Happy Birthday Bob

Dr. Johnson had his dutiful devoted Boswell, likewise Jazz was the magnetic force which drew out the erudite ramblings of Whitney Balliet, Nat Hentoff, and Ralph Gleason, while politics prompted the ink stained deadline driven submissions of David Brodner, Mike Royko, Jimmy Breslin, Scotty Reston, and Molly Ivins..all talents perfectly suited to the their beats as well as to the events, and personages they helped define with their informed incisive prose.

And, in like manner basketball has Bob Ryan. Known to some by his nickname of “The Commissioner”, an eponymous moniker recently sullied a cad named Manfred, Ryan endures as a writer possessed of the same passion, encyclopedic knowledge and that elusive “feel” for the games he covers..no..devours….that was but one of his calling cards for the bow ties that hired him at the Globe back when Johnson was President, Russell jumped center, and eight tracks were all the rage.

Bob was born on this day in 1946, some ten weeks prior to the birth of The Basketball Association of America, the league that tipped off that autumn with teams named Celtics and Knickerbockers and later merged with the National Basketball League some three years later to form the NBA.

Seventy four and there’s so much more.

One of the true privileges of my tenure at The Sports Museum has been the chance to know Bob as a colleague and friend. Having read his prose for many years prior to joining the museum back in 1982 I knew of his reporting skills, his many enthusiasms as well as the joy he conveyed to readers through his legendary notes column (a genre he helped create with colleague Peter Gammons who began his Globe tenure on the exact same day as Bob) and books like his heart warming paean to minor league baseball, “Wait ‘Til I Make The Show.”

Though basketball was his literal bread and butter, baseball was and is to Bob what Ava Gardner was to Sinatra. The candle in the window, the recording one owns in vinyl, cassette and cd, the watery reflection of a lost love seen in the dregs of the last round.

How many writers, a profession not known for its generous remuneration (except to Stephen King, John Bolton and “Anonymous”) would purchase pricey season tickets to games for which he’d be rightfully granted a front row press box perch?

Instead, Bob and his family pay their annual tribute to the BoSox and cheer the boys from one of the best shaded grandstand sections at Fenway. And it’s a guarantee that Bob is one of maybe, just maybe four people among the 38,000 plus scoring the game in one of those old school spiral bound scorebooks.

Instead, Bob and his family pay their annual tribute to the BoSox and cheer the boys from one of the best shaded grandstand sections at Fenway. And it’s a guarantee that Bob is one of maybe, just maybe four people among the 38,000 plus scoring the game in one of those old school spiral bound scorebooks.

Somewhere in the ether, Henry Chadwick and Alexander Cartwright routinely nod their approval.

How many great talents have maintained their both the skill and enthusiasm over six decades? At the drop of a hat I envision Louis Armstrong leading a historic pop culture pack that includes folks like Vin Scully, “Voice of God” Bob Shepard, Norman Lloyd, Joan Baez, Dylan, Neil Young, George Clinton as well as painters Peter Saul, Ed Ruscha, and David Hockney among others.

And among the scribes with like tenure, to whom the thwack of a wooden bat on cowhide is nothing less than the strain of a Pied Piper’s piercing petition, are fellas named Ryan and Gammons who’re holding a seat for Roger Angell.

Unknowingly the Red Sox celebrated Bob’s birthday while playing their first exhibition game of the season this afternoon against Northeastern University and I’m guessing that Bob could tell you the weather, the approximate crowd size, score as well as the innings in which the Sox scored their runs.

Here’s to you, friend.

About the Curator’s Corner

Richard Johnson’s “Curator’s Corner” is  where you will find videos featuring Richard and Sports Museum Executive Director, Rusty Sullivan, discussing Boston sports history, as well as blog posts written by Richard himself.

Where does one start with memories of this sacred building now in its last hours as home to the single most important public resource/protector in New England?
January's Edition of Curator's Corner
On his last day Nick had to have heard the unmistakable music of his preferred workplace as baseballs thwacked into mitts and a sort of anvil chorus of bats striking balls rang from the sun soaked cages near the path he walked at the Red Sox training complex.