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?

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.  

#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.

#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.

A Decade of Sports Media Change

I’m pleased to present this guest column from Roy Reiss.

There’s an old saying that nothing ever stays the same. Over the last 10 years the local sports media has undergone many, many changes that has dramatically affected the local media landscape in a myriad of ways. Let’s look closer at some of these developments, what’s happened, and what it means to the information hungry sports public in Greater Boston. .

Sports on local TV News programs.

Back at the turn of the century this was the way most fans got their latest news. Bob Lobel, Mike Lynch, and Gene Lavanchy were the envy of most young aspiring sports broadcasters. They would deliver the latest up to date scores, highlights and breaking news. Lobel, in particular, would be a power broker in the Boston sports community with sources developed over a 20 year career. As the decade moved along, these positions became less and less important as cable developed their own sports related shows with local highlights. You didn’t have to wait until 11 to get the highlights, you could watch 30 minutes of all sports highlights, scores, and interviews on NESN and in November 2009 Comcast threw their local sports program into the ring. Special shows were created to satisfy the sports crazed fan for late Sunday night over and above the regular news show. The truth is with the “new sports” media evolving, most of the highlights on news shows were “old news” by 11. And with the departure of Butch Stearns from Ch. 25 earlier this fall as well as the redesign of NECN news and sports in November, you might be seeing the start of a bold move by the other local affiliates to de-emphasize the sports portion of their local news programs. What used to be a dream job could become an endangered species.

The downhill trend of print journalism.

For a whole generation of sports fans, there was and is nothing like getting that morning Globe or Herald and devouring the sports sections. Box scores, game stories, strong opinions in columns would satisfy the appetite for this sports starved generation. Back in 2002 you couldn’t wait for the February 2nd edition to read everything about the Pats first Super Bowl title. Ditto for 2004 when the Sox finally won the World Series. Trouble is the newer generations of sports fans aren’t as dependent on the print media as that older generation since new technology and means of disseminating material has made sports a “real time” business. Game stories are much less relevant because now you may see highlights and have opportunities to discuss what happened almost immediately following the action. Insight and unique value added information has trumped details of how things happened and pushed game stories to the back burner. Late start times for maximum TV exposure further hinder the print media as they struggle to have 100% of their readership receive the latest news. Newspapers nationwide face some difficult decisions on how to cover their local teams in this new era given all the different media forums, the spiraling cost of travel, mixed in with the loss of circulation and advertising dollars. That along with the challenge to develop a multi level media platform (video, audio, print) remains giant obstacles for the print industry as they try to stay relevant in the changing world of sports coverage.

The continued growth and impact of sports talk radio. 24/7.

Entertain. Shape perceptions. Rush to judgment and paint a picture as quickly and decisively as possible. Never has sports talk radio been as powerful a resource as it is today. Hosts are entertainers who succeed or fail based on how many people listen to them. They need to get people engaged, tap into their emotions, develop controversy, and keep people tuned to their particular station. Talkers like Glenn Ordway are masterful at their craft. And latecomers to the talk radio field like Mike Felger epitomize the new wave of pot stirrers. As we reach the end of the 10 year run, these stations have become more important than the local TV stations sports segments, and one could argue they’ve even replaced the print columnists. They’ve become the power brokers in the sports community. If you need proof look at the number of sports talk stations in each major market. The common thought used to be Boston could only support one sports talk station, but with the emergence of WBZ FM, WEEI now has a very formidable opponent. Down the road there’s even speculation that ESPN will enter the sports radio battle in Boston. Who would have ever thought 3 sports stations could survive in this sports crazy region? Need any more proof of this powerful force and where it stands in sports coverage in Greater Boston.

The emergence of the multi faceted internet.

This is all 3 of the above rolled into one powerful platform. Real-time information. Analysis. Insight. Video or audio easily seen or heard. Plenty of print and entertaining data with no space requirements. Interactive capabilities like chats and mailbags to allow the fans to have a powerful voice. And who knows what else future technology will bring to this intriguing tv/radio/print triple threat combination. There’s growth potential that will be determined by how quickly technology develops, and thus the rush to be on board in this rapidly developing media. In the last 20 months, Boston has seen the emergence of competing local websites, WEEI.com, ESPNBoston.com, and CSNNE.com, join the battle for the local sports fans eyeballs. Throw in the Globe, Herald, NESN, plus the individual pro teams sites and you have a plethora of destinations to cull news from. There’s never been a better job market for aspiring journalists or sportscasters who seek employment in this ever changing media business. If history teaches us one thing, the only constant in this sports media business is that by December 2019 the landscape will be dramatically altered again!

Roy Reiss is a former Channel 7 sportscaster who started in radio working for Curt Gowdy Broadcasting. He is also the father of Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com.

#4 Plagiarism Scandals

The decade was rocked by two major plagiarism scandals involving newspaper sports reporters in Boston.

In February, 2005, the Patriots were in Jacksonville, getting ready for their third Super Bowl of the decade. Ken Powers was covering the team for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, when we learned on the morning of February 2nd, that he had been sent home from covering the team. The Editor & Publisher reported that Powers had been accused of lifting material from a Peter King Sports Illustrated story.

Later that day, with the help of a couple BSMW readers, I posted a side-by-side comparison of what King had written and what Powers had written.

Powers was promptly fired by the paper, after an investigation turned up “at least half a dozen” cases of plagiarism. He responded by telling WBZ-TV – “The termination is a terrible injustice to me.” – even as more cases were being posted here on BSMW.

It ws discovered that Powers had copied Michael Smith of ESPN.com and even his friend Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

BSMW got a mention in The New York Times during that week. Here is also the Associated Press story on the incident.

Since that time, Powers has been working as a reporter for The Community Advocate and Central Mass. Sports Insider.

Two years later, in a Sunday Football Notes column for The Boston Globe, Ron Borges used numerous passages originally written by Mike Sando of The News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington. The passages had been submitted by Sando to a “notes-sharing network” used by sports reporters across the country. Borges did not credit Sando in the notes, but there was a disclaimer at the bottom of the column (which ran most of the time in those Sunday notes columns) that “Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.”

Borges was then suspended for two months from the Globe, and barred from making outside media appearances.

Some have defended Borges, claiming that what he did was not really plagiarism. However, the Globe editor specifically stated in the announcement of Borges suspension that “The Globe does not tolerate plagiarism.”

Here are a couple of link collections about the story from that time period.

Media Reaction on Borges 

Borges Suspension Followups

After serving his two-month suspension, Borges wrote one column, relying on fired Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh, who had been operating a bed-and-breakfast in Idaho prior to taking charge of the Oakland offense, to tells us that Randy Moss was washed up, that his skills were in decline, and Moss was “in denial of those eroding skills.”

Five days later, Borges “retired” from the Globe. He was hired by WEEI.com during the summer of 2008, and then bolted WEEI.com in September for a gig at the Boston Herald, where he remains.

In 2003, Hartford Courant college basketball writer Ken Davis was suspended for a month after he lifted nine paragraphs from a Syracuse sports writer. (Journalist Plagiarism/Fabrication Scandals – also used for background on the Powers and Borges cases.)

These scandals put a black eye on sports coverage, and journalism as a whole, and certainly were among the biggest stories this decade in the Boston sports media.

#5 The Brady/Bledsoe Decision

This is number five on my list of the top episodes in the Boston sports media this decade.

When Drew Bledsoe was hit in the chest by the Jets Mo Lewis late in the second game of the 2001 season, and a second-year QB named Tom Brady trotted out on the field, who of us knew that the decade had then really begun for Boston sports? 

Three Super Bowl championships later for the Patriots, and two Super Bowl MVPs and a regular season MVP, along with a record-setting 50 touchdown undefeated season in 2007 later for Brady, the decision to stick with Brady over Bledsoe even after the latter was healthy enough to return that season seems inarguable.   

It was anything but at the time.

Drew Bledsoe, while at times maddening on the field, had developed a strong relationship with the press. Bledsoe was always there after the game, win or lose, whether he had played well or poorly, answering the questions from the press, and taking responsibility for losses (Even though he didn’t make changes in his game to improve what caused those losses). It was said he talked to the media quite a bit off the record as well, becoming a primary source of information “behind the scenes,” “back channel” communication for writers like Ron Borges, Kevin Mannix and Nick Cafardo.

Bledsoe-BradyWhen Bledsoe was hurt, the Patriots then fell to 0-2 on the season, and there was speculation that coach Bill Belichick, in his second year with the team, could be in jeopardy of losing his job. With Tom Brady under center the next week, the Patriots routed Indianapolis 44-13, but then lost in Miami 30-10 the following week, to put the Patriots at 1-3. Things seemed grim. The San Diego Chargers, led by Doug Flutie came to town the following week, and after trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter, Brady led his first fourth quarter comeback in the leading New England to a 29-26 OT victory.

During this time, the airwaves and newspapers were filled with debate as to whether the Patriots should stick with Brady, or give Drew Bledsoe his job back when he was ready to play again. Bledsoe himself talked about getting “my job” back.  Media members took sides. Pete Sheppard was an early Brady adopter, while Glenn Ordway was a Bledsoe guy. In general, it seemed that the younger media set were with Brady, while the older set, who had been around the team longer, and perhaps benefited from Bledsoe’s “back channel” information, sided with Bledsoe.

In mid November, the Patriots sat at 5-5 following a home loss to the St. Louis Rams. The next day, on Monday, November 19, Bill Belichick announced that Tom Brady would be his starter for the “foreseeable future.” Bledsoe had been cleared to return to action, but would not be getting “his job” back.

The Bledsoe backers in the media immediately went on the offensive, blasting Belichick, with Borges claiming that the coach had outright lied to Bledsoe. Borges later bragged on the radio that he himself had counseled Bledsoe during this time.

While the sports radio hosts and newspapers columnists were talking non-stop about Brady-Bledsoe, the real shows came on the Sunday night TV sports shows, specifically Sports Final on WBZ, which often had Borges, Cafardo and a young Herald reporter named Michael Felger on. These segments had a WWE-feel to them, as the three of them pulled no punches in debating this topic. Borges and Felger would shout at each other during these segments, while Cafardo’s role was mostly to roll his eyes while Felger was talking, throw up his hands periodically and mutter “Bledsoe” over and over.

Even after the Patriots had won the Super Bowl behind Brady, this episode continued on. It actually continued on for at least two more seasons.

When the Patriots traded Bledsoe to the division rival Buffalo, it started all over again. Borges and Cafardo would denigrate Brady while saying how huge a mistake it was, not just to get rid of Bledsoe, but to trade him within the division.

During the 2002 preseason, Borges was heard on Sports Final declaring that Damon Huard should be the Patriots starting QB, based on the performances in the preseason. The Patriots struggled in defending their Super Bowl championship, finishing 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Brady threw for 3764 yards that season with a league leading 28 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Bills jumped from 3-13 in 2001 to 8-8 in 2002, with Bledsoe throwing for 4359 yards with 24 touchdowns. His performance was lauded by his media supporters, while Brady was dismissed as a “system quarterback” who didn’t have the arm to make a deep throw.

The 2003 season began with the Bills routing the Patriots 31-0, days after New England had released Lawyer Milloy and he had signed with the Bills. In that opening game, Brady struggled, throwing for only 123 yards with four interceptions. Bledsoe meanwhile, threw for 230 yards and a touchdown.

Feeling his oats, Cafardo wrote that week about not hearing from the Bledsoe bashers, who “tend to hide when he plays well” and how he’s never “seen a team do so much to help a competing team within the division get so good so fast.” He said felt a long way from the 10-6 he predicted for the Patriots prior to that season. The Patriots finished 14-2 while the Bills fell to 6-10.

It wasn’t really until Brady won his second Super Bowl MVP following the 2003 season that this argument began to die down somewhat. But not completely. Borges continued for years to stick up for Bledsoe, and insisting that he was wronged by Belichick. Ron would make quite a stir whenever he could get a radio station  (usually Eddie Andelman’s show on 1510am) to give him an outlet for his madness.

It’s easy to forget now, with all that Brady has accomplished in his career, and how huge of an icon he has become, on and off the field, but Bill Belichick’s decision to stick with him as his starter was one of the most intensely debated incidents of the decade.

#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?)

#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.  

bdd

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

To 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.