Tony Massarotti knew that taking on the challenge of writing about the most pivotal two decades of Boston sports history would be a massive undertaking, but he was still struck by just how much the city’s teams and fans have been through.
“So much happened — championships, once-in-a-generation talents — in a relatively short amount of time,” he said. So much so, that the initial draft of his new book “This Is Our City: Four Teams, Twelve Championships, and How Boston Became the Most Dominant Sports City in the World,” was over 180,000 words long.
“It was absolutely a labor of love,” he said.
Massarotti saw this incredible rise firsthand as a sports writer for the Boston Herald, Boston Globe, and later Boston.com and he continues to cover the city’s major sports teams extensively as the co-host of the “Felger and Mazz” show with 98.5 The Sports Hub.
On Thursday, Massarotti joined our first in-person Book Club event to discuss his book at Capital One Café in the Seaport. The Boston sports journalism legend had a conversation with Boston.com sports writer Khari Thompson about what it was like to watch Boston become such a force in professional sports and what it took to get there.
Read on for takeaways from their discussion with each other and the audience, and get more Book Club updates here.
There’s no better place to be a sports fan than Boston.
There are few cities that can be compared to Boston when it comes to the number and success of its sports teams. But more than that, Massarotti gives credit to the culture of dedication among the city’s teams and fanbase. In his book, he includes conversations with key players like Brad Stevens and Josh McDaniels who shared how much they grew to love the city.
“Sports bond Bostonians,” the author said. “As provincial as Boston can feel, we really take people in and make them insiders.”
Massarotti is sometimes nostalgic for when Boston teams “sucked.”
A lot has changed about being a Boston sports fan in the last two decades. As a lifelong Massachusetts resident, Massarotti said he still remembers clearly when Boston wasn’t the legendary sports town it is today. “All of the winning polluted the culture,” he joked. “We got spoiled.”
The winning streak was great not just for everyday fans, but for sports media as well. Massarotti was covering the Red Sox for the Boston Herald when the team beat the decades-long curse and won the 2004 World Series.
“My whole life, we never win a championship. I start covering the Red Sox and we start winning titles,” he said. “It’s a lucky thing.”
The city’s success is bigger than any one person.
It’s easy to name iconic sports figures like Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, or David Ortiz, but Massarotti said the city owes its success to a combination of brilliant players, luck, and the fans. That’s why it was important to the author to feature an array of prominent people and the Boston skyline on the cover of the book. Once those people showed winning was possible, without the fans holding them accountable, the repeated success we’ve seen might not have happened.
“The winning matters here because it’s winning in a market where people care,” Massarotti said.
Massarotti’s favorite Boston sports moment of that era was the Bruins in 2011.
When asked which moment or event sticks out the most, Massarotti knows most fans will name the Patriots winning their first Super Bowl against the Rams or the Sox 2004 World Series, but Massarotti’s personal favorites are hockey-related. The author mentioned the 2011 Bruins Game 7 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Bruins game after the Boston Marathon bombings. We recently asked readers for their favorite moments of the last 20 years, and though a couple agreed with Massarotti’s pick, most pointed to what he’d predicted: the 2004 Red Sox win.
The author also mentioned Big Papi’s speech after the bombings, the namesake for this book, and an “emotional moment” for sports fans. “He spoke what the city was feeling that day,” Massarotti said.
Massarotti wanted to tell the whole truth — including the ugly parts.
As great as the last two years have been for Boston fans, the city’s history is also checkered, especially when it comes to race relations. In his book, he includes reporting about racist incidents at games and conversations with players like Doc Rivers about their thoughts on that part of the last two decades. Massarotti said it was important to be honest about those moments so the city can continue to improve in those areas.
“The city’s history is not perfect,” the author said. “But the [goal] of this book was to tell the complete story.”
Sports analytics shouldn’t replace the spirit of the game.
Massarotti has a discussion with an attendee about how major league sports have been transformed by analytics in recent years. While he understands how analytics have helped teams like Red Sox, but doesn’t want to be so obsessed with perfecting games and collecting wins that we lose sight of what makes following these teams so engaging — the love of the game.
“Two great teams playing it out is the best entertainment there is,” he said. “Human error is what makes sports great.”