The Media Column: Yes, talk radio harped on negative with Red Sox this season, but that's part of the game

Alex Reimer
November 01, 2018 - 1:58 pm

USA Today

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Talk radio hosts are easy to attack. Most of us are loathsome, boorish loudmouths who spew opinions for at least 20 hours every week on even the most mundane matters. When one of the local teams win, there’s usually some backlash against us for being too critical or negative throughout the season. Usually, it comes from enraged diehard fans looking pull out the ultimate trump card, to coin a phrase. But in the aftermath of the Red Sox’ latest championship win, the strongest vitriol came from some other media members.

I am here to defend our honor, even though nobody asked me to. 

Hockey writer Sara Civian, who now works for The Athletic and used to cover the Bruins for WEEI, tweeted Sunday she thinks the style of sports talk radio in Boston must change. “I just want everyone to remember how bitter and pessimistic Boston radio was about this team,” she wrote. “Something has to change with radio in Boston. Fans of sports teams deserve better than having constant pessimism about even the best teams in the world constantly shoved down throats.”

Civian is correct: Boston sports talk radio was far more negative than positive about the 108-win Red Sox this season. The bulk of our Sox discussion centered around David Price, who up until three weeks ago, was winless in 10 career playoff starts and often verbally spit on reporters asking even the most simple questions –– such as whether he’s ready for his next start against the Yankees. 

But there is a reason why Price’s October woes generated more attention this summer than Mookie Betts’ latest heroics or J.D. Martinez’s home run title chase. Everybody agrees about the latter two topics. They’re two of the best players in baseball, and led the Red Sox to their fourth World Series title in 14 years. We are lucky to watch them. 

The discussion ends there.

Price, meanwhile, is the most expensive pitcher in baseball history, and, up until recently, was seemingly incapable of pitching well in the most important games. On top of it all, he sports a mercurial personality. There are far more layers to dissect with Price, generating many more variances of opinion. 

Talk radio is centered around issues. The format thrives off debate and confrontation, because those two acts produce the most impassioned reactions from hosts and listeners alike. This is seen around the country. Turn on WFAN in New York, WIP in Philly, or 670 The Score in Chicago and hear how often their hosts celebrate the home teams. 

If Boston sports fans are sick of us, they have a weird way of showing it. In the last four ratings books, nearly 20 percent of men ages 25-54 on average tuned into either WEEI or “The Sports Hub.” Those are gigantic numbers.

And don’t give me the argument that Boston sports fans, desperately searching for conversation about their favorite teams, have no other options. Perhaps this was true in the early aughts, when we were going up against static high on the AM dial. But now, in the world of podcasts, satellite radio and streaming content, there are many other outlets where thirsty fans can get their fix. 

But they don’t, probably because this is about more than just sports takes. People listen for the personalities, whose programs feature far more than nonstop kvetching and complaining. The good shows are centered around bits and other lighthearted segments. If you listen to “Kirk & Callahan,” for example, you are far likelier to hear us laughing at Ken Laird’s drops than scorching Alex Cora for his managerial moves.

That brings me to the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, who tweeted Boston sports talk radio is a “stain” on the city. “Want it to stop? Don't let yourself be trolled by scripted outrage and contrived takes. Ignore it,” he wrote.

First of all, I would like to ask Abraham if he’s always been this offended by “scripted outrage,” considering he used to appear weekly on a station where the afternoon show hosts ridiculed the Martinez signing, Cora hiring and Betts for celebrating his late-season cycle. It would also be interesting to hear if Abraham felt this way when he took a job at the Globe, whose lead sports columnist, Dan Shaughnessy, routinely trolls Patriots fans about the weak state of competition in the AFC. 

There’s schtick and showmanship to all of this. Plus, let’s not act like there weren’t legitimate questions about the Red Sox this season, from Price’s previous October ineptitude to the bullpen’s struggles. Concerns weren’t invented out of thin air. 

Deep down, the finger-waggers probably know this, too. But stating the reality would result in fewer Twitter “likes.”

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Declining World Series ratings in Boston black mark for MLB: There’s been lots of talk about how this was the third-lowest rated World Series of all-time nationally. But that says far more about MLB’s lack of national reach, and brevity of the series, than either the Red Sox or Dodgers. It’s far more concerning for the Red Sox that ratings were down considerably in Boston from previous years.

The clinching games of the 2007 and 2013 World Series both drew a household rating of 55 in Boston. Sunday’s Game 5 checked in at 43.2, nearly a 12-percent decrease. Overall, the World Series averaged a 34.32 rating in Boston. For comparison’s sake, the Patriots drew a 37.3 rating for their atrocious Monday night contest against the Bills, which they made sure to point out in a helpful spreadsheet that was distributed to reporters via email. Can anyone think of a recent Boston Globe Spotlight series that may have peeved Patriots ownership? It involves one of the team’s former tight ends.

As far as the declining Red Sox ratings, baseball’s oversaturation is likely the biggest culprit. Most of these playoff games were slogs, routinely stretching to four hours or longer. In order to watch every pitch of Red Sox-Dodgers series, fans were forced to dedicate well over 21 hours of time to baseball over six nights, including Saturday's historic seven-hour, 20-minute affair. That’s just way too much time for most people with spouses, jobs, children and social lives. Add in the late start times, and you’re asking people to routinely stay up into the wee hours of the morning on almost a nightly basis for one month. There’s a reason why the ratings for the games routinely peaked in the middle innings. That’s when people were awake.

The Red Sox remain highly popular. Their local TV ratings were up this season. But they can’t overcome MLB’s arrogant ineptitude. 

David Ortiz is a cheerleader, not an analyst: If David Ortiz wants to relive his glory days while riding on duck boats and celebrating with some of his ex-teammates, that’s fine. But then Fox should have the wherewithal to pull him from their MLB postseason coverage. Beloved Big Papi didn’t offer one piece of memorable analysis during the hours of playoff programming, but his over-the-top reactions to Jackie Bradley Jr.’s ALCS grand slam and other Red Sox triumphs went viral. 

Ortiz was a cheerleader this postseason, not an analyst. He belongs inside of a luxury suit instead of a television studio.

Parade coverage was hilariously awkward: Covering championship parades for hours on end is a thankless job. As a result, we received hours of delicious fake laughter and banalities. It was a pleasure to watch.

The moment that best personifies the absurd nature of the coverage came when an NBC 10 reporter interviewed one onlooker about how long he waited to get a front-row seat for the proceedings. The exchange went as follows:

Reporter: “People have locked down their spots for hours. They were super excited. … We have some people from all over. Where are you from?

Fan: Atkinson, New Hampshire.

Reporter: How long did you have to get up to lock down this nice spot?

Fan: We just came here about 15 minutes ago.

Womp womp. 

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