The first day started with a bang. I got sideswiped by a Bloodmobile on Storrow Drive. It messed up the fender on my Plymouth Valiant, but I was OK. Hey, I was off on a new adventure.
It was Monday, June 10, 1968. Yup, 50 years ago. It was my first day as a summer intern for the Boston Globe.
There were three sports interns. There was Dave Martin. There was me. And there was this guy from Groton, Mass., via the University of North Carolina. Peter Gammons. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
As soon as I learned he was a Tar Heel, the basketball talk began. We had a recent history. A year earlier, Carolina had knocked off my Boston College Eagles to reach Dean Smith’s first Final Four. Oh, yes, there was lots of basketball talk.
But there was also a lot of baseball talk. He loved baseball, and so did I. As the years passed I have come to believe that I don’t know anyone who loves anything as much as Peter Gammons loves baseball.
The sound of a newspaper office in those days was the clack-clacking of sturdy typewriters. If you wanted to smoke, you smoked. The floor was an appropriate ashtray. And, of course, phones rang constantly. Dial phones, that is.
The newspaper we walked into was entering its journalistic prime. What had long been a sleeping giant of American journalism was now wide awake under the leadership of editor Tom Winship, who would, for whatever reason, take a particular interest in our intern class. Newspapers were king. Radio was about music. TV was no big deal.
There were three Boston newspaper entities and each had separate morning and evening editions. The Globe actually had two separate sports staffs. Fran Rosa was the morning sports editor. Ernie Roberts was the evening sports editor. The legendary Jerry Nason was the executive sports editor. Since 1941 he had written six columns a week, the highlight being his famed Saturday notes column. During the fall he assigned himself a local college football game.
Jerry Nason was a journalistic titan. He was among the handful of most noted track and field experts in the land and had been a staple at the Summer Olympics since 1948. But his favorite day of the year was that Monday in April when the starting gun went off in Hopkinton. No one, before or since, has written about the Boston Marathon with such knowledge and passion. In terms of coverage, Nason truly owned the Boston Marathon, making folk heroes out of such stalwarts as Clarence DeMar and Tarzan Brown.
Peter Gammons and I entered the business at the tail end of an era that hadn’t changed in any substantial fashion in perhaps 50 years. We wrote on typewriters with carbon paper copies. Our copy was handed to a member of the desk, who did the appropriate editing (hopefully, not too much), wrote the required headline, slapped the headline onto the top of the copy by smearing it with glue, rolled it up, and then slipped it into a plastic receptacle before sending it to the composing room via a pneumatic tube. There it was typed into the Linotype machine by yet another expert. If you were at a local arena or stadium or if you were on the road, you first handed your copy to the Western Union guy, who typed it into the teletype machine. That’s a lot of middle men.
Today, of course, it’s all instantly computerized.
If all else failed, you could always dictate, something I did at an NBA Finals as late as 1995 (my computer went kablooey).
We worked with some colorful characters. Roger Birtwell’s baseball experience went back to the Coolidge administration. When he learned I was from Trenton, N.J., he asked me if the Hotel Hildebrecht was still in existence. I told him it was, and he said, “Ah, I stayed there when I covud the Hahvud-Princeton game in twenty-fowah.” Roger was renowned for ambling into Fenway day games in his bedroom slippers sometime around the fifth inning, saying, “Fill me in, boys.”
OMG, Clif Keane! There are no more Clif Keanes. He was a professional needler, both in person and in print. Everyone in baseball knew him. He was so (in)famous that the great Frank Deford wrote an entire Sports Illustrated article about him. All Frank had to do was trail around Clif for a few days and he had enough for a book, let alone an article.
But Clif Keane did not lack for social graces. He always made sure that the young Bob Ryan and young Peter Gammons were introduced to everyone in the room.
John Ahern was right out of Gatsby. He loved boxing, hockey, yacht racing, and cigars, in no particular order. ’Tis said he changed his outfit three times a day at Marblehead Race Week. He was a name-dropper supreme. You would have thought he was best man at Rocky Marciano’s wedding. His big advice to me: “Bobby boy, never read your own stuff.” I could never grasp that one. I was from the Jimmy Breslin school. Breslin famously said that his biggest thrill was sitting next to someone on the subway who was reading his column. I like my stuff. I’m not ashamed to say it.
I’m pretty sure there will be no more Clif Keanes, but I am 100 percent sure there will never be another Jack Barry. That mold went out in the celestial trash a long time ago.
The following is not a hyperbolic statement: Jack Barry was the nicest man I have ever known. I know I am not alone in that belief. Born in Cambridge in 1909, he went to his grave in 1975 with no enemies. He was guileless and honest. He was also a damn good newspaper man and a staunch ally of the Celtics when they needed all the journalistic friends they could get. He had been in attendance at their first practice in 1946 and he preached the basketball gospel in what was then, and which to a large extent still remains, a hockey town. Among other distinctions, he conceived of and popularized the concept of a basketball “turnover,” when a team loses the ball in some form without getting off a shot. It had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was the brain of Jack Barry.
How to explain Harold Kaese? He was insightful. He was meticulous. He was, frankly, an intellectual who would have been a great university professor. He was Boston’s foremost repository of Red Sox lore. He kept notes in tiny notebooks with a script that could only be described as personal hieroglyphics. He could compose an entire column on the back of a postage stamp. Though he had a slight limp, he was a champion squash player. In addition, I once stumbled on an old scorebook in which the cleanup man for Tufts was “Kaese, 3B.”
I could go on and on, but one more notable member of the cast who had a big influence on me was the late Ray Fitzgerald. He left us way too soon, a cancer victim. Ray Fitzgerald was one of the great columnists America has ever produced. Humor writing is tricky. He was a master.
Oops, almost forgot Tom Fitzgerald. Fitzy was a hockey writer with an ornate style. My friend Kevin O’Malley joked that Fitzy wrote game stories as if he were introducing an after-dinner speaker. But he knew his hockey. But Fitzy didn’t always appreciate Messrs. Gammons and Ryan. One day he interrupted one of our animated, ahem, discussions with this one: “Is my typing disturbing your conversation?”
Now I don’t know whatever happened to Dave Martin, but I do know that Gammons has done all right for himself. His baseball game stories were works of elevated literature, and it is a given in the American sportswriting business that no one — repeat, no one — has ever written a better Sunday notes column in any sport than the ones Peter Gammons turned out for the Boston Globe before he defected to Sports Illustrated and then to television. His enshrinement as the 2004 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner at the Baseball Hall of Fame was a formality.
June 10, 1968. I was a lucky guy. Still am.Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.