When Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan announced this week on Bill Simmons podcast, The B.S. Report that he would be retiring after this summer's Olympic games in London, it got plenty of attention, even if it wasn't the first time that Ryan had made that statement.
Uncomfortable with the modern sports media world of blogging and tweeting, Ryan is deciding to go out on his own terms, while he is still young and healthy enough to do things he and his wife have always wanted to do. You certainly can't begrudge a guy that. He won't completely disappear; I imagine the Globe will still have him write the occasional column, and you'll see and hear him on the air, perhaps even more than he is now.
Ryan is one of the last of his kind. There aren't many sports writers left around here who watched Dave Cowens, let alone Bill Russell. Ryan's NBA passion and knowledge is unmatched, but he knows the other sports better than most. The last vestige of the glory days of the Globe sports department, ironically, he and fellow legend Peter Gammons began work the same day at the paper, and their first story was co-bylined together - a story about reaction to Major League Baseball not suspending games in the wake of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. That story ran on June 11th, 1968.
With the exception of a short hiatus to do television, Ryan has been at the Globe ever since. He's had his controversial moments, including a suspension after comments about Joumana Kidd (The then-wife of Jason Kidd) during an appearance on WBZ-TV's Sports Final back in 2003, but for the most part his career has been highly distinguished. The respect he garners nationally is palpable, and can be seen from his regular appearances on ESPN's Sports Reporters and other shows. Journalists from around the country gush about Ryan, including Simmons, who credits the former Celtics beat man with shaping how he views the game.
Given all of that, I've often wondered - why he doesn't get the same respect at his own paper? Oh, I'm sure the people there at the paper revere him and relish the opportunity to work with him, yet, the paper has for years promoted Dan Shaughnessy as its top columnist and the 'face' of the paper (and indeed, of all New England sports).
When the local team is in the championship round, it's Shaughnessy who does the front page story, complete with his picture prominently featured. (Ruining more than one souvenir edition for some people.) Sports editor Joe Sullivan gushingly speaks of Shaughnessy, anointing him the "bravest columnist in the country." I honestly can't remember him ever saying anything about Bob Ryan. The view was the same under previous editor Don Skwar as well. When there were big games, more often than not, Ryan was sent out on the road to write about the opposition, and Shaughnessy stayed at home and wrote his formulaic columns. While Ryan is too much of a professional to ever complain publicly about it, you know he is seething at the idea that Shaughnessy is considered his equal, or even superior.
The saying goes that "no prophet is accepted in his home territory." Perhaps this is true here. Shaughnessy has made his name off the "curse,' playing to the negative fans and writing biting, attacking columns for attention. Ryan has been churning out columns based on his passion for sports for 44 years now, to the applause and admiration of a nationwide audience. Yet, his own employer would rather promote a guy with practically no interest in sports other than baseball, and who has made his name in a way that turns as many people off as it does entertain. Makes sense to me.
Enjoy Bob Ryan while you still have him, folks.