BOSTON -- It was October 21, 1975, and
By the time
History tapped him on the shoulder before he could get any deeper. One of 35,205 bedside mourners, he watched the crowd jump to life as Carbo rocketed a 2-2 fastball into the centerfield seats, tying the game. Ripping the sheet from his typewriter, Fitzgerald let it fall to the floor. Like a groupie filching a lead singer's playlist, Visser snatched the discarded lede. "Ray was a god to me," she says.
Sox fans never read her deity's doubts the next day. After
The next morning's headline read: "THE GREATEST GAME EVER!" Fitz-philes like novelist
From the mid-1970s to the early '80s, the
Space? They were afforded reams. Money? Smith rarely heard the term "budget" used at the family-owned paper. Editorial guidance? Only this: Reinvent the form. Take risks.
In a Red Sox-crazy town, Smith managed a lineup that was sportswriting's equivalent of the 1927 Yankees. Filing from Fenway was
They went national with their endless travel but remained true to the locals. Blue-collar diehards could belly up to a Southie bar and drink in the details. Townies talking hockey scanned the wordage of
"To be in those pages was a dream," says
The pieces all came together in 1975. As politicians tip-toed around Boston's tinderbox of busing-related racial issues, the
Shaughnessy, now the lead columnist, can still recite Gammons' intro and keeps the hot-type cube that was used to print Fitzgerald's headshot in his desk at home as a talisman. That lost lede has survived, too. Visser, who left the paper in 1982 for TV, preserves the sheet at her home in Boca Raton, Fla. "We all wanted to write like that," she says. "You never knew what Ray would pull out of his hat."
The linebackers coach, then in his second season as a NFL assistant, needed a seat on the team's flight. The 20-year veteran football reporter, who traveled with the squad, had an opening next to him. It was the fall of 1980 and the ultimate insider would be able to add
McDonough's access was unmatched. Colleagues would sit within listening distance of his steel desk and marvel at the names on his call list. Raiders owner
Though he was cozy with many, the former quarterback from South Boston's Old Colony Projects never muted his competitiveness. In 1979, New England Patriots cornerback
McDonough punched out stories even quicker than he whipped up on players. To piece together an article, the 1984 Pulitzer Prize finalist would take a rumor, run it through his Rolodex and reveal the inner workings of the day's dealings. His streetwise characteristics played well with his subjects. "The players were drawn to him," says
That McDonough's published collections of information were referred to as "Notebooks" was ironic. The man was all but allergic to notepad paper, refusing to write things down. Exclusive information like his drove the section, though. In 1973, the
McDonough wrote for all fan bases. When
It was reporting with a straight face, though, that made McDonough a pioneer. Following in the footsteps of Collins -- the first sportswriter to appear regularly on national television when he went on CBS in 1968 -- McDonough appeared on NBC's football telecasts a decade later. Though Collins eventually left the staff for television, contributing tennis and travel columns, McDonough remained a newspaperman first. On Sundays he showed off his craggy visage and cabbie hat from the Foxboro sidelines or out-of-town stadiums. The added face time grew his name, as well as the
When McDonough died of a heart attack at age 67 in 2003, his family worried about how they would accommodate all the readers who would want to pay homage in person. "We figured we could help," Sinden says. On the carpeted floor of the FleetCenter (now T.D. BankNorth Garden), which is owned by the Bruins, friends, family and readers flocked to pay their last respects to McDonough, lying in his coffin like a head of state. "I'm not sure you'll see that again," Parcells says.
The job started before dawn, just as his father returned from his 12-hour shift as a city cop. By route's end the lad's hands invariably were always ink-stained. John Powers, the oldest of six children, started as a newspaper delivery boy when he was 11, slinging a bag over his shoulder and marching six blocks. Sundays were always the weightiest because of extra copies of
Powers' route took him farther than most. For high school, he attended Boston Latin and gained acceptance to Harvard in 1965. Before moving on, he handed his newsboy duties off to his next younger brother,
Like the majority of the staff at the time, Powers was a writer, not a talker. Stymied by a stutter, he felt uncomfortable asking questions of athletes. To compensate he cut a wide swath, researching pieces that showed depth and range, spending 19 days per month on the road. After earning Massachusetts writer of the year honors, the frequent flyer was part of a team that won a Pulitzer for international news reporting. "Pound-for-pound he was the best writer," Shaughnessy says.
Not all aspirants were hired to the staff.
Another future star who got away was
Smith, who was not a writer as previous editors had been, made the section easier to read with a scoreboard page and by using larger photos. "Montville painted portraits with words," Smith says. "You don't mess with Van Gogh's strokes. You sell them."
Montville, also a newsboy from New Haven, Conn., wrote long-form pieces that made T riders miss their stops. The staples at his desk were a Coca-Cola, a cheeseburger and the haze of smoke billowing from his burning cigarettes. "I never thought I'd read another Fitz, and then came Leigh," says
When a new byline impressed Winship, he left a note for the writer, requesting that the staffer pay him a visit. He wasn't enamored of everything that drew his attention. Powers and others slipped phrases like "It was as if a right hand came out of the occult" into the paper. By the time 10 to 15 writers had qualified for the occult "secret society" Winship found out and banned the line thereafter.
But shenanigans took a back seat to sophistication. Smith encouraged writers to review games as if they were dramatic shows. Assistant editor
Winship, a Harvard man who admittedly knew little about sports, welcomed outside writers and put their work above the fold. In 1979, Updike tried his hand at daily journalism. On Opening Day, he covered the Sox game with Fitzgerald and returned to the newsroom that evening. Ushered past the paste pots, pneumatic tubes, AP wire room and given a desk to write at, Updike struggled before delivering "First Kiss," which ran on the paper's front page.
When finished with his work, Updike asked to stay and see the process through. Exposed to the innards of newspaper production, he walked with Mulvoy to the presses. "There's nothing special here," Mulvoy said, "but feel free to inhale the dust with me." Together they retired to a cup of tea and some toast with Fitzgerald. That evening and into night, Updike was of their nocturnal world. The novelist had learned what it was to be a newspaperman.
First pitch on a Sunday night in April at Fenway is 90 minutes away, but there goes Gammons, notepad in hand, pen cocked and ready behind home plate as the Yankees take batting practice. "I still think about those days," says Gammons, who is in his 21st year at ESPN, as he points to the press box. "I miss the competition, the running down to the clubhouse and back up to write."
Gammons arrived as an intern in the summer of 1968 on the same day as Ryan. He was a rising senior at North Carolina; Ryan was a recent Boston College graduate. Their first assignment was to call around to cities with major league baseball teams to gauge how Major League Baseball had reacted to the assassination of
For someone who had realized that he wanted to be a sportswriter while arguing sports in a bar, Gammons could not have found a more able debate partner than Ryan. Both had attended elite prep schools (Gammons, Groton; Ryan, Lawrenceville) but were capable of rolling up their sleeves and throwing down, using encyclopedic and arcane knowledge as haymakers. Verbal jousts were a part of the eccentric
Ryan's passion was primordial. The son of an athletics promoter who grew up mimicking Princeton star
Their fervor was revealed in their work habits. Gammons -- who hailed from Groton, Mass., the same small hometown as Shaughnessy -- would arrive at Fenway by noon most days and not leave until after midnight. At 23, Ryan caught on with the Celtics beat, and played catch-up until he became an authority -- perhaps
While Gammons left the
Despite their divergent paths, they've reached unequalled heights. "They weren't just columnists," says retired political columnist
Ryan's cubicle is a reliquary. A photo of
In early May, at the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in Salisbury, N.C., Ryan received the Sportswriter of the Year honors on the same night that Montville, who left the
They all fear the day is coming when there will be no front page of the sports section to commemorate a championship won, no all-scholastic contribution to schoolboy lore and no tout telling you there's more coverage inside. In recent years buyouts have gutted the staff and budget cuts have restricted its travel. The New York Times Co., which bought the paper for $1.1 billion as its "crown jewel" in 1993, threatened to close its doors last month, but later reached an agreement with the paper's unions that spared it for now.
After all the five-hour Yankee/Sox games and the triple-overtime NBA Finals contests, there has always been morning in New England. Talking to Powers about buyouts, Ryan, now 63, said he wasn't interested. Powers, who along with Shaughnessy and Dupont are the only other staffers still left from that '70s golden age, offered that even without the paper, surely Ryan would be comfortable given his television work opportunities. Ryan disagreed. He explained that when he appears on