Peter Gammons, the innovative and remarkably well-sourced baseball writer for the Globe in the 1970s and '80s who pioneered the trend of sportswriters jumping to television when he joined ESPN in 1989, is leaving the network -- in part, he says, because his connection to Boston remains profound.
Gammons will end his 21-year-run at ESPN at the conclusion of baseball’s winter meetings. But he will not be difficult to find. He confirmed via telephone last night that he has agreed to terms with a pair of intriguing outlets: the MLB Network, which proved an appealing option to ESPN’s baseball coverage in just its first year on the air, and NESN, the television home of the Red Sox.
‘"A big part of [the decision] is that I just want to be home more," said Gammons, 64, who grew up in Groton and maintains residences in Boston and Cape Cod. "And it's a slight change of pace. A lot of opportunities came up at the same time and I put them all together and it looked very appealing. But it’s very much a lifestyle thing."
Landing Gammons, who was honored as the recipient of the 2004 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball writing during the 2005 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, is a tremendous coup for NESN as it faces an impending battle with Comcast SportsNet, which has revamped its website and added new programming in a determined effort to become a multimedia force in the Boston market.
"This is a great day for our fans. Peter is the most respected and relied upon baseball journalist in the country," said NESN president and CEO Sean McGrail in a statement. "Peter brings to our baseball coverage a depth of knowledge and experience unmatched in the industry."
Gammons said he is energized by the prospect of writing often for both websites.
"There’s so much to like about the internet when it comes to baseball," Gammons said. "I love stuff like MLBTradeRumors.com and there are so many tremendous blogs and insightful, fresh ideas. But let's admit it. There's also a ton of white noise out there. When I was at the Globe, sometimes I was allowed to write 1,500-word game stories. Now it's a seven-character comment on Twitter."
Gammons will serve as an in-studio analyst and commentator for various MLB Network programs such "MLB Tonight" and "MLB Hot Stove" as well as a featured writer on MLB.com, its de facto website that has begun an initiative to add columnists to its staff.
His role will be much the same on NESN -- he will serve as a studio analyst, reporter, and commentator on pregame and postgame programming as well as contributing online. Gammons, who signed a multi-year deal, will begin his duties at the network by serving as a co-host of the "Red Sox Hot Stove" program, though the date of his debut could not be confirmed.
"I'll do whatever they tell me to,’’ said Gammons. "I grew up a New Englander, and I want to be part of my hometown. I still live in Boston. I’m a part of my community, and I want to continue to be part of my community.’’
ESPN held exclusive rights to negotiate with Gammons through October, which is also the month he signed with Creative Artists Agency. Gammons, who said his contract with ESPN worked in three-year increments, informed the network he was considering other options. He said the deals with NESN and the MLB Network came together quickly over the past couple of weeks.
While Gammons’s role at ESPN appeared slightly diminished in recent years as the network's staff of baseball writers and commentators seemed to perpetually expand, he is convincing when he says the parting was more than amicable.
"A lot of people said to me today, ‘You know, you must have negative feelings about ESPN.’ That’s so far from the reality," Gammons said. "Some of the best friends I have ever had are there. [Baseball writers] Buster [Olney], Jayson [Stark], Tim [Kurkjian], Jerry [Crasnick], those are real friends. The people from ESPN were tremendous, and I truly loved working with them."
Even with his pair of appealing new gigs, however, Gammons joked that he may not be done taking on jobs and assignments.
"Oh, I'll probably find a few more before the week is over," he said with a laugh. "You'll probably see me as a department store Santa."