Full disclosure: I have no inside knowledge about what happened in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse during the month of September, or the inner workings of how the Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler compiled his front-page post-mortem last week. I write this speculation simply as someone who was a sports reporter a lifetime ago and later a city desk reporter who got to do the hatchet jobs on Pittsburgh pro sports teams that the sports desk wouldn’t touch.
Here’s a broad generalization about the sports journalists I have known in my career: they are, by and large, super fans, suffering from a Stockholm syndrome of sorts, held hostage by the teams and athletes they cover. Their freedom is an off-the-record or not-for-attribution comment that gives them a minor scoop in the competitive, horse-race nature of covering major league teams.
They will be the first to call a guy out when he’s not playing up to his multi-million dollar contract or question a coach’s late-game strategy decision that led to a loss. But when it comes to reporting the really compelling stuff — stuff like star players drinking beer, eating fried chicken, playing video games and shrugging off instructions from a strength coach — they’re not going to cover it. I have former students who have interned for the Red Sox and NESN, and if they can figure out who is sleeping with whom and who is not doing what they’re supposed to, you’re going to have a tough time convincing me that beat reporters who spend almost every working moment following the team didn’t know at least some of the behind-the-scenes reasons of why the Sox collapsed so spectacularly.
So I wasn’t really surprised that Hohler’s article A) ran after the season ended and B) was written by someone who doesn’t cover baseball — or sports, for that matter — on a regular basis. The Atlantic has a pretty good post-mortem of Hohler’s post mortem, ultimately concluding “Boston’s media outlets, including the Globe itself, [need to] take a hard look at their own rules about covering the beloved team.”
City desk hatchet men
I started my career as a sports journalist before realizing I didn’t like watching sports enough to make a career of it. When I moved to news that brief stint covering high school basketball, college hockey and Legion baseball somehow qualified me to cover the construction of two professional sports stadiums in Pittsburghs. Our task, as city desk reporters, was to look for “the gold plated toilets” worked into the publicly-funded stadium deals the teams got.
As a result, the owners of two professional sports teams have started interviews with me using almost the same exact quote. It’s been awhile but I still remember being asked as we sat down “So…how are you going to fuck me today?”