Catching Up With Legendary Boston Globe Columnist Bob Ryan
Longtime Boston Globe columnist BOB RYAN went into “semi-retirement” following the London Games. Inspired by the likes of JIM MURRAY of the L.A. Times and SI's FRANK DEFORD, Ryan spent his entire 44-year career with the Globe. As he heads into the next phase of his career, which includes occasional columns for the Globe as well as continued television appearances, Ryan discussed his career, the sports media industry, the Red Sox and the things he enjoys in his free time.
Q: What was it that drew you to journalism?
Ryan: It was very simple: I liked to read. My father would take me to a high school basketball game on Friday night and I didn’t feel the experience was validated until I read about it in the paper the next day. I wanted to see what was said about the game that I just saw. It’s just that simple. That’s the way I’m wired.
Q: What is the most memorable moment of your career?
Ryan: There’s no such thing, really and truly. I couldn’t say that because it’s not the way. You can talk about the top five, six, 10, 100 sporting events that I covered and we can discuss that. As far as the most memorable, I really can’t say because there are different stages of your career.
Q: Where do you see the sports media industry going in the foreseeable future?
Ryan: Digitalization is the thing, and online stuff is now the driver of the car and the newsprint is being left behind and will in time be eliminated entirely. I know newspapers are doomed. There’s no recovery process possible in my opinion because of the financial circumstances of it, the advertising that is lost and will never be regained. Plus, you can’t replenish readers; young people aren’t in the habit of reading the paper, it’s not part of their thinking, they go immediately online. There’s going to be writing opportunities, but I don’t think the sheer numbers of them will match what there would have been at the peak of the mid-20th century newspapers when every city had two viable papers and some had more. Now, you have circumstances where major cities have papers that only publish three times a week, which is a frightening thing but it’s going to continue like that. … It’s a very, very different experience writing as a generic face on a website for a national audience opposed to being the guy in the town, interacting with people on a personal basis. It’s a very different sensation. It’s not as good and it’s not as fulfilling as that newspaper experience.
Q: What concerns you about the industry and what gives you optimism?
Ryan: The Twitter world has perverted any concept of perspective. When everything is judged on pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play, moment-by-moment, that eliminates the sense of perspective and it’s extremely dangerous. It’s wrong. That’s where we are and who’s going to stop it? The idea of people who are allowed to let things simmer and play out, you can’t let things play out, you have to have an instant play-by-play of everything. That’s not the way sports should be. And certain sports are hurt more than others. When they start looking at baseball games the way they do football games, that’s a problem. Baseball needs time to play out. When that’s not allowed, it’s bad. The nature of the dialogue, the whole talk-show thing, instant analysis and the fact that in the talk-show sense, it is better to be negative then to be positive, is a problem. I don’t see it getting any better.
Q: Do you feel coverage has become angrier or snarkier?
Ryan: When I started, it wasn’t automatic that everything had to be framed who’s the good guy and who’s to blame. It used to be you played a game or had a series, you’d win or lose and you win or lose on merit and you go on. Now, it’s blame; “Who do we blame? Who’s at fault?” That’s the natural instinct, that’s the way people frame things. That’s very dangerous and that’s bad. ... I don’t know who is going to stand up and say, “Let’s stop doing this,” but no one is in position to do that.
Q: How has the relationship between media and athletes changed?
Ryan: Everybody always assumes it’s about the money. I don’t think it’s about the money; it’s just about the access. The theory was true, though, the idea was they could make money by publicizing them. We were their conduit to the fans; we would portray them in ways that would humanize them and all that. It may have been true to an extent. Now they don’t need us. They go right to their own website, they have their own ways, they can tweet with their public, so they don’t need us for that at all. A lot of them don’t see any need to have a relationship with the day-to-day print media, for example, whereas many people cover the team for radio stations or so forth or for websites. That’s the thing: they don’t need us for that. Plus, the simple access factor, the nature of how I went about my business in the 70s and 80s. Today, if I was able to demonstrate that to anybody who covers the NBA, for example, they would not believe it.
Q: Which players or owners have you enjoyed covering the most?
Ryan: My most enjoyable player, by far, had the combination of his play, which was exciting and always fun to watch, and his personality, which was unmatched. I never had anyone like him -- DAVE COWENS. Dave Cowens is absolutely the most unique person in the history of the NBA as a personality. He was a completely uninhibited guy who looked at every day freshly and was intellectually curious. ... Best example of Dave Cowens, and I can give you many: he wins a championship; they beat Milwaukee in ’74. It was an afternoon game in Milwaukee and we were flying back that night. There’s a change of planes in Chicago and I caught up with him and I said, “Hey Dave, you did it, it’s over. You got it done. How do you feel?” He said, “Well, for me the fun is in the doing. I just look at this as something for my portfolio of basketball experiences.” That is the single best line I have ever gotten in 44 years and no one will ever get a better line from an athlete than that.
Q: How do you like to relax?
Ryan: I love music, it’s always been a very important thing in my life. Reading, of course. Movies -- I used to be a real big movie guy. I’ve fallen off the last couple years. Now that I’m semi-retired, I’m assuming I’ll have more time than I’ve had the last couple of years to get back into movies. And travel, of course. I’m looking forward to a lot of different travel opportunities. There’s no day, I can’t imagine growing up, that I can possibly remember the radio is on all day. I wouldn’t back out of the driveway without satellite radio. That isn’t going to happen. Or with 10 or 12 CDs in the car at any given time. That’s very standard, that’s normal living, I think.
Q: Who are your favorite musical artists?
Ryan: I’m a jazz guy and I’m a '50s and '60s rock and roll guy. My three jazz icons are COUNT BASIE, BUDDY RICH and ZOOT SIMS. And rock and roll -- nothing fancy here. THE BEATLES -- everything ever said and done by them is fantastic. They were a phenomenon unlike anything else and they were. And nothing ever matched their peak popularity. I was nine years old when ELVIS sang “Heartbreak Hotel” and I was into that. … I’m a SINATRA guy, and that’s a whole subculture that’s just beyond. My level of Sinatra knowledge is probably better than 90% of people on this Earth. But is 1/10th of 1% of the knowledge of the other 10%.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: I’m just throwing a few off the top of my head: “CASABLANCA” is my favorite. It’s such a cliché, isn’t it? But it’s my favorite movie; I can watch it once a week. “BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI,” fantastic movie; A great comedy, “LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS.” I loved that movie. “GUIDE TO THE MARRIED MAN” -- an hysterical movie and one that you ought to rent one day, a fantastic movie. Of course, “THE GODFATHER.” If it comes down to one, as cliché as it is, the reason is it’s so damn good and it’s “Casablanca.”
Q: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
A: Paris. I’ve been there about 10 times. I’m going back in November. I can never get enough of Paris. That’s my favorite place of a lot of places -- the Greek Islands. For that kind of getaway, for all the kind of beachy and sun-splashed getaways to the Caribbean, Bermuda, the best one is the Greek Islands.
Q: How are you enjoying semi-retirement?
A: It’s awful early. Three of the four weeks that I was in this new status, I was on vacation so it didn’t seem like anything different. This is the second week that I’m not out of town and with a new routine. ... I’m doing a column for the Globe, 30-40 a year is what we’re talking about. ... I’m settling into this whole thing, but I have lot of TV work, fortunately, which is going to keep me occupied.