RyanAs his own farewell column in today's Globe made clear, Bob Ryan's move to semi-retirement (no live events, no more deadlines, and I'll bet those promises are broken by and by) is his gain in a well-lived life, and our loss as readers.
I was a Bob Ryan reader, an enthusiastic one, before I was a Bob Ryan colleague and I hope friend, and then for the last seven years I've been a Bob Ryan reader again. This experience, I think, gave me a different slant on Ryan's writing, and why Boston will miss it. Simply put, reading Bob Ryan and knowing Bob Ryan were remarkably similar. The words in the Globe were indeed expressions of the man himself, and I can think of few higher compliments for any writer in any format, from newspapers to epic poetry.
The opinionated, knowledgeable, affable prose Bob wrote for over four decades was the product of an opinionated, knowledgeable, affable human being, one that loved sports with all his heart and soul, but also regarded them as antidote for solemnity, not a cause. He was (still is, just he gets to pick his companions now), a superlative companion with whom to attend a sports event, either as a colleague or as a virtual companion reading about the game the next day.
I got to do both, for which I am profoundly grateful. Bob and myself buttonholing total strangers in a frantic effort to learn the rules and scoring rules of judo at the Sydney Olympics is one of those hilarious memories which are increasingly what I cherish from my former trade as the memories of other people's championships fade away.
As a writer, Bob is without artifice. He said what he had to say in a conversational style that, was, well, Bob Ryan conversing. Was it effective? Oh, my yes. For evidence, I submit Ryan's lede to his Cincinnati Reds sidebar following Game Six of the 1975 World Series.
"Too bad baseball is such a dull game, eh, gang?"
That's as close to a perfect lede as you'll ever get. And, trust me, writing ledes is the ultimate daily journalism skill.
One last trait in Bob's journalism deserves mention. It's the one sportswriting as a profession will miss more than his readers will. Total honesty. The largest section of the sports commentating industry today consists of men and women (many of whom are former peers I know and like) who make up opinions for the purpose of jerking around the always excitable sports fan audience. That's a cynical and awful enterprise. It's urinating on the hand that feeds you.
Nobody can ever say that Ryan had to make up a deeply held opinion, or an opinion of any kind. He's just too direct a person for that. And whether or not fans liked what he had to say, I don't think many Boston fans doubted Ryan was one of them, or at least someone who respected them.
Bob was direct, honest and courageous enough to admit in his farewell column that one of the reasons he's throttling down was his belief that his current work wasn't as good as his work of the past, that maybe he was running out of things to say, or worse, the belief anything to be said. Every writer from Homer on down has lived with the fear that was happening to him or her. The ones with the guts to admit it to their readers can probably be counted without using up all one's fingers and toes.
Believe it or not, column writing for a daily paper, if you want to do it right, is a grind. I look forward to what Bob has to say when the grind's not part of the package for him. I will look forward a lot less to the Globe sports section most days. It's not the fault of the people who're left there. But when a trusted companion moves away, the neighborhood just isn't what it used to be.