A Red Sox icon finally inducted into the Hall Of Fame, Fenway Park installs a sheet of ice for a bazillion people, and a young Celtics star makes sure he's sticking around for a while...we have the bottom half of the Top 10 Boston Sports Stories of 2009 right here!
If you missed the honorable mentions, here you go . We'll reveal the Top Five on Wednesday. Enjoy!
10 - Rajon Rondo signs extension with Boston Celtics
It was a bizarre negotiation that came down to the wire, but in the end, the Celtics didn't let budding young star Rajon Rondo get away, signing the point guard to a five-year, $55 million extension in November.
What's so bizarre about that? How about Rondo being called out by team personnel several times over the summer (GM Danny Ainge revealed he was fined for being late to a playoff game, while coach Doc Rivers made some well-publicized comments)?
Was it just a case of tough love? Maybe, but in this era of the modern athlete, it was a huge risk to potentially not just alienate their point guard from signing a deal but perhaps for the impending season. These days, that seems more like the norm than the exception.
But in a weird way, maybe it worked. The 23-year-old will be sticking around Boston for an important fraction of his career and can continue his evolution in a winning environment. The next few years will be intriguing when it comes time for NBA player movement, but at one of the most important positions in the league, the C's have their man...even if he still needs to work on his free throws.
9 - Boston secures the Winter Classic
Maybe it was the Bruins' return to relevance last season, or the success at playing outdoor hockey at Wrigley Field, or the Red Sox's ownership knowing the right people, or perhaps it was a combination of all that and then some that earned Boston the right to host the next NHL Winter Classic.
Whatever it was, we're glad it happened, as Fenway Park will see some freaking freezing cold hockey action this Friday as they host the league's annual major single-game event between the B's and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Since the announcement, there has been buzz about the game and everyone has been using up their favors in order to get tickets. People are getting together for New Year's Day parties to watch and for one day, hockey will matter to the mainstream fan here in New England.
We've known for a while that Boston is a major sports hotbed, and getting events like this that bring major exposure and additional revenue to the Hub prove it, even if tickets were near-impossible to come by. I have a feeling, however, that everyone is going to know someone that went, kinda like Ali/Liston in Lewiston, Maine.
Got any extra tickets kicking around?
8 - 4th-and-2
Who knew that one call in one game would garner so much discussion? (Well, actually...we knew it would, didn't we?)
The decision by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to go for it on 4th-and-2 in a 34-28 game against the rival Indianapolis Colts earlier this season had not only Boston buzzing, but the national sports media as well. As you well know, the decision didn't work out, the Colts scored in like two seconds, and they went on to win 35-34.
Always happy to rip into Belichick, there were plenty of the usual pundits that took their shots but surprisingly, some defended him as well, noting his history of brass-balls play-calling that usually worked. Alas, this time it didn't, and the pain stuck around for a while.
But while "4th-and-2" was the main driver of the story, it was the questioning of Belichick here by some of the fanbase in New England that was most shocking. The guy that could previously get away with nearly anything because of his track record suddenly had doubters. Perhaps the season itself, to that point, had helped this sentiment evolve, but suddenly, Belichick's decision making wasn't bulletproof—the first real chink in an otherwise stellar armor. Like it or not, things changed on that Sunday night.
Even former players, like Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison, didn't like the call and said that it sent a message to the defense that it couldn't be trusted with the game on the line. In a million years, I would have never guessed either guy to speak out against Double-B like that. Belichick was his normal self and the team smartly didn't question the decision publicly. However, I still wonder if, behind closed doors, the defense really did feel slighted.
How the Patriots finish off this season will tell a lot. We know they're in the playoffs, but how would a one-and-done go over here? Will the questioning increase or go away? What about the next "4th-and-2" situation?
For better or worse, no one is immune from fan and media scrutiny in Boston and now, Bill Belichick truly understands that. Welcome to the party, pal.
7 - WEEI vs. Sports Hub vs. NESN vs. CSNE: The Sports Media War Heats Up
And here you thought intense competition in sports was only on the field of play.
The fact that major sports media entities in Boston have intensified their efforts isn't new, but the efforts at which they will go to continue their one-upmanship still is. Fortifying Web content was huge as radio giant WEEI redesigned and bolstered their site, while Comcast Sports Net not only relaunched their site, but also made like the Red Sox and acquired various print beat writers like Sean McAdam, Tom E. Curran, and Kevin Paul Dupont to come on board.
It's like every outlet is attempting to fill out their pitching rotation, signing people that they hope will put butts in front of the TV/computer seats.
ESPN continued their trend of leveraging regional content by launching ESPNBoston.com and signing Mike Reiss away from the Boston Globe to lead their Patriots coverage. Their radio presence also continued to grow with an agreement with WEEI to provide some radio content, clearing the way for some of their insiders to appear on the 'EEI airwaves. There has been some talk about them fully moving over the 850 AM spot, while WEEI moves to FM full-time, but nothing has been announced.
Initially, Peter Gammons was to be part of this package, but he decided to leave ESPN to focus on a reduced workload with MLB Network and NESN—a huge coup for the network known for Red Sox coverage. Gammons will contribute both on-air for 50 of the team's pre-game telecasts and be an online contributor as well. The effect on NESN is equitable to what Albert Pujols would bring to the Boston lineup—just awesome.
But the most interesting twist of 2009 has to be the launch of 98.5 FM The Sports Hub. Meant to be a direct competitor to WEEI, the CBS-owned sports station brought on their own hired guns in Mike Felger, Tony Massarotti, Gary Tanguay, Scott Zolak, and the popular morning team of Toucher and Rich from the former WBCN. So far, so good as the Felger/Mazz afternoon drive-time show has been great listening and a nice change of pace from the yelling and screaming of Glenn Ordway's The Big Show .
With media continually changing, it's all about polarizing personalities, leveraging online content, and overall, creating a brand experience. Just using the traditional approaches simply isn't good enough. Whether it's airing a game, a newscast, or even a special report, everything matters in a sports media saturated market like Boston. Who knows? If 2009 was any indication, 2010 may feel like it focuses more on who brings us the news rather than who they're reporting on.
6 - Jim Rice inducted into the Hall Of Fame
A generation of Red Sox fans were finally able to breathe as Jim Rice was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a 15-year wait.
If you're into Sox history, I don't need to explain to you what a moment this was. The yearly push to include Rice practically became telethon-esque around here with a slew of team personnel, former players, and media peeps pleading their cases as to why he belonged, while Rice—an NESN analyst for the past few years—calmly tried to explain his case while staying north of begging the BBWAA to let him in. That was never his style, and, like Eddie Murray years before him, probably was part of the reason things took so long.
Along the way, many newer fans got brought into the story and pushed for Rice's inclusion, even if they didn't fully understand why.
The argument for Rice was that, while his numbers were not collectively eye-popping, he was a dominant player during a stretch which, years later, would be seen as the pre-steroids era. He led the AL in home runs three times and RBI twice, was an eight-time All-Star, and won the AL MVP in 1978, finishing in the MVP race five other times. In 16 seasons, he finished with a .298 average, 382 homers, 1451 RBI, over 1200 runs scored, and over 2400 hits.
The arguments against? Great player, but not Hall-worthy. Of course, this brought up the valid debate of the criteria to get into the Hall of Fame and one's perspective of greatness. Comparisons to other players in and not in were brought up, and Rice's numbers were sliced, diced, and reheated too many times to recount here. With this being his last chance, there was an impending feeling of closure for everyone involved.
A no-doubt HOF'er? No, but Rice's inclusion is an interesting and deserved one, given the timeframe, the campaign to get him in, and the ultimate result. It worked, and Rice's number is now retired at Fenway Park, in addition to a nice bust in Cooperstown. A legion of fans that followed Rice for almost two decades is now vindicated, as is he.
1-5 this Wednesday..
Josh Nason is the main writer for Small White Ball/Boston Sports Observer, a New England-based sports and media blog that contributes to Bleacher Report. Reach him via Twitter or josh [at] smallwhiteball [dot-com].
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