself, to cover the action. Keane wired back a story that began by reporting that the President cheated on the fairways and in the rough. That was the last President the Globe has let Keane cover.

Then a little later on is an example of Keane’s needling:

But, uh-oh, here comes Clif Keane now, into the Cleveland clubhouse. “We’ll have some fun,” he says, rubbing his hands together and peering over his bifocals for new targets. There are a lot of lines around Keane’s eyes, but they are not like the crow’s-feet on most people’s, for they only appear when he laughs-or in the mere anticipation of hanging it on someone. This is what happens now, as soon as Clif sees Early Wynn, the pitching coach.

“Hey, you big dumb Indian,” Keane calls warmly, “when’re you going back to the reservation? You’re so fat you couldn’t get in the teepee anyway.”

“You talk,” Wynn says, thumbing at the game ball.

“When’ll McDowell be really ready?”

“I’m only the coach, you’re the expert,” Wynn replies. Around Keane his antagonists seem to play the roles he assigns them.

“You’re just an unpleasant man,” Keane says. “No wonder we stole Manhattan from you guys.”

Wynn remains in the impassively stoic character that Keane has set for him. “I got by Williams,” he grumps, “and I got by Greenberg. I can get by you, Keane.” Poison Pen roars, and the laugh lines bloom.

Light-hearted as that exchange was, you’d never be able to get away with that in today’s world.

I thought this bit was interesting:

Keane never went to college, nor did he ever write a newspaper story until he had been with the Globe for 13 years as a copy boy and real-estate space salesman. But since he began a quarter of a century ago he has covered virtually every sport, including a memorable dog show. A famous dog died, but Keane, unaware of the dog’s esteem in the canine world, did not mention the fact until near the end of his story. The managing editor called him in to find out why. “A dog died,” Keane replied. “I buried it.”

What? A newspaper writer who didn’t go to college? Worked his way all the way from the bottom to become one of the top sports columnists in Boston? Not bad.

If you haven’t already, please cast your vote in the Who is the Best Sports Columnist? poll.

Remembering Tony Conigliaro the Sportscaster

This is  a guest post from Michael Passanisi.

Forty-five years ago this spring, a 19-year old kid from Swampscott made it fun to be a Sox fan again, at least for a few years. Most fans remember that Tony C has passed away, but how many remember his up-and-down broadcast career and the terrible effects of his heart attack and brain damage that made his last eight years a living hell for Tony and his family?

To be sure, Tony is remembered as a man who, in the words of author David Cataneo in his excellent 1997 book Tony C: The Triumph and Tragedy of Tony Conigliaro, had a lot of both in his life. Nearly every Sox fan knows about his 1967 beaning. They also remember his aborted comebacks, his controversial trade to the Angels three years later, and his final retirement in 1975. But the story doesn’t end there.

A year after his retirement from baseball, Conigliaro began work as a sports reporter for KGO-TV in San Francisco. Cataneo’s book describes his early problems in broadcasting: “He was immediately branded just another jock enthusing about the scores. He was terrible. He spoke in clichés. He always seemed harried. His malaprops made him uncomfortable to watch….his Boston accent, charming to fans from Charlestown and Waltham and Worcester in the Fenway stands, made northern Californians cover their ears.”

Things then improved for a while. “Not surprisingly”, continues Cataneo, “he wasn’t smooth, but he came across as honest and genuine. He had a good rapport with athletes. The anchor work remained rough, but his features got better, eventually good enough to learn a local Emmy.” Though being homesick, as he always seemed to be, for his family, he was enough of a celebrity to be recognized and continue to date attractive women. He also befriended a man named Satch Hennessey, who was also touched by tragedy; his wife and young daughter would both die of cancer. Interestingly, he also became more religious. “I was given a lot of athletic ability,” Cataneo quotes him as saying…”if I don’t know where it came from it doesn’t mean much.”

By 1980, however, his life was going downhill again. KGO fired him, apparently because the station wanted a workaholic who would give “110 percent”. Another station, KRON, which had hired Tony as basically a weekend sports anchor and feature broadcaster, brought in a new news director, who let him go. That, unfortunately, was the end of his broadcasting career.

Tony’s last chance came in January, 1982, when he wanted to try out for an opening as Red Sox color commentator.. However, WSBK, which broadcast the Sox at that time, had a GM who Cataneo calls “a non-New Englander who had been nowhere near Kenmore Square in the summer of 1967″., This man apparently thought no one remembered him anymore. He might have changed his mind, but just two days later Tony suffered his massive heart attack.

Though Cataneo did an excellent job of describing Tony’s post-1975 years, many newspapers seem today to gloss over the suffering that Conigliaro went through between his heart attack and his death in 1990. This includes articles two years ago on the 40th anniversary of the Impossible Dream season, in which Tony played a big part before his injury.

An example of some writers’ description of Conigliaro’s post-baseball years is in the 2004 book Reversing the Curse about the Sox’s first World Series win since 1918. The only mention of Tony is that he “suffered a major heart attack and died at the age of 45 in 1990″. Given the interest in him in his playing days, more might have been said, and while his tragedy was a personal one and not connected to baseball in general, that description does not seem enough.

All the details of the sufferings of Tony and his family during his last years need be mentioned here, but his brother Billy, in the forward to Cataneo’s book, sums it up by saying that “nobody expected that the struggle of a professional athlete would, just a few years later, be exceeded by an all-out fight just to exist on the earth as a normal human being.” By 1990, most of Tony’s relatives were praying that he would soon be put out of his misery. Their prayers were answered on February 24 of that year.

Today, Conigliaro is memorialized in the Conigliaro Gym at his alma mater, St Mary’s High in Lynn, by the major league Comeback Player of the Year Award, and a few other commemorations of his life, such as “Conig’s Corner” in Fenway Park. But the Sox have not retired his number 25. Tony made a lasting impression on Boston baseball, and his entire life should be remembered.

Related link:

Jim O’Brien – The Forgotten Coach? - also by Passanisi.

Boston In The World Series

I came across a couple of pretty interesting photos that I thought I would pass along. These show crowds gathered around a high-tech “electric scoreboard” for the 1912 World Series between Boston and New York:

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Since the Washington Post was sponsoring this scoreboard, I’m assuming the photos are from D.C. Getting these type of “real time” updates must’ve been a thrilling experience for baseball fans of that era.

Come to think of think of it, this scoreboard doesn’t really look all that different from the online gamecasts that ESPN, CBS, Yahoo! and all the other online media outlets use today to pass along game information to those sitting in front of computers.

Would the crowds gathered together to watch in the streets back in 1912 be the equivalent of the Sons of Sam Horn message board?

Infamous Moments – McDonough Punches Clayborn

We’re back with another installment of infamous moments in Boston sports media history.

The relationship between the media and professional athletes has always been an adversarial one. Rarely however, has it gotten physical.

On September 9th, 1979, the Patriots had just routed the New York Jets 56-3.

These days morning talk show hosts and ESPN analysts would be eviscerating the Patriots for running up the score and showing poor sportsmanship- the Patriots scored 14 points in the fourth quarter when they were already up 42-3.

The atmosphere in the Patriots locker room following the game should’ve been light hearted, but cornerback Raymond Clayborn was miserable. He had a bad week, twice scuffling with teammates in practice.  

After the game, Clayborn was snapping at writers and bumping into them on purpose. Legendary writer Will McDonough of The Boston Globe took exception, saying “”Hey, Ray, there’s no need to do that.”

Clayborn reacted by jabbing his finger in McDonough’s face, poking him in the eye. McDonough then punched him twice, knocking him into a laundry cart and taking down a number of people with him.

The story immediately went into legend, with some accounts stating that McDonough had knocked Clayborn “out cold” with a single punch, and others describing more of a scuffle between the two.

McDonough was lionized among his colleages in the media for the incident, which was lauded as an example of “southie justice.”

From a Globe story after McDonough’s death:

”After that, he became a folk hero.” says Vince Doria, the former Globe sports editor who is now vice president/ director of news at ESPN.

”You know how when you’re a kid, you go around saying, `My dad can beat up your dad’?” says Sean McDonough. ”Well, after that, I went to school saying, `Never mind beating up your dad. My dad can beat up an NFL player.”’

What do you think would happen if a member of the media and an athlete got into a fight in the locker room these days?

Infamous Moments in Boston Sports Media History

Periodically, we’re going to look back in Boston Sports Media history and revisit some of the more infamous moments that this group has foisted upon the general public.

The left fielder of the Boston Red Sox is a brilliant hitter, with few peers in the history of the game. However, he hasn’t always cooperated with the media, and has been known on occasion to perhaps not go all-out on the field. Often categorized as “aloof” or “immature”, his accomplishments at the plate seem to be overshadowed by these characteristics. Some are sick of his act, and decry the negative example he sets for our youth.

We’re talking of course about Ted Williams.

Williams was a particular target of Boston Record columnist Dave Egan, who ripped Williams with a style and frequency that would make Dan Shaughnessy blush.

In 1952, Williams was headed to Korea for his second tour of combat duty with the Marines. It was his last game before heading out, and many showed up at Fenway Park to pay tribute to him. They were well aware that this might be the final game of his brilliant career, he could be injured or killed in the war, and no one knew how long the war might continue. By the time it was over, Williams might be too old to continue playing.

It was under these circumstances that Egan took aim at Williams for being a poor example for America’s youth. (Excerpted from the Ted Williams Reader.)

… Swings left-handed like Williams. Wears his pants long, like Williams. Plays the outfield, like Williams. And will not wear a necktie even when the occasion insists upon a necktie, simply because the great man will not wear a necktie.

The skies will not tumble down upon us, whether a boy wears a necktie or not, but I have the right and the duty to ask where Ted Williams is leading this boy. Does he also refuse to tip his cap, does he feel that even the most indecent gestures will be overlooked, so long as he can hit a baseball with a piece of wood? Is he a rebel against conformity, simply because the man after whom he models himself has successfully rebelled, and may he expect to be honored by the municipal big wheels at a later date, if he follows the pattern set by Williams?

It seems disgraceful to me, that a person such as Williams now is to be given the keys to the city. We talk about juvenile delinquency, and fight against it, and then officially honor a man whom we should officially horsewhip for the vicious influence that he has had on the childhood of America…

Williams has stubbornly and stupidly refused to recognize this responsibility to childhood. The kid has set a sorry example for a generation of kids. He has been a Pied Piper, leading them along a bitter, lonely road.

So on the day that Williams was leaving to serve his country and put his life on the line, Egan rips him because he prefers not to wear neckties. He’s worried that America’s youth will be tarnished because Ted Williams will not wear a tie.

Manny’s got it easy.

BSMW Retro – A Look Back to “Sports Huddle”

These days “Sports Huddle” is a Sunday night (7-10 PM) program on WTTK 96.9 FM hosted by Eddie Andelman with sidekicks former ESPN producer Billy Fairweather and Boston comedian Mike Donovan.

The current show is less about sports than it is a weekly public airing of grievances by the aged Andelman and his cronies.

Back 30 years ago however, and “Sports Huddle” was cutting edge radio. Sports talk radio didn’t really exist yet, and while there were some shows devoted to talking sports, none were quite like Sports Huddle.

The following is a short article published on Jan. 29, 1973, which is available on the website of Time magazine.

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The Boston Badmouths

Club owners have the money and power. Players have their unions and the right to strike. Referees have the last word. But what does the forgotten sports fan have? Sports Huddle, that’s what.

Originating in Boston, Sports Huddle is a raucous weekly radio show dedicated to “looking out for the fans.” The proprietors-Mark Witkin, Jim McCarthy and Eddie Andelman-are an unholy trio of amateur broadcasters and professional fans. Every Sunday night from 7 to 11, they rail against everything from overpriced tickets and cold hot dogs to sportswriters (“Sock sniffers in the locker room”) and the sports establishment (“They’ve been abusing the public for years”). Their format is like the New England Patriots’ offense: haphazard. Their delivery sounds like three guys gassing in a ginmill-that is. loose and loudmouth.

It all comes naturally to Attorney Witkin, 33, Insurance Executive McCarthy, 44, and Real Estate Broker Andelman, 36. They were “discovered” four years ago when an executive from station WUNR overheard their loud banter in a Boston bar and invited them to sound off at a microphone. Sports Huddle was such an instant hit that six months later it was transferred to WBZ, a 50,000-watt station heard in 32 states and Canada. Before long, the station, which also broadcasts the Boston Bruins’ games, had some grievances of its own: McCarthy dismissed Bruin President Weston Adams Jr. as “the biggest jerk I ever met,” while Andelman described Boston Garden, the Bruins’ home rink, as “a pig pen, a garbage pit. Even Vincent Price wouldn’t shoot a horror movie there.” When WBZ, reportedly under pressure from the Bruins, dropped the show in May 1971, 2,000 Sports Huddle loyalists staged a demonstration in the station’s parking lot.

The show was quickly picked up by WEEK, a CBS affiliate, and a syndicated version is now heard on more than 50 stations across the U.S. Deluged with up to 20,000 calls a night, the three superfans attack what they call the “hidden injuries of class” by blasting everyone from politicians who hog tickets to the “phony, bigoted yachtsmen of the New York Yacht Club.” Though they have broadened their attack to suit their national audience, they still hit home the hardest. Among their favorite targets are Boston Red Sox Manager Eddie Kasko (“A mealymouthed marshmal-low”) and Bruin Star Bobby Orr (“He’s not the humble, gracious, Bible-touting kid everyone says he is”). While some of their high jinks are sophomoric or just plain silly (they once telephoned the commandant of the Buckingham Palace Guards to ask if he would trade two of Her Majesty’s finest for a pair of Patriot guards), WEEI’S triple threats are convinced that “the majority of our opinions are what the fans believe.”

Too Cheap. Their crusades can pay off. When Sports Huddle lambasted Richard Nixon for not congratulating the Bruins for winning the 1970 Stanley Cup, 30,000 listeners sent protest letters to the White House. The President responded with a congratulatory telegram and later, while driving in a convertible in Dublin, held up a sign saying BOSTON BRUINS ARE NO. 1. Claiming that the Patriots were “too cheap” to find a decent field-goal kicker, Sports Huddle launched a “Search for Superfoot” among 1,600 English soccer players; the winner, Mike Walker, a Lancashire bricklayer, was not only signed by the Patriots last season but appeared in eight games. In March the three superfans are going to Australia to scout some rugby players who can reportedly punt a football 70 yds. Andelman confidently says that when the “Kangaroo Kid” makes his debut in pro football next season, “he’ll be so good they’ll have to change the rule book.”

Sports Huddle fans do not take such predictions lightly. On the eve of the Miami Dolphins’ 14-7 Super Bowl victory over the Washington Redskins, the Boston badmouths consulted a psychic, a bookie, two Chinese abacus experts and assorted astrologers, then correctly predicted the winner of the championship game for the fourth season in a row.

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Some of these antics will sound familiar to longtime Andelman listeners, as he took some of this style onto his later gigs on WHDH, WEEI and WWZN.

The bashing of the Bruins is nothing new these days, but also remember that the Bruins were coming off their second Stanley Cup championship in three years when this article was written. It’s hard to imagine Bobby Orr being attacked on sports radio in Boston, but apparently, that’s exactly what happened.

Railing against sportswriters? Things have changed a bit there, as now, it is mainly sportswriters who appear on the programs.

I’d like to occasionally take a look back at the Boston sports media scene, looking at articles from the past and comparing them with how things are now. Stay tuned.