Glory days of The Boston Globe: the greatest sports staff ever
In its hey day, the Globe featured Ray Fitzgerald, Leigh Montville, Peter Gammons, Will McDonough, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, John Powers among its stars
Nine former or current Globe sportswriters are in various Halls of Fame
Call it off. Call the seventh game off. Let the World Series stand this way, three games for the Cincinnati Reds and three for the Boston Red Sox ...
BOSTON -- It was October 21, 1975, and Lesley Visser, then a recent Boston College graduate, sat in the second row of a smoke-filled Fenway Park press box. Game 6 of the World Series between the Hub's Red Sox and Cincinnati's Big Red Machine unfurled on the field beneath, but she fixed her eyes on Ray Fitzgerald, the middle-aged man with the boxer's nose and poet's touch, one seat in front of her. Four days a week Visser read his lyric verses in the sports pages of The Boston Globe. On this night, she peered over his left shoulder to glimpse at an early edition.
By the time Bernie Carbo came to bat as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth with two out and two men on, the Sox, trailing 6-3 in the game and 3-2 in the series, faced elimination. The seemingly unhittable Luis (El Tiante) Tiant had been touched for six runs, and had left the game, too late, in the inning's top half. Fitzgerald, a former minor league pitcher, was resigned to eulogizing another season. He began to type: You could feel it slipping away.
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 Carlton Fisk hit the game-winning homer in the 12th, Fitzgerald changed tone:
How can there be a topper for what went on last night and early this morning in a ballyard gone mad, madder and maddest while watching well, the most exciting game of baseball I've ever seen.
The next morning's headline read: "THE GREATEST GAME EVER!" Fitz-philes like novelist John Updike found his work infectious. As an entertainer, Fitzgerald played to New England's parochial pockets with humor and an uneven smile. A black-and-white photo of him ran atop his column on the section's front page. The inside pages brought forth the Globe sports staff's full body of work in all its splendor. What they produced each day was nothing less than a revolution of how newspapers covered sports.
From the mid-1970s to the early '80s, the Globe contained arguably the greatest collection of reporting talent ever assembled in a sports section, one that was unrivaled in its time and is sure never to be duplicated in an industry that today is bleeding talent. In those halcyon days, the staff's charge from hard-driving editor Dave Smith was: If a story warranted front-page space, cover it live. Reporter Will McDonough's directive back to Smith was elemental enough to be a Twitter post: "Get us space, money and get out of the way."
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 Peter Gammons, a fast-typing twenty-something who shagged flies in the outfield with the team most afternoons and scooped opposing writers in the clubhouse at night. Covering the Celtics courtside at the old Boston Garden above North Station was Bob Ryan, forever talking 75 mph in a 50 mph zone. High above the Hub's happenings was mustachioed columnist Leigh Montville, who, as Gammons says, "saw the world from a hot-air balloon." Blowing in and out of town was the correspondent Bud Collins, who commented on all sports but who was (and is) renowned as the greatest tennis writer extant. Joining Gammons at the Fens was Larry Whiteside, a pioneer by being the only African-American on the beat. Each of these writers contributed coverage for the '75 Series. Six of the Globe's 10 bylined reporters would go on to be honored by various Halls of Fame, with one (John Powers) winning a Pulitzer Prize.
"We had DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth," says Smith.
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 Francis Rosa. Driving the high school beat were "Neil's Wheels": the trio of Visser, Dan Shaughnessy and Kevin Paul Dupont, working for schools editor Neil Singelais.
"To be in those pages was a dream," says Jim Craig, speaking of his high-school days in Easton, Mass. Craig, of course, later would receive even more play as a star at Boston University and then would crash the paper's front page as the goalie for the 1980 gold-medal-winning U.S, Olympic "Miracle on Ice" hockey team.