Sports writing is a club as much as it is anything. Those of us who do it go from venue to venue, city to city, and see the same people everywhere we travel.
In the years I was sports editor at this paper, I traveled to New York on more than one occasion to cover the Red Sox when they were in Yankee Stadium. One of those times was in October of 2003, when the Red Sox were within five outs of winning the American League pennant but ended up losing Game 7 on Aaron Boone’s home run.
The next day, several of us gathered at Penn Station for the long trip to Boston via the Acela. One of them was Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
If the Boston sports media have a reputation for often being ungracious and unfriendly to the athletes they cover, that was not true of Nick. If 19 out of 20 people pinned Grady Little to the wall after that seventh game for leaving Pedro Martinez in too long, Nick would have been the one writer who didn’t.
This wasn’t to say Nick wouldn’t have addressed the criticism, for he did his job unflinchingly. It’s just that he’d have managed to do it minus the vitriol that often accompanied other pieces.
Item readers of a certain age would surely remember Nick, as his byline appeared here frequently as we used the Quincy Patriot Ledger sports service back when he was still writing for the paper.
Nick died unexpectedly Thursday at the age of 62 while down at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. This is a loss that’s hard to fathom now, and it’ll be harder to fathom in the coming weeks and months. After all, Nick Cafardo wrote the living history of the Boston Red Sox and, for a short while, New England Patriots from the time he first got on the beat with the Ledger to the time he died. He was in the front seat of the car at critical moments in the club’s history, and he was there to tell us all about it.
He was front and center when the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004, when they won again in 2007, when they helped heal a wounded city in 2013, and when they finished off the most prolific season, in terms of winning, in their long history last year.
Along the way, Nick never pulled a punch. But he never threw one indiscriminately, gratuitously, or maliciously either. He was a straight shooter, and he didn’t know what the word “agenda,” as it applies to sports writing, meant.
On that trip home, Nick, a Globe photographer whom I didn’t know, Michael Gee (who was then with the Herald), a few others and I got all the grousing out of our systems and then proceeded to go over, player by player, everything the Red Sox would need to do to get over this obstacle that — on this particular day — seemed as if it was Mt. Everest. It was a good session, and the next thing we knew we were pulling into South Station. Four hours on a train never seemed like such a short trip.
I don’t know many writers of Nick’s calibre who would have patiently listened to all our babbling. But that was Nick. I don’t think he ever had it in him to let his status as one of the nation’s premier baseball writers affect his personality adversely.
He was unfailingly polite and cordial to everyone, regardless of who it was and what the conversation was about. He’d appear on talk shows where he had to interact with fans and treat them all with the utmost respect. In the days when the Globe had on-line chats Nick would provide detailed answers to the questions where others of his status would provide one- or two-word responses.
If you met him in the food line, or on the field, or anywhere else at Fenway he’d treat you like a long-lost friend. Regardless of what half-baked theory you were endorsing (and he must have heard thousands of them), he would listen, smile, and let you down oh-so-gently with a timely dose of reality.
With the Globe, Nick took the concept of the “notes” column pioneered by predecessor Peter Gammons and put his own imprint on it, making it even better in the process. I may or may not have had time for the long introductions, but his “apropos of nothing,” “updates on nine,” and other squibs — as broadcaster Mel Allen used to call them — were must-reads every Sunday.
The world is full of reporters who get into this business, flushed with the knowledge that if they work hard, and play their cards right, they’ll eventually wield tremendous power to make or break the athletes who come through their areas.
Nick had that power, but he used it not as a cudgel, but as an honest means to convey information — and, in so doing, convey his genuine love for the game of baseball.
What more could anyone ask?