The Fellowship of the Miserable

Whiny, petulant, entitled, self-important—no, it’s not Boston fans we’re talking about, it’s Boston sportswriters. How did the sports media in this town, once the envy of the nation, become so awful?

By Alan Siegel | Boston Magazine |

boston sportswriters awful

The Lodge, as Boston’s stuffy sports-media establishment is called, is home to such luminaries as, from left, 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Tony Massarotti, the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, WEEI’s Glenn Ordway, and the Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Photos by Getty Images (Shaughnessy, Ordway); Boston Globe (Cafardo); John Soares Photography (Massarotti); AP Images (Bird, Williams). (All Illustrations by John Ueland)

In late July, Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent the organization’s top brass a text message to complain about the team’s manager, Bobby Valentine. It was by then clear that the season was lost. Valentine had clashed with his players since spring training and, despite the team’s bloated payroll and perennially high expectations, the Red Sox looked certain to miss the playoffs for the third straight year. In response to Gonzalez’s message, two of the Sox’s owners, John Henry and Larry Lucchino, called a meeting with a handful of players to hash things out. The players, including star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, ripped Valentine behind his back. They didn’t just air a few petty grievances, they all but mutinied, declaring that they didn’t want to play for Valentine anymore.

That incident, plus several more that reflected poorly on the manager, were revealed in an explosive story published by Yahoo! Sports on August 14. Written by Jeff Passan, the article followed a June report by ESPN’s Buster Olney that called the Red Sox a “splintered group” and described the team’s clubhouse as “toxic.”

Whoever was at fault for the chaos that had descended on the team—Valentine, the players, ownership—it was clearly a massive story. Unless, that is, you happened to work as a sportswriter in Boston. While national reporters parachuted in to break a big story—as they’ve been doing with increasing frequency of late—the local press simply missed the boat. In fact, some of the Sox beat writers insisted in the aftermath of the bombshell story that Passan had gotten it all wrong. For instance, the Globe’s Nick Cafardo—who devoted so much effort to (bizarrely) defending Valentine throughout last season that he seemed to miss the larger story of a franchise crumbling around him—wrote a column arguing that what Passan’s piece showed above all else was that it was the Red Sox players rather than the manager who were the real problem. “The behavior of players as described in the Jeff Passan Yahoo! Sports story,” Cafardo wrote, “was downright disgusting.” Maybe so, but what was missing entirely from Cafardo’s take was any mention of what Valentine had done to create his own problems. Instead, Cafardo excused some of Valentine’s transgressions, including publicly questioning third baseman Kevin Youkilis’s commitment early in the season, a comment that Cafardo insisted would have been no big deal back in the ’70s and ’80s—decades that occurred, you know, 30 or 40 years ago.

Other writers simply downplayed the significance of Passan’s report altogether. Though he would later produce an article about the poor relationship between Valentine and some of his coaches, Globe Red Sox reporter Peter Abraham remains mystified as to why Passan’s story got so much attention. In journalism, it’s worth noting, there’s nothing more embarrassing than having a reporter from the outside come in and break news on your turf. “There was this perception that, well, somehow the Boston media got beat on this story,” Abraham told me. “I didn’t know what there was that we got beat on. I guess the fact that [the players and ownership] had a meeting.”

Actually, yes, exactly that.

Abraham continued: “Bobby, if anything, at the time, had his position strengthened. He didn’t get fired. They fired [the pitching coach]. And the team played better for a short time after that meeting. So when this thing came out, at least for me personally, I didn’t really know what the story was—‘Well, the Red Sox were upset three weeks ago.’”

Again, the players tried to get the manager axed. That was the story. But Abraham went on: “Had Bobby been fired, and that was the reason, it would’ve been a better story. There were really no consequences to the meeting. Nothing happened. I wasn’t really sure where to go with it.”

Abraham’s implication that the meeting was unimportant because nobody got fired is more than a bit strange, especially considering that pitching coach Bob McClure, rumored to be the source for Passan’s story, was canned less than a week after the article ran. More broadly, though, there is something seriously amiss if the Globe’s Red Sox beat writer, the holder of one of the most sought-after jobs in all of American sports journalism, doesn’t know where to go with a story like this.

But Abraham is hardly the only problem these days. The Boston sports media, once considered one of the country’s best and most influential press corps, is stumbling toward irrelevance. The national media not only seems to break more big Boston sports stories than the local press, but also often features more sophisticated analysis, especially when it comes to using advanced statistics. To put it bluntly, “The Lodge”—as Fred Toucher, cohost of the 98.5 The Sports Hub morning radio show, mockingly refers to the city’s clubby, self-important media establishment—is clogged with stale reporters, crotchety columnists, and shameless blowhards. Their canned “hot sports takes” have found a home on local television and talk radio, but do little but suck the fun out of a topic that’s supposed to be just that. And we haven’t even gotten to Dan Shaughnessy yet.

In early December, Joe Sullivan, the Globe sports editor for the past nine years, invited me to Morrissey Boulevard to discuss the state of things. Stepping into his large office, I noticed that the walls were covered with poster-size photographs of the Celtics legend Larry Bird and the champion Brockton boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

  • Ross

    The lack of Haggerty in this article disappoints me. He is a professional troll.

    • Paul

      Haggs is a huge homer, which will be his biggest downfall

  • Steve

    The lack of a lot of things is disappointing, like an understanding of the difference between newspapers and web sites.

  • Ron

    Well this article only half nails the issue. The real problem is that there are scores of miserable people just eating up what Felger, Mazz and all the rest have to say because we have a miserable fan base who is only happy when things are bad. The ones conditioned by years of Red Sox losing to only see the bad in all things sports related. Those guys, the REAL fellowship of the miserable. By watching and listening to this crap, we are getting exactly what we deserve.

  • http://soaringtoglory.com Kyle

    As a New Yorker who’s going to Boston College, I’ve had the displeasure of being exposed to the Boston sports media. I’ve read some of the newspaper articles, watched some of the talk shows and have literally found nothing interesting, except for the occasional Bob Ryan speech. Sure, the semi-decent writers here have turned to talk show blowhards, they can’t even be good at that. Felger and Mazz is seriously the most boring program when compared to something like Boomer and Carton on the WFAN in NYC. There are biases on that show as well, but they have reason, intelligence, and effective humor. Even Francesa without the Mad Dog is 10x more entertaining than anything Boston radio can produce. Another troubling facet of the Boston media is the non coverage of college football, especially with BC. After the Globe got rid of the bumbling Blaudschun, they have basically excised any coverage of BC athletics. Boston media’s problem is the fact that they are so full of themselves and their biases, that they have gotten away from journalism. Read the sports section of the NY Post one day, and you’ll see what Boston’s missing.

    • Tom

      I don’t know about that. I’ve seen the clip of Francesa falling asleep in his chair on air, so I think the idea of sports talk show hosts hanging on too long is universal.

      As for their lack of coverage of BC sports, that is not new. It has nothing to do with the Globe’s decline and everything to do with the fact that there are more people around here who simply don’t care about BC. The simple fact is Boston is not Gainesville or Ann Arbor, where one university is the only game in town. If you attended Harvard, BU, Northeastern, MIT or any of the dozen or so other schools in the area what happens at over in Chestnut Hill simply doesn’t matter. I know this is hard to hear for any BC student or alum, but it’s simple numbers – more people don’t care about the Eagles than people who do.

    • Nick

      Kyle, I’m glad to see you left the steroid laced/ chronic lying atmosphere that is A-rod. Welcome to Boston. I do hope however that you don’t really expect to see any BC games though. First off, they’re not very good. second, you go to the school! buy some discout tickets, go to the game and stop complaining. Lastly, those games count for NOTHING! if they meant something like a bruins or sox game they would be televised. I’d much rather watch professionals that are paid to be as good as they can for games that matter. Not college kids that are so terrible at their sport they won’t play another down of football in their life after college. Its an A-bomb! for A-Roid! I have a feeling you’ll fit in real well as a new yorker at BC. good luck with that

  • Bob

    I think Bob Neumeier tried to bring a lot of what you reference to WEEI but was chastised for going against the grain.

    • Paul

      Neumeier was/is terrible.

  • Derek Phillips

    Hello, Mr. Siegel:

    Please recall that the word media is a plural noun:

    The Boston sports media, once considered one of the country’s best and most influential press corps, [are] stumbling toward irrelevance.

    It’s disappointing that so many writers and their editors get this wrong so frequently – especially when trashing their professional compatriots.

    Thanks for hearing me out.

    Derek Phillips

    • Paul Bonfiglio

      Derek and everyone else,

      You are correct in this instance, but media can be both singular and plural.

      “… once considered one of the nation’s most influencial press corps” makes it plural.

      1: a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression; especially : medium 2b
      2a singular or plural in construction : mass media b plural : members of the mass media

      Thanks.

  • Spats

    The vulgar language uttered on a daily basis by the likes of Ordway, Callahan, Dennis and the rest of the sports radio “boys club” of pompous, bloviating, sniping, self-important buffoons relegates them and their niche to the gabage disposal.

  • Dick

    A lot of these sports talkers and writers have their own little schticks and agendas. Felger is a contrarian. He will check the way the wind is blowing and always go the opposite way. Ron Borges has a pathalogical hatred of Bill Belichick. His articles have no credibility because of it. Shaughnessy doesn’t seem to have any friends with the local teams. A lot of people were surprised when Tito did a book with him.

    One thing they all seem to have in common is that once they take a position, they don’t want to budge from it, like Cafardo and Bobby V. It became apparent that the Red Sox were a train wreck yet he kept going out of his way to defend him.

  • KG

    Wow, nice piece. I’ve only been here since September so I haven’t gotten immersed in the sports culture (and probably won’t since I’ve got my own home teams to bitch and moan about). But this sounds fairly the sports scene back home where I was a reporter for a few years. Lazy reporters asking lazy questions and the “name” reporters resting on their past glory. Now can someone explain the two brain-dead idiots doing the Red Sox broadcasts? You’d think Remy, a former player would have SOMETHING insightful to say, but… nope.

  • http://twitter.com/notwallygm NotWally

    Often, it seems like members of the Boston sports media are simply there to serve as PR agents of the organizations that they are “reporting” on. To me, that answers the question of why a journalist from outside the circle of Boston sports media, like Jeff Passan, can break a big story on the Boston Red Sox — Passan isn’t dependent on the Red Sox for his paycheck.

    Pete Abraham and Nick Cafardo, on the other hand, serve as commentators on the FSG-owned NESN; making Red Sox ownership partially responsible for their income. They simply don’t have the independence to do honest reporting on the team.

    That fact, in and of itself, isn’t wrong — I’m not suggesting that we pull part of their income and take food out of their mouths (although a few months on Slim Fast wouldn’t hurt either of them), but people like Abraham and Cafardo shouldn’t be allowed to label themselves as “journalists”, either. They are not journalists, they are PR men for the Red Sox.

  • Phil

    Mr. Siegel, the great Ray Fitzgerald was also at the Globe in the 1970′s.

  • Jon

    Greg Bedard needed to be mentioned earlier in this story. His piece on the Pats’ no huddle is routinely mentioned as one of the best stories written this fall. If he keeps it up I’m sure he won’t stick around at the Globe for much longer. And Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston should have been mention. Anyone who takes the time to breakdown special teams snaps certainly isn’t going with the status quo.

  • berger

    This is great, but the author doesn’t seem to know that the Bruins exist. I don’t know what to say anymore when even the people covering the people covering the Boston scene are indifferent to the B’s. Really sad that with such a good/interesting team there’s no coverage (or coverage of the lack of coverage).

    • Pete

      Agreed that it’s disappointing that the author makes no mention of hockey. In my opinion, Kevin Dupont is a very good writer who flies under the radar.

  • stuck working

    While I generally agree with this analysis, I think it’s a bit unfair to Peter Abraham. He may have missed the story about players meeting with ownership about Valentine and he may be weirdly defensive about that even now, but he is being innovative in some ways. Unlike Cafardo, Abraham understands and uses both social media and advanced statistics, so I wouldn’t lump them together.

  • John Paul

    On behalf of the part of America that is not over 50, white, male and from Boston, may I please shrug emphatically and say, who effing cares? Not even sure how one shrugs “emphatically” but after reading this thumb sucking pile of Boston horse fart, I want to shrug at your face. Please do society a favor and spend a day at a soup kitchen.

  • giles

    I agree with most of this article. I kind of wish it had gone on for longer so we could criticize more of the lame Boston sports media. People in other parts of the country dont understand how bad our sportswriters are – especially because 25 years ago, all the country’s best sports journalists came from Boston.

    Surprised Gasper wasn’t mentioned. He is a hack.

    • Media Mogul

      Giles is right. Chris Gaspar is AWFUL. Nothing compelling or interesting about any of his columns.

  • Mike Benedict

    And the inevitable response will be, “Bloggers, get off my lawn!”

  • John Simmons

    I met Shaughnessy once in an airport bar after Sox game in Seattle. I had on a Schilling shirt. First thing out of the guy’s mouth “I can’t believe you walk around in a Schilling jersey” …. this 3 years after he pitched the shut down game 6 in Yankee Stadium. I’m from Boston, and I moved away to California, and the self-loathing, miserable we have it so rough and think we are so tough attitude of new englanders is why I moved away. On top of which the sports dynasty decade is now calling curtain close, we will see how these reporters fair. I was back in town the week before Pats/Ravens game, driving listening to the sports radio. Not one single person had even a shred of doubt Pats would win that game. That is ridiculous considering the Pats had lost 2 of lsat 3, and Brady has his worst QB rating against that team….nope doesn’t matter. Pats win. I agree, time to evolve.

    • Brian

      I don’t think that was particularly unique to the Boston media, though. The vast majority or national media picked the Pats and Vegas had them as 10 point favorites. Sometime everyone is wrong.

  • Jon

    This is right on with regard to the arrogance of blowhards like Shaughnessy, Dennis and Callahan, and well done for recognizing the talents of Bedard and Speier.

    On the other hand, there’s perhaps too much of a local focus here. Whatever the shortcomings of the Globe’s team, their sports section remains one of the best of any newspaper in the nation.

  • Paul

    How about mentioning Ryen Rusillo and his dealings with that dick on EEI’s morning show event?

  • Shelly

    Thanks to my XM radio I don’t have to listen to all the crap.

    I Got my horseracing,Blues,and Business channels.Beautiful!

  • JJ

    Boston media think they’re bigger than the sports teams . With ESPN and other outlets who always ask their opinion , they have begun to think they’re bigger than the sports they cover

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charles-Farris/1476476891 Charles Farris

    Great article. Spot on.