It may come as a surprise, but Bob Ryan’s greatest love of sports was (and remains) baseball, not basketball.
“Baseball, and I think it’s the best game,” Ryan said in a recent interview.
The longtime sports writer – who formally retired as one Boston Globe columnist in 2012, but remains very active – is known for decades of Celtics coverage. He started on the Celtics beat in 1969 and has written seven books on basketball.
Still, it was actually Ryan’s unique year on the Red Sox beat that launched a personal tradition that has now become his 15th book, the recently released “In Scoring Position: 40 Years of a Baseball Love Affair.”
“I was put on the Red Sox beat in 1977. I was very excited about it,” Ryan recalled. “I had been playing basketball for seven years and loved it, but my heart was always first in baseball and there was a great opportunity. So I was very excited and I started keeping points religiously.”
Baseball scoring in a notebook is a practice dating back to the 19th century. Over the decades, it became a popular way for analysts or more serious fans to keep track of the game. For Ryan, it became an almost unbroken habit.
“I can truthfully say that maybe with one or two exceptions – one I know was a Cape Cod League game that I regretted not scoring – that I have kept goals at every baseball game I have participated in at all levels since the beginning of the ’77 season, ”he explained.
In total, Ryan’s new book draws from more than 1,500 games spanning 44 years, collected in his personal results books. It was co-authored with fellow author and baseball researcher Bill Chuck and leaps through decades of the game’s history, seen through the prism of Ryan’s results book from that day.
As might be expected, most of the boxing results are Red Sox-related. But the original results books also include many other MLB games, Olympic softball and baseball, and a college baseball game in 1984, which Ryan randomly attended while taking a break from covering the NBA Western Conferences Finals (it was played between North Carolina and Arizona State, and included a then-promising outfielder named Barry Bonds).
The writing process, usually an intense and demanding experience for even a veteran of Ryan’s experience, was easier this time.
“This was pure fun,” Ryan said of putting the book together. “It was easy to write. The only difficult part was deciding who managed the cut.”
Only a select few of the box’s scores came from his scorebook to the recently published book, but each one is attached with fascinating personal anecdotes.
Ryan has had several players sign his scoring book over the years, including Reggie Jackson (“Reggie and I had a good relationship for some strange reason”) and former White Sox pitcher Joe Cowley, whom Ryan then threw a no-hitter while watching the future Red Sox playoff opponent Angels in September 1986.
“He threw the ugliest no-hitter you’ll ever see,” Ryan recalled, noting that Cowley went seven batters and threw the same number of strokes as balls, even allowing an (unearned) run on a sacrificial fly hit by Jackson. Still, Ryan got Cowley to sign the scorecard. The surprising twist: Cowley, then 28, did not win again in 1986 and went 0-4 in 1987 before being released by the Phillies and never hitting again.
“So as it turns out,” Ryan remarked, “it was the last game he ever won in the Major Leagues.”
Ryan admitted that the book may “not be for the casual fan.”
“This is a niche book that has ever been one, I have to be honest about that,” he admitted. But with each section, readers with an eye for detail will find the pages of baseball history brought to life through the eyes (and notations) of Ryan’s scoring.
“It keeps you in the game,” Ryan said of why he still keeps goals. And as he noted in the book’s introduction. “Because it is fun. Therefore.”
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