Though this literary way station (OMiB)is connected to /originates from the Boston area, a quick survey of its contents will reveal that the Hub of the Universe is not frequently represented—an occasional Boston author or a Beantown locale or institution may be mentioned in my postings Thus this conversation with sports guy/radio and TV personality/ Boston Herald columnist/playwright, event planner and author Steve Buckley is the maiden voyage of my initiative to plumb the depths of Boston’s rich cultural life. More on that later.
Buckley, born and raised in Cambridge MA, occupies a big chair on the local media faculty and his Grub Street approach to journalism stems from his distaste for puffed up punditry and attendant cant and pretension. Despite a regular presence in the sports blab machine for over two decades, I suspect that as Buckley is a man of many parts , there are aspects of that man of which his large fan base is unaware—making the conversation that follows amusing,useful and, methinks, informative.
(Please note that what follows is a reasonably faithful transcription of the conversation that took place at the Diesel Cafe, a bustling coffee emporium in Summerville’s Davis Square which does not follow Elmore Leonard’s 10th rule/trick for good writing— “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”)
SB: Are we starting now?
RB: You wrote a play 20 years ago that is sitting in a drawer. Why didn’t you throw it away?
SB: It represents a body of work that I did during 1990 1991.I started it in 1990 when I was a columnist with the National Sports Daily which went out of business in June of ’91. And I had 6 months remaining on my contract and I was getting paid very well.
SB: I was.
RB: I know, I know the National’s story*.
SB: So I had the rest of the year to “putz” about and immediately lined up a whole bunch of free lance things but I also had time to write that play which I work-shopped in Nyack NY at a community theater. They had a program there where they did script-in- hand staged readings of plays.
RB: You were really serious about it?
SB: To the degree that it was something I wanted to try.
RB: You wanted it to be presented.
SB: I’ve never written anything in my life without the intention of it being disseminated. I know there are people who keep logs and diaries. You see them at coffee shops, such as where we are sitting, with their books and journals— I have never been a diarist or a journal keeper. Everything I have ever written besides e-mails or routine correspondence—everything has been with an eye to it being disseminated widely.
RB: And being paid for it.
SB: Oh yeah. I am unabashed about that.
RB: Following the good advice of Samuel Johnson [“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”]
SB: What’s that?
RB: Samuel Johnson was unabashed about it also.
SB: From the very beginning when I graduated from college in 1978 and landed my first newspaper job —I don’t consider myself mercenary. I just consider myself a journalist. There are 2 ways to be a serious writer. One of them is making a living at it and sweat and earn a living and pay your bills. The other is to be of enormous wealth so that you can ply your trade at a leisurely pace. And maybe work even harder because there is no bill to be paid at the end of the day, because your enormous wealth satisfies those demands. If you have neither than I don’t think you can be a very good writer. It was at this very table (Diesel Café, Somerville MA*) a year ago — I met with a young writer who had a full time 9-5, Route 128 job who hungered to be a journalist and did a little bit here and there, part time. He really wanted to be full time and he was serious about it. And I said, “The only way it’s going to happen is you gotta quite your job. Get a job at a newspaper or a magazine somewhere. But this business of doing it part time from your kitchen table isn’t going to take you where you want to be. Either you do it or you don’t. Unless that’s all you desire to be. If you want to do it on the side that’s fine. But the chances of you going from where you are at to the heights diminish greatly unless you throw yourself into it.”
RB: Let’s back up a bit. Your earliest aspirations were what?
SB: Uh, you mean gong back to high school?
RB: Whenever you decided you had aspirations.
SB: I wanted to be a writer of some kind from the time I was 6 years old. I didn’t know what that meant.
RB: Did you start reading at 6?
SB: I started reading in the 1st grade. I do know that in kindergarten, before the other kids were learning to read, I remember my mother and sister showing me the alphabet at the kitchen table. Not like a formal sit-down “ok, it’s time to teach Steven to read.” We were all sitting around and my sister and my mom were pointing out words and I am trying to create the letters and so forth. So I do remember being in the first grade when they started at the very beginning, “This is a, this b”, I already knew what that was. I was a little bit ahead and I remember in the 2nd grade I was going to write a book about the Titanic. And I took a sheet of paper, [and wrote]”The Titanic was a big ship.It sank. People died.” Like that, the typical short declarative sentences that children form.
RB: What prompted you, as a 6 year old to write about the Titanic? The movie? Someone read you the story?
SB: My dad was an amateur historian. He was a truck driver with a tremendous interest in history. My dad was wonderfully anecdotal and he was always telling me stories as a child. So I believe the first I ever heard of the Titanic was from him and then I am guessing one of the movies, the Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb version* was on TV. And I know my aunts used to talk about the Titanic. I remember being aware that there were 2 Buckleys on the Titanic, neither of whom was related to me. I think a Daniel Buckley and an Ann Buckley, I forget. And it just kind of grew from there. I am not passionate about the Titanic as some people are. I am not a Titanic buff. However, tangentially, when the National folded in 1991— from ’91 to ’95, when I took a job as a columnist with the Herald, I did a ton of freelance stuff for Boston Magazine —actually I was full time, I was senior editor of the magazine for a year. At some point in ’92 there was gong to be an 80th anniversary commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic. At that point in time there were still some living survivors—they are all gone now. I remember— I can’t think of her name, an English lady, Lucy? Eva— Eva Hart was her name. The commemoration was going to take place at the Copley Plaza, which interestingly opened in 1912. I think it was chosen for that reason. And Eva Hart, who was one of survivors of the Titanic—I got her on the phone in England and did a very short piece on her. And then in April when the magazine came out at the time the commemoration was going on, I actually went to the Copley Plaza and had tea with her in the Oak Room. I had tea with her and 2 other survivors. It’s funny, I am not an autograph person per se but I did bring a magazine to give to her and I had an extra one with me and figured what the heck. And I wish I had a camera. But three living survivors of the Titanic signed that short article.
RB: Did you get some kind of stronger connection to that historic event sitting with these ladies? Was there some emotional impact for you?
SB: Not to make this less dramatic but I remember what I took out of it was, of the 3 ladies sitting there Eva Hart was the only one of the 3 that had a memory of having been on the Titanic. The other 2 were babies, like 6 months and 8 months and they were handed into the boats and have no memory. And what I took out of that tea session with the 3 ladies was —going home all I could think about was about the 2 ladies, what it must be like going through your entire life being a survivor of the Titanic and having, anytime you are being introduced, to say your entire life, ”I don’t know, I was 6 months old.” My earliest memories in my life were probably at 3. I do have some memories. The house I lived in when I was born, we moved out of in June 1959, which meant that I was 3 years and 2 months old. I have about 30 or 40 chunks of memories of living in that house. Like for some reason I remember that any time you wanted to go to the cellar in our house you had to pull the kitchen table away because the table was up against the cellar door. I always knew when it was Saturday because on Saturday my dad always worked in the cellar doing odds and ends. So went into the kitchen as a little boy I knew my dad was home because that was the only time the table was pushed away.
RB: I don’t think we ever forget anything.
SB: Ok, I’ll leave that up to you. But the ones I can conjure up —those are proof that I have memories of being 3 years old. The point I am trying to make is that I do have memories of 6, 8, 9 months but I can’t put them on the table for you. And again to go back to the original point, leaving that day, all I could think of was those 2 women and living their entire lives and being asked about something they have no memory of.
RB: When you think about things from your past, don’t you wonder what triggers a particular recollection at a particular time.
RB: Which goes to my claim that we don’t forget—but we need certain triggers for our recall. The resume I saw has your journalistic career starting at the National, which doesn’t seem complete to me. How does one refer to the National?
SB: A failed experiment? My resume in no way started with the National.
RB: Exactly. Since I doubt they were hiring off the street I assume you had substantialL experience.
SB:I graduated UMass in 1978.My first job was as a sportswriter at the Westfield Evening News, I was there exactly one year. I went to the Journal Tribune in Biddeford Maine in October 1979 as a news reporter. I was a news reporter for about 6 months and then the sports editor quit to go to the Portland Press Herald and I was asked to replace him. I took the job as a news reporter because I decided I didn’t want to do sports, which is why I left Westfield to go to Maine But when I found that the sport editor’s salary was $230 a week and the reporter’s was $170—that was a big pay raise. I was sports editor for about a year and then I got hired by the Portland Press Herald—the biggest paper in Maine. I was there for 6 years. Then I went to the Tacoma News Tribune out in the great state of Washington for one year as the beat writer coveting the Seattle Mariners. Then I got hired by the Hartford Courant in 1988, living in NYC covering the Yankees. The Courant also has someone covering the Red Sox after the ‘88 season I moved up to Boston and I covered the Red Sox for a year and that’s when I was hired by the National.
RB: Who knew you at the National?
SB: There were 2 people actually. Number one was Vince Doria who had been sports editor of the Globe. He had interviewed me for the Globe Red Sox beat for the ‘89 season. The three candidates were Tim Kurchan, Steve Fainaru who was from the Courant and me. Also Nick Cafardo who would later get hired. Vince hired Fainaru. So I replaced Steve on the Red Sox beat. But I remember Vince calling me up saying; “I really like your stuff if we have another opening I‘d hire you.” As it happened at the end of that year he quit to go to the National. I was one of the people he hired.
RB: What daily newspaper had the best sports section in the country at that time?
RB: It’s a subjective matter. The New York Times has always had a great one. It wasn’t as loud and bombastic as we like our sport sections to be [in Boston] but it was always very newsy. The Daily News, The Post. I have always put the Herald on a very high shelf because it’s very into nuts and bolts sports coverage—
RB: —my sense is that here in Boston people thought the Globe was the Bible of sports.
SB: Well, you jumped on my answer. I was gonna say I also put the Globe up there but not as the expense of the Herald, then or now.
RB: What was your beat at the National?
SB: I was originally hired as the—it evolved. The paper was only one a year and a half and I held 3 jobs. Originally I hired as the Yankees beat writer. So I was going to live I New York and cover the Yankees. Before the season was even a month old in 1990, a) the Yanks were putrid. They were a last place team in that year that was the Stump Merrill Yankees. Frank Deford, who hired me, rejigged the paper a little bit and he decided he wanted to go less with beat writers and more on national coverage and rather have me locked into the Yankees every day. I became a national baseball writer. I remember one weekend I was in a Cincinnati doing a Reds-Mets series. Then I did a West Coast tour with the Mets and then I did a Giants thing. So wherever they needed me I was flying around the country. At then end of the season, they had opened up a Boston edition and I became the Boston columnist. The back inside page was a zoned page and that page would differ depending on what city you picked it up in. If you picked it up in Boston you read Steve Buckley. If you picked it up in New York there was a New York columnist named Steve Pate. If you picked it up in Chicago It was Bud Shaw. So we had different columnists in different cities.
RB: Given it’s specialness (sic), have the alumni of the National ever had a reunion?
SB: No, right after it folded we did have —a day or two later, everybody made their way to New York. There was a sports bar up near Lincoln Center. I forget the name of it. I think it was just called Sports, now that I think about it. There was a lot of story telling and commiserating. And some anger. But I think we were all pretty good writers and there was a feeling we would all do okay and for the most part, we all did.
RB: My understanding was that it was pretty loose and pretty lucrative and it was a quality publication. Was there any feeling that the writers would never have it that good again?
SB: It was very lucrative. And it was very loose. Once I became the Boston columnist I remember one weekend BC was playing Duke in the pre season NIT down in Cameron Indoor Stadium. And really for no other reason than I had never seen a Duke home game I just called up the office and said I ma going to go down to Duke and cover the BC Duke game. And I remember my editor saying,”Aren’t you doing the Patriots game in Buffalo on Sunday?” So I flew down on a Friday doing the Duke BC game Friday night. Staying over night in Durham getting up the next day and flying from Durham, to Buffalo which was not a direct flight. I could do whatever I wanted. Another thing I could do, I would call my editor and he would say why don’t you come down to New York and we’ll have lunch and we’ll plan stuff. I would fly down, check into a hotel stay for 2 days, meet for lunch and fly home and then submit an expense voucher for $900. Basically for something that could have been done over the phone. That’s the way they did it. It wasn’t like I was taking advantage.
RB: Is the takeaway from the National saga that it was a terrific publication that failed because of bad business management?
SB: Well, I will limit my discussion to the product itself. It was outstanding. I was so proud and continue to be proud that wrote for the National. When I would pick it up I would say, “Wow I can’t believe I am part of this.” That’s how good it was. When you think of the writers we had and the place we went and the stuff we did. Even down to we helped reinvent agate. The extended box scores you see now on the websites began—we reinvented the box score. We had a sports themed cross word puzzle. We had sports cartoons we had all kind of stuff. Many, many many people have said this and I will just echo their sentiments. If we could have just hung on a few more years we would have been ESPN.com before there was an ESPN.com. Which is unfortunate but that’s the way it is. As far as the business plan considering that it went out of business in a year and half and lost like 170 million dollars, its safe to say the business plan was flawed.
SB: I don’t know if that’s because of bad decisions that would certainly seem to be the case. Or if— I knew the economy was bad when we were launching. There was a recession going on—was it possible that it was sound plan but a bad start up?
RB: Owned by a billionaire. I read a nicely done oral history of the National on Grantland*.
SB: I was part of it
RB: I didn’t get to the 3rd section, where you must be. I was struck by how every one quoted seemed to also have the same pride in the publication. Who owns the work, your work?
SB: I have not a clue.
RB: Are there pieces that would be re-publishable? Anything worthy of being in a Steve Buckley anthology?
SB: Oh yeah, I have written some stuff that I’d like to —but I mean the columns are all 800 words. I didn’t write any features when I was there that I can remember. I was strictly a national baseball writer and then a columnist. I have just about all the columns in 3 different binders. They are all saved up. Maybe once a year something will happen that will remind me of something I wrote and I will dig through it to find a column that I wrote to either steal a passage or to remember something. To my knowledge none of it’s on line anywhere. And I do know, this is from Charley Pierce, I have never investigated this, but according to Charley every edition of the National is at the Boston Public Library.
RB: In paper?
SB: I don’t think its been transferred to microfiche yet. Beyond that I don’t know that it’s anywhere else.
RB: Every once in a while some art book publisher comes up with a retrospective edition of some defunct esoteric publication (Wet, Punk Magazine, The Chicagoan). Maybe some one will do that for the National.
SB: That would be great. You know its funny, I talk to younger writers all the time—college students, interns and so forth. At the very table where we are sitting, maybe once every 2 months.
RB: Will they be putting a brass plaque up here one day?
SB: (chuckles) I meet with some college student of my wisdom and guidance (wink, wink). And I will, as I tell my story, “How did you get in the business?” and I will mention the National Sports Daily and I am usually met with blank stares —the example I like to use is to tell today’s college students about the National is like when I was a in college some one would mention the Dumont Network* and you would hear Jackie Gleason, “We started off at the old Dumont Network.” There was CBS, there was NBC and there was the Dumont Network*, which disappeared. It’s always the old Dumont Network
RB: It preceded you by how many years?
SB: it would have been in the late 40’s, early 50’s.
RB: Not that long ago. I‘ve talked to writers who teach and they are amazed at the small window of cultural awareness of their students
SB: Yeah, I’ll give you a better one. Not a better one but a different one—pretty much every one knows that the SF Giants were the New York Giants, LA Dodgers were the Brooklyn Dodgers. You would be surprised how many people even their 30’s and 40’s are not aware that the Minnesota Twins were the original Washington Senators or the Texas Rangers were the second Washington Senators. Or that the Orioles were the St Louis Browns.
RB: The Mariners were the Seattle Pilots.
SB: No, no, no, no. The Brewers were the Pilots.
SB: The Mariners were an expansion team. The Seattle Pilots were founded in 1969 and lasted one season. But Selig and company bought them out of bankruptcy in the spring of 1970 where they have been ever since.
RB: The Oakland A’s were on Philadelphia and then Kansas City and so on.
SB: Exactly And on and on.
RB: Watching you on TV, you exhibit an impressive recall. You recall details and specifics from past seasons and games. Is your’s a photographic memory?
SB: I don’t know. People have asked me that. My sister says it comes from my dad. My father married late and he had six kids and I was the second youngest. So when I was 8 or 9 years old he was nearly 60. My father was, as I said before, wonderfully anecdotal and nostalgic and we loved in the neighborhood in which he grew up in Cambridge and it seemed every time he got in the car and everywhere we went my dad was always pointing out the window and pointing at a barn and saying. “Many is the time when we were kids we would jump off that hay loft.” And years later my sister said—she has a memory of being 13 rolling her eyes and thinking “Here we go again, dad’s gonna tell another one of his stories” She remembered me, because 8 is big difference from 13.Your preteen and you’re hip and cool and you want to hang put with your friends. When you ‘re 8 you are enraptured with what your dad says. My sister says she remembers my dad telling one of these stories and her rolling her eyes and looking at me as I was drinking all that stuff up. It affected me in way that forged the way I am today.
RB: And your eye for and retention of details?
SB: Uh, I don’t have answer for that
RB: And statistics?
SB: I do for the most part— I remember certain statistics but I am not a stat geek. People often e mail me and send me some complicated baseball equation, “Buck I know you’re a stat guy. I know you’ll like this.” This 5-page thing that so and so is the best player of all time. I am anecdotal not statistical. I remember stories and anecdotes and places.I am not stat guy.
RB: I have a t-shirt that says, “ The team from my locale is superior to the team from your locale” That takes me to the claim by every city that it is the best sports town. Do these claims make any sense? Aren’t there a lot of great sports towns?
SB: Yes, except that it depends on how you chose to measure the greatness of a sports town. If the greatness is measured by championships, then nobody can argue that Boston is the greatest sports town of the past 11 years. Consider that 4 of our teams, all 4 of our pro teams have combined for 7 championships. And up until the Red Sox had their 1st non-sell out the 2nd game of this season, all 4 teams had a combined sell out streak of a gazillion games. The Celtics have sold out every game since the Big 3 were formed, the Bruins, every game the last 3 or 4 years. And the Patriots every game in the last 12 or 15 years. Or what ever it is.
RB: Ticket sales/fan support seems to be more relevant.
SB: I am not giving you the answer. I am giving you the variables. I am saying if you choose to look at this or that way.
RB: What do you choose?
SB: I think they are all good [measures] I think Cleveland is a good sports town. But there are 2 things against Cleveland. They haven’t won a championship since the Browns won a championship in 1964.
RB: With Frank Ryan as a quarterback
SB: Oh I don’t know.
RB: (laughs) You’re not a fan of the ‘64 Browns?
SB: I am not a fan of the ‘64 Cleveland Browns. Also, their teams have clearly struggled in recent years. The Indians had that great sellout streak for x number of years but the Indians don’t draw nearly as well as they did in the late 90’s when they were the Albert Belle, Carlos???? , Kenny Lofton Indians.
RB: Wasn’t Manny Ramirez on the team?
SB: And Manny Ramirez. They don’t have those teams anymore. But in fairness to the good people of Cleveland the city has been economically handicapped in recent years. I have been to Cleveland many, many times. Unless things have changed in the last couple of years there isn’t single department store in downtown Cleveland. I remember in the old days we would stay at the Stouffers at the Renaissance Center and right across the street was the May Company, which was a Cleveland landmark, and The Higby’s was a famous Cleveland Department store. If you have ever seen A Christmas Story * that famous Christmas movie—
RB: Written by Jean Shepard.
SB: The locale of the department store that is featured is Higby’s in Cleveland. It’s gone now. But I think Cleveland is a great sports town that has struggled because the teams haven’t won and people don’t have the money to go to the ballpark every night. That doesn’t means that it’s not a good sports town it means that it has issues.
RB: I must say I broke faith with Boston sports fans when they booed Pedro Martinez on a bad outing. I thought that was just wrong. Also, my sense is that Boston fans are team fans not sport fans.
SB: Every fan of a team is a fan of the team not the sport. That’s why you go. I disagree with you on a couple of levels. Pedro never got booed at Fenway to the degree that he would have you believe. I know there was a famous game on a Saturday night when he walked of the field and one big guy in the front row—
SB: —was pointing at him and screaming. God love him, you ask me who the most dynamic charismatic superstar player I have ever covered—you ask anyone in the Boston media, they will all tell you Pedro. One of the great players of all time, incredibly intelligent, a diva, charismatic, quotable in every way shape or form the way you would want an athlete to measure up. He’s at the top. So just so my respect for Pedro is clearly pointed out first, let me also tell you Pedro, 15 years after the fact is still talking about that one guy. So when you say he got booed you are buying into what Pedro has been ladling out.
RB: My recollection is of watching a game where that happened.
SB: I would challenge you to find me a game where he got booed of the field.
RB: He was walking off the field—he was being pulled out of the game.
SB: Yeah, and it depends on how you define booing. I would challenge you to find that game and show it to me. And there would have been “awwwwwww” (makes a groan like sound), more like it’s a cold rainy night, they are down 7 to 2 and everyone is kind of pissed off. I don’t equate that with Pedro being booed off the field. I still say it goes back to that one guy behind the dugout that Pedro is still talking about. I think that there’s some mythology at play here that you have bought into that Pedro got booed off the field.
RB: I will be checking it— how many tapes am I going to have audit?
SB: Go to an early season game against the Orioles that would be the game and would have been later in his career—’02 or ’03 or ’04. An early season game on a Saturday against the Orioles. Go to Baseball Reference, go to his game log. Now I have to make this point, when you lost faith in Boston sports fan because Pedro got booed, where I differ with you again is that nothing upsets me more, that irks me more, than Boston media people getting all frothy and pious and telling sports fans who to boo and who to cheer. Mind your f-ing business! Write about the games. You can criticize a guy—“this guys the biggest damn bum who has ever worn a uniform and here’s why and therefore you must boo this guy” —go to hell. If you buy a ticket to a game—
RB: Can you write that a player is a “piece of human garbage “?
SB: I’ve never done that. That’s somebody else. Take that up with the person who wrote it, not with me.
RB: You don’t want to comment—is that acceptable?
SB: Take it up with the person who wrote it, not with me. As a rule I don’t comment on what other people write. They are baseball players. They are human beings. I separate that. So for me to call some one a piece of human garbage, no. You can be a really bad baseball player and even be an asshole it doesn’t make you— am I allowed to swear? I don’t know where this is being used.
RB: Be my guest.
SB: There is a line I like to use “Just because a guy is an asshole doesn’t make him a bad guy.” An asshole can be someone who cuts you off in traffic. An asshole can be an athlete who gets snippy and short during his post game interviews or fights wit his teammates. That’s an asshole. But a bad guy? No, no my list bad people is reserved for genocide and killing people.
RB: Like Pol Pot.
SB: But attitude has always been—take Johnny Damon. I never understand— I do understand why. He had the temerity to sign with the New York Yankees. Bad, boo. But Johnny Damon was pro’s pro his entire time with the Red Sox. He played in enormous pain. He had all kinds of shoulder injuries. He was out there, he couldn’t throw and he played in pain. He was a good locker room guy. He was a clutch hitter and yet because the Red Sox didn’t want him anymore and they lowballed him an offer so Johnny Damon did what we all do in the free marketplace, he took a better job with a better company. They offered him more money and he comes back to Boston and they boo him off the field. It hurts him to this day. Its unfair, but I am not going to criticize Boston fans.
RB: Why not?
SB:They bought their ticket. Who the hell are you to tell people who to boo for or who to cheer?
RB:I wouldn’t boo anyone. Who am I, to look at a player who is a professional playing at the highest level of his sport —we all now how hard it is to get to the Bigs. None of those guys are bums.
SB: Sports has always been about passion. And it’s always been about my team against your team and it’s always been about rivalries.
RB: Is there a line for fan behavior?
SB: They were booing Babe Ruth almost a hundred years ago
SB: Booing is part of the ballpark experience. There is a difference between booing and throwing batteries at people. So lets form a line here. If its good old fashioned raspberries—if it turns into swearing and the lady next to you has her 5 year old kid, that’s just rude. But a good deep-in-the-belly booing, no. You buy your ticket, you wanna boo, go ahead and boo.
RB: Is sports a metaphor for life?
SB: (disdainfully) I don’t even know what that means. I have been hearing that all my life.
RB: OK. Is it all right for the baseball Cubs fans to run Steve Bartman* out of Chicago because he interfered with a foul ball that apparently changed the outcome of game?
SB: You didn’t listen to what I said. I said threatening someone’s life is not booing. I am talking about good old-fashioned deep-in-the-belly booing. They can do that. When you pick up the phone and threaten their life because they caught a foul ball that’s not booing, that’s picking up the phone and threatening someone’s life. There’s a big difference. I am not defending someone’s right to pick up the phone and call some one and threaten his or her life. I am defending someone’s right to boo
RB: Ok. And if people want to go to a football stadium in zero degree weather, take their shirts off and paint their bodies and faces in team colors, that’s within the purview of acceptable fan behavior?
SB: It’s within their purview to be an idiot. I’m not one to take my short off in anything below 68-degree weather but yeah, that’s sports fandom. I have no issue with that. Again, if its done respectfully and doesn’t violate the enjoyment of the person sitting next to you, the Steve Bartman thing, the people who threatened his life, that’s reprehensible. I am talking about booing. Booing. The Bronx cheer. Raspberries, whatever you want to call it.
RB: See, I think of a continuum, I don’t like it but I accept booing as a fact of sports spectator ship. But there is a continuum and it seems to me it can get scary. And I get that fans can subject themselves to hypothermia but I wonder what kind of people they are when they get outside of the stadium.
SB: If they are drunk and driving into a telephone pole on the way home that’s a serious social issue. But if they are people who work really hard during the week and this is there way of releasing tension and having comradery with their buddies I have no problem with that. Another thing that pisses me off is these blowhards in the press box who look down on a 40-year man who wears a baseball shirt with a guys name on it and think it’s a disgrace.
SB: Again you go to a Patriots’ game 90 % of the fans where Patriots sweaters. You go to a Bruins’ game they all have Bruins sweaters. A Red Sox game and so forth. So you are basically saying that people who buy your newspaper and listen to your radio station and watch you on the TV are idiots because those are all your listeners and reader. And again, my idea of a good Friday night out isn’t to put on a Curt Shilling and go to Fenway and root for the Red Sox. I am also in the business but even if I quit the business tomorrow and opened up a restaurant and now I am Steve Buckley, citizen, instead of a sportswriter it wouldn’t be in my nature to put on a Tom Brady shirt and go to a Patriots’ game. First of all, they look uncomfortable. I’d rather wear a nice sweater and a pair of jeans. My point is if you’ve got a guy, he works hard, he is an accountant and works hard all week, he’s married and has 2 kids and on Sundays, 8 to 10 times a year depending on preseason and playoffs he gets together with his buddies, they put on their Brady and Bruschi shirts and go to games and cheer, have a ball.
RB: That’s pretty innocent
SB: Have a great time. Tell me how it turned out.
RB: Most of what is on your CV is writing . You do television and you have won an Emmy for a documentary. You’re on the radio a lot. Where does that stuff fit into your notion of being a writer?
SB: Um, don’t give up your day job. I’ll always write. Its what I wanted to do. If you go back to the 22 year old version of me and say someday you’re going to be a regular guy on TV and radio, I would have said no way on 2 levels. One, its not something I have planned on or wanted to do. I never had that wanderlust to be on TV or radio. Number 2 I just assumed I would be bad at it. TV and radio people were very polished (Adopts a smooth voice) “Hey, I have a great voice, I am on television and radio.” That’s almost passé now when you look at the people who are on today. It’s less about how you look and how you sound and more about what you bring to the table. I don’t consider myself a polished TV performer. I don’t have a great radio voice. When I get excited my Boston accent bubbles to the surface. But what do I bring to the table? You touched on some of that. I have pretty good recall. I am a pretty good storyteller. I am opinionated and so forth. I am not always up on the day-to-day stuff as a columnist. I am not a beat guy. Sometimes I don’t focus on the center of the target when everyone wants to talk about the center of the target I have a tendency to stray off to the outside of the target. Which is to my detriment sometimes and I understand that. Why did I go in to that? I never made a choice to go into it. I just sort of —as sports radio and sports television proliferated those outlets needed people to go on the oat and they came to my house and knocked on my door and said “Will you sit in front of a microphone and talk with this other guy and this guy and this guy and take calls and we’ll make fun of you on the screen and we’ll pay you?” And I said, “Uh, ok.” And it’s not that hard. It’s hard to be really good at it. But it’s really easy to average at it? I don’t know if that makes any sense?
RB: And you are on local venues where you are a known personality.
SB: Yeah. They have me on — when I say we I am speaking of all of us, but a lot of us are on because we have distinct personalities. I was on the The Big Show on WEEI for 15 years and at the beginning of the show, “Today is Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald and Sean McAdams of the Providence Journal or Tony Mazz [orotti] of the Boston Herald. Whoever they had on that day and if you were driving down [Route] 128 at the beginning and Jim Copper who is the staff announcer back then and if he said here’s who is on the show today, based on how the show had been going for several years if you were a consumer and listener to the station driving down 128 you had an idea where the show was going. What kind of show it would be. There were people who said, ”Oh I like that, this is going to be a good show and they listened. “ And there were people who went, ”Jesus is he on again?” and boom they would turn it off. That’s fine, that’s the way it is. This became much more prevalent in recent years when they started the text thing and you could text in your comments. There’s a big screen with all the text coming in. And people would write, “Oh Jesus, Buckley is on, I am changing the station!”
RB:I suppose Twitter has accelerated that.
SB:And tweeting, yeah.This is no longer—I mean 40 years ago when I was high school I could get together with my buddies and talk about the Red Sox, The Bruins and the Celtics and the Patriots. Say I read this thing in the Herald— “Aww that guy sucks.” Well, that would be me telling my friends that Leo Monahan from the old Record American or Ray Fitzgerald from the Globe is really good or really bad depending on we had just read that morning. But now you can go to Twitter, Facebook and so forth — I’ll go to Twitter and type my name in and read, “Buckley sucks” All that is, is a reminder that if you choose to be in the business that I am in and you are weepy or sensitive then I advise you top get out of the business and go sell linoleum and get into a business that you might make more money at and than deal with pure slings and arrows of your fan base on a daily basis
RB: Do you have some unrealized ambitions?
SB: Umm, oh yeah.
RB: Like that play that sits in a drawer?
SB: Well, that play is dead and buried. It wasn’t very good. As I found out there is a thing called building characters. All my characters sounded alike. Which I didn’t realize, which I didn’t have an understanding of. I remember telling —I hired a guy who had written plays to help me with the script after it was written and I said I always though the actor would bring out the essence—“Oh no, no, no, you don’t trust your characters to actors. You have to create through dialogue and through stage direction, you have to create a persona for each character and make them sound different. I did notice it at the reading in Nyack. Even I knew that. They all sound alike. They are all the same person speaking different lines. I didn’t have an understanding of that then. But to get back to your question there are several things that are unrealized that I hope to do before I die. Which I will not share with you because some of them are development.
RB: Ok—could you live somewhere other then the Boston area? Is this your favorite place to live?
SB: It is my favorite place to live and I will tell you I am probably not going to move at this point. The only reason I say probably is because if some of the unrealized ambitions were to come to fruition in a grand way I would leave Boston but they would be so grand in realization that I would be able to keep my house. I am probably being too vague. To boil it down—
SB: What’s that?
RB: I said, “Probably too vague?”
SB: If I could boil it down if I got another job that would enable me to live in an other city and keep my house and enable me to get back here frequently I would do it. But even then I’d move to LA or New York and maybe a few other places but that’s about it. Now if the Dallas Morning News or a website in Dallas or St Louis or Milwaukee or Pittsburgh said here’s $200 thousand a year and you are going to be our main guy, the answer is no. And its not like I am so provincial that I can’t leave Boston. I lived for 5 years in Maine. I lived a year in Seattle. 2 years in New York City. I lived a year in the Springfield [MA] area. And just in my travels as a sportswriter I have been to 46 out of 50 states and I have been Europe, South America, Asia, Cuba—so I have been a lot of places. So its not like I am so wedded to Boston that I can’t leave. But in the last 15 years I bought a house I really like. I renovated it from top to bottom. I am very comfortable there. A lot of my “shtick” is Boston based because I know the history of the city really well and a lot of what I sell, so to speak, sells better in Boston than it would in a strange city. And friends, family relationships and so forth make me happier than I might be in another city. I could see myself moving to New York for a year and doing some projects I have in mind down there, but would I move there? Sell my house and get an apartment in the city, no.
RB: What happens to the Old Time Baseball Game* if you move? Would you have to give that up?
SB: I think the game—it started by accident in 1994. This year’s game will be our 20th) Aug 21st, St Peters Field, Cambridge) And it grown to the point where we have a Board of Directors and we have a whole bunch of people involved, I am not so much the director or president or chairman, so much as the funnel. A lot of stuff goes through me to other people. We have some many people doing so many things that on doe my main jobs is basically to get in touch with everybody every year. “So you are all set with the umpires, good?” “So you are set with …okay, good?” And then everybody does his or her own thing and we come back together and have a game and it’s a lot of fun. I am sure if I left Boston— I am going to be involved in some fashion as long as it’s played.
RB: Is baseball your favorite sport?
SB: Baseball is my favorite sport, yes.
RB: Did you play?
SB: Very badly. I played more baseball as a grownup than I did—once I moved back to Boston in the 90’s, I got into an over 30 baseball league. I played until I was 39 and I played a ton—the North Shore Reds of the Greater Boston Senior Men’s League. There was a group in Sunday mornings at Harvard that I was part of for 15 years. We had a permit t o use the varsity diamonds at Harvard, We’d play every Sunday 2 7 inning games. It was like the first 18 people who showed up. I played every Sunday. I loved that. So I did a lot of that but as I got older I got more into going to the gym and running. I’ve run the Marathon. And my shoulder is such now that I’d probably have a hard time throwing a baseball.
RB: I’ve been watching my son play ball for the past 5 or 6 years and a big part of a change for the kids is there are no pick up games—there is a lot of adult supervision.
SB: I grew up in Cambridge near the Longfellow School. We played what we called sponge ball in the courtyard. We drew a batter’s box and a strike zone on the brick wall and you had to throw the ball within in the confines of the box to be a strike. And then we went to Center Park down on Broadway, further down the street and we might only get 10 guys and so we would have 5 on 5 games.
RB: No right fielder and so on—
SB: When my team was at bat, you‘d have a batter and an on-deck batter and the three guys that weren’t hitting would play 1st, 2nd and right field for the other team. So you were either playing defense or at bat almost the whole game.There’s no sense in having guys sitting around or playing without a right fielder.
RB: We were never smart enough to figure that out in Chicago.
SB: We did that for a quite a few years.
RB: I think we could chat endlessly but we have come to end of our allotted time. So, thanks very much.
SB: No, it’s my pleasure. I enjoyed it.
3. The Titanic
Currently reading The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye (Unbridled Books)