By David Scott
Boston Sports Media Watch

It’s fund drive time and if you count yourself among the many who find the local media to be our Fifth Major sport around here, Scott’s Shots urges you to give early and give often. There are very few forums where Shots (and 2,000 word pieces on a departing columnist, like the following) would be embraced. Thansk to BSMW and Bruce Allen, we have that spot. Let’s keep it going and growing. Thanks, Shots

The following was scheduled to appear in parts as a lead-up to Howard Bryant’s official departure from the Boston Herald, this coming Friday. But then Theo Happened. Not to mention T.O.

It started becoming brilliantly clear, that this town’s sports tales keep spinning, no matter who’s filling the pages with words and phrases. Bryant’s leaving? Oh well. Writers come and writers go. The teams NEVER leave. (Except for those few hours when it looked like Krafty was moving to Hartford.)

Even so, when we read over the notes and quotes Bryant gave to us in a 90 minute talk a couple of weeks back, we couldn’t help but notice how poignant some of them were.

True, Bryant really only started to be widely known and read in the last 10 to 12 months. But during his three years here, Bryant also came out with two books on two potentially riveting subjects: Race, with Shut Out: The Story of Race and Baseball in Boston) and Steroids with Juicing the Game : Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball. From those two titles alone, you know Bryant’s legacy in this market may be brief, but it is hardly boring.

What follows are some highlights of what Bryant told Shots on a wide range of coverage and content-related issues.

Without further ado, a snapshot of Bryant’s impact in his thousand-or-so days a minority sports voice in lily-white Boston.

Howard Bryant’s farewell column appeared in the Boston Herald today, Wednesday, November 9, 2005. Friday is his final official day as Yellow Boxer and in the next week or so he will have his first byline in the Washington Post as one of two beat writers on the demanding (and slightly dangerous) Redskins beat.

Bryant, the city’s lone African American sports columnist, was cordial and magnanimous in his Bye to Beantown piece, but also went out swinging softly – especially at the Globe and its ‘Cartel,’ as well as on the issue of race.

In a 90-minute phone conversation with Shots a couple of weeks ago, Bryant was a bit more free to name names and get into specifics. The following contains highlights of that conversation, many of which were touched on (but not expanded upon) in his Wednesday farewell.

First, some background: Bryant, 36, grew up in Dorchester (birth to nine years old) and later down south a bit in Plymouth (nine-years-old until college, where he attended Temple University). He is married to Veronique and they have a 16-month-old son, Ilan. His parents, still in Plymouth, are Donald and Nona.

According to his own count, since joining the Herald in November of 2002, Bryant bylined 573 stories. (He further computed that just 16 of those stories “contained the keywords “racism,” “race,” or “African American,” in hopes of bolstering his claim that he did not “exploit. . . race. . . as in issue.”)

Also vital in any assessment Bryant’s 570-plus at-bats in Boston, is that he is inextricably linked to all the “smear campaign” talk that many think Tony Massarotti “created” just before the Theo Escapade began in earnest. In fact, it was Bryant and his “Cartel” talk that truly started the ball rolling on what the Globe’s relationship with the Red Sox means for consumers who consume the ‘Cartel’s’ myriad coverage. (Interestingly, Mazz’s name was omitted from the specific list of thank-you’s Bryant included at the top of his final “Boston Uncommon” space on Wednesday. Mazz was the only regular, Herald, Sox writer not mentioned, missing the cut in favor of, gasp!, Laura Raposa and Gayle Fee, the Track Gals. ****UPDATE****It was later pointed out to us that Gerry Callahan was also not on the list, and it’s also no secret that Bryant has no love for Callahan.)

No Love for Holley nor WEEI – His thoughts the City’s First Black Sports Columnist, Holley.

It’s no secret that Bryant and the city’s first black sports columnist, Michael Holley (now a co-host at WEEI 850 AM) are not exactly the best of friends. Bryant, in no uncertain terms, took pride and felt a responsibility to represent the region’s minority voice. Despite his numbers regarding the mention of race in past stories, Bryant strongly believed in his role as the “black sports columnist,” something he felt Holley never took seriously enough.

“Michael and I don’t mix but we do co-exist. We’re not pals, if that’s what you’re asking,” Bryant said. “I’m not going to say Michael ‘sold out.’ But you know, you are the first African American sports columnist in this town and (because of that) you’re not just writing for yourself.

“If there were 30 of us in the market – or in the country for that matter – it would be one thing. But there aren’t – who will be the one if not you? My break with Holley is that he doesn’t want to deal with it (race).”

Bumps in the Road – His stories of hate mail, a loss of confidence and overall perseverance that helped him along the way.

On Wednesday, Bryant wrote that his time at the Herald, “for the most part” was a “dream job.” Left unsaid in his column was the Barry Bonds/Hank Aaron-like hate mail that Bryant endured from readers.

“You should have seen my ‘Go back to Africa’ emails or the ‘Why can’t you be colorless like Michael Holley?’ notes,” Bryant recalled. “For me, personally, I won’t be the guy who focuses on the bad letters – people here really care and that’s really cool.”

Reiterating what he wrote in Wednesday’s piece, Bryant said, “I don’t believe you can discuss race openly and honestly here in Boston. My big problem in Boston has always been that nobody has had the stamina to discuss race. I wanted to prove to myself that I had that stamina.

“You have to talk about it because everybody in the clubhouse is talking about.
One of the stories I didn’t write about all last season was how the (minority players) all thought (Curt) Schilling got a free pass because he was white.

Will it be different in DC? Yes and no – there’s a different history there and a higher black population. Boston is saddled by its history – you can’t have the discussion in Boston. The press boxes (in sports in general) look more like a hockey game that a Tarzan movie,” he said. “My question for these people is, ‘When is it appropriate to talk about race?’”

Even still, Bryant takes pride in the attempts he took to bring the discussion to the fore.

“Two books – Glenn Stout’s Red Sox Century and my book, Shut Out – in the span of five years, have changed the entire legacy of Tom Yawkey and I take a lot of (pride) for that. I wanted to offer another view of Yawkey and let the reader decide if it’s horseshit or not.”

“The Mystery 50” – His steroids reporting assessed and explained.

Bryant’s imaginary “Q-Rating” was probably never higher than this past August, when he was reporting that a “Mystery 50” baseball players would be revealed as having failed steroids testing. It came at the same time his book on the subject was being released. That large of a number never materialized and Bryant admitted as much to Shots.

At the time, in August, Bryant wrote: “. . . Yet this is the tale being spun around clubhouses in Major League Baseball, emblematic of the odd and suspicious environment that exists around the game right now.”

“I’m not sure how much I ever believed the 50 but that was what people were saying and it was coming from reliable sources all over the game,” Bryant told Shots. “I had heard anywhere from 12-50 at the time.”

Still, Bryant stands behind his underlying premise that Major League Baseball can not, and should not, be trusted. “I mean MLB trotted out Hank Aaron and Rafael Palmiero together and they knew full well what Palmiero had done – how do you trust that? Trust is what it’s about.”

“The Post is personal – not business” he says. “And the Globe was too.”

Bryant says the Globe tried to hire him in the position that went to Chris Snow, that of Red Sox beat writer. But he claims the Globe wanted a four-year commitment to the beat. For a 30-something who had paid some dues on other beats AND had his own column in Boston, that was too long of a timetable. Even for a kid who grew up cherishing the words of the Globe’s heyday columnists.

“Two papers are personal for me – the Globe, the paper I read growing up, and the Post,” Bryant said. “My dad would put his breakfast on top of the Globe and hand out the sections like he was King Edward III! I wanted to work for that paper my whole life. I was a Globe kid. But maybe that time has passed me by.

“I think the difference between the Globe and the Washington Post is that the Globe essentially doesn’t want its writers to have any ambition – they don’t discuss your future,” Bryant said. “At the Post, (they let you know) if you come in here and kick ass in sports you can do whatever you want within this newspaper.”

Bryant admitted what Shots had reported previously, that he has an itch for more, shall we say, serious journalistic endeavors: “Yes, it’s true that I want to look at the news side down the road.”

The Post would be a good place for that, without doubt. So much so, Bryant admits he was not exactly Theo-like in his negotiations with the Post people: “I was listening to what they had to offer thinking I can’t be coy here – I had zero leverage when they were telling me about the opportunities. I wanted the job.”

He also looks forward to being able to write longer at his new paper.

“At the Post, they actually let people write. At the Herald, all we do is cut, cut, cut (words and space),” Bryant said. “If you give people something to read, they’ll read it.”

“The Cartel” – Why he’s not so far off and why others are now agreeing.

“Everyone treated me like a I was a pile of shit when I started talking about “The Cartel” – like on ‘Dale and Holley,’” Bryant said. “The subtext of that whole things is about the Herald going under – and it is going under – this will be a one newspaper town. Why is that such a difficult concept to understand?

“(Globe sports editor) Joe Sullivan sent me an email about how pained he was to see me write (about the Cartel) and how he thought I was ‘better than that.’ Come on!”

“Boston is the only market I’ve lived in where the media is the enemy in a lot of different circles and we’re injected into the story,” he said, adding: “I think the Herald is in trouble – it actually needs a revenue stream partnership.”

A “Legacy” after just three years? – He came in around when Theo took over and left around the same time Boy Wonder did.

“My chapter isn’t written here as of yet,” Bryant said. “When I got here, I think that all I wanted to do was write about things that were interesting to me – that was the genesis for ‘Shut Out.’ In terms of what I wanted to do was to give people something to think about that I didn’t think they were getting anywhere else.”

Expanding on some of the things he alluded to in his final column:

Bryant said: “It’s all about content and programming in radio, and newspaper writers are the cheapest form of programming. But why would I do 4-6 on ESPN Radio Boston – for two hours for $150 – when I could do three and a half minutes on ‘Sports Xtra’ for $400?”

“WEEI is so untouchable – you can’t piss those guys off or you’re done,” he said. “Look at how WEEI has treated me since the METCO thing. But I didn’t need their money. Also, I never saw a writer become a better writer by writing less (and doing more radio).”

On his new job, the ‘Skins beat: “I’m hearing that it’s hell. Straight up, brass knuckles, us (the Post) vs. them (the Redskins organization and Snyder). I love that. You want to fight? Fine. I like aggressive, not passive aggressive.”

What he’ll miss most about his hometown: “I’m going to miss the theater of it all in Boston – there’s a special-ness to that Boston theater.

“Thing like, after the Sox were eliminated this year, a day after or so, I was walking out of Fenway and a fan was standing out there in the rain and he yells” ‘Howahd? What aaaah we gonaahhh do nowwww? And I’m thinking, ‘What do you mean? We’re going to go home and get out of the rain.’ But they just love their team.”

On whether he’ll be sniffing on Steroids in the NFL: “The NFL gets the free pass but that’s because they’ve got better marketers (than MLB). But I sniff on anything.”

David Scott writes from a seaside shanty on the shores of Hull, Mass. and can be reached at shots@bostonsportsmediadotcom