By Bob Ryan
326 pages, $27
By Budd Bailey
NEWS BOOK REVIEWER
Hang around some longtime sportswriters who have been around the block on their jobs for years and years, and you’ll discover that enthusiasm for work is sometimes in short supply. The games and stories can blend together after a while, and the lack of curiosity and adventure that comes with the start of each journalistic effort can be lacking.
This has never been a problem for Bob Ryan, the veteran reporter and columnist for the Boston Globe. As he says near the end of his autobiography, “Scribe,” he hopes that most people will associate him with enthusiasm. No doubt this book will only add to that reputation.
Ryan’s attitude is reminiscent of the late Roger Ebert, the great Chicago film critic. Ebert once said when the lights went down and the movies started, he always hoped he’d see something great. Ryan clearly loves watching the games, with writing about them and talking about them just behind in the personal priority list. The chance to spend a few hundred pages some of the personal highlights of his career must have been close to irresistible.
Most life stories by journalists follow the same pattern. There are some chapters about his or her early years, and then it’s on to the stories about the famous and gifted encountered along the way. In Ryan’s case, most of his childhood was spent in Trenton, N.J. His father had some connections with sports, the perfect connection for a son obsessed with all things athletic. When Dad died when Bob was just past double digits in age, Mom did her best to feed the sports beast within her son.
Ryan went to Boston College, and walked in the Boston Globe door for his first day as an intern with Peter Gammons. Has there ever been a sports department of a newspaper that lucky? Gammons became a Hall of Fame baseball writer and might be the most important person in that particular field over the past 40 years. Ryan landed on the basketball beat with the Boston Celtics, and needed no time to establish a national reputation for excellence. While Gammons stayed in the baseball business, Ryan eventually branched out to column work – which took him to plenty of baseball and football games along with some golf tournaments and some Olympic Games. That sound you hear is most of the sportswriters in America saying, “Nice work if you can get it.”
Ryan might have simply stayed a popular regional voice in New England had the rules of the business not evolved. ESPN started in 1979, talk radio soon followed, and there was a demand for smart voices from the sports business. Well, that was Ryan, clearly willing to talk to anyone who was willing to listen. He started becoming an ESPN regular on “The Sports Reporters,” followed by work on “PTI” and “Around the Horn.” That doesn’t include other appearances on radio and television, naturally. Lately, Ryan has popped up on Twitter. It’s fun to read him there, too.
Of course, the stories come quickly about encounters along the way. Dave Cowens gets the book off to a funny start by coming into Ryan’s hotel room during a Celtics road trip and asking for help in writing a retirement statement. Ryan wrote books with John Havlicek and Larry Bird, so you know they come up, as does legendary Celtics executive Red Auerbach. But so do anecdotes about such national figures as Bobby Knight and Chuck Daly. That all may sound basketball-centric, because it is, but there are other tales about other sports.
Ryan recently retired from his full-time job at the Boston Globe, but he’s still doing some writing and television work in “retirement.” And why not? He still loves it, and his wife would probably feel like a zookeeper, feeding the caged animal, had her husband opted to just hang around the house all the time after retirement.
Certainly those who read “Scribe” will receive an extra boost from it if they have some familiarity with Boston sports in general or basketball in particular. Even those who only know Ryan from his television work, though, will share the author’s enthusiasm for a career filled with fun and games after reading his autobiography.
Budd Bailey is an editor in the Buffalo News Sports Department