Shaping Baseball with Words

This piece is the first in a series of profiles on the top sportswriters and broadcasters of all-time.  Peter Gammons was one of the true greats. He changed how we read, watch and think about baseball. 

About thirty miles outside Boston, there is a school called Groton.  The core of the expansive campus features a prominent Circle designed by renowned landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead (New York’s Central Park).  The Circle is the physical and spiritual center of the school.  It was there, a half century ago, that a young Peter Gammons built the intellectual foundation that would distinguish him in the world of sports. 

However, if the Groton Circle was an early influence, it was a different shape –the diamond–that would make Gammons a Hall of Fame-recognized household name.

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Press accounts suggest Gammons became engrossed with sportswriting during his time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He was a scribe for the Daily Tar Heel, developing the professional tool kit needed for a career in print journalism. 

Following graduation, Gammons moved to Boston and launched an extended career with the Boston Globe.  He worked in his early days alongside such icons as the great Bob Ryan [Ryan’s Scribe: My Life in Sports (2014) is a true gem in a genre that often disappoints on the downside].  According to several articles, Gammons began covering the Red Sox in 1971.

In addition to his work at the Globe and Sports Illustrated (where he covered hockey), Gammons was one of the first print reporters to embrace the emerging field of cable sports broadcasting.  In 1989, he joined the still fledgling ESPN.  It was the auspicious beginning of a 20-year run with the network.

Beyond writing copy, Gammons also published.  In 1986, Gammons wrote Beyond the Sixth Game.  It looked at the damaging impact of free agency on baseball through the lens of an evolving roster that Gammons knew and loved: the 1970s and 1980s Red Sox teams that include such marquee names as Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs. 

The broad strength of his writing would lead Gammons to be selected as National Sportswriter of the Year in 1989, 1990 and 1993.  His keen intellect, deep historical knowledge and in-depth exploration of the men that played America’s pastime had made Gammons one of the top sportswriters of his generation. 

In 2004, Gammons received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  In offering the award, they noted many virtues including his work habits.  Gammons, they wrote, was “the first to arrive at the ballpark and the last to leave.” 

For all of his print success, however, it was his quick wit and seminal, on-camera insights on EPSN that lifted Gammons to national prominence.  Even in framing his love of print journalism, Gammons conceded that he was a “newspaper reporter that happened to make a living on television.”  ESPN increasingly paid the bills.    

Nonetheless, in 2009, Gammons decided to walk away from ESPN, seeking a break from the 24/7 demands of cable.  He joined the MLB Network and MLB.com.  He also launched GammonsDaily.com, his blog about key news and events in the world of sports. He continues to shape the baseball dialogue across these emerging channels. 

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It has been an amazing 50-year journey that started here in rural Massachusetts.  Just beyond Olmstead’s landscape design, you find the Groton Athletic Facilities.  As you enter the building, you see the school motto, Cui Servire Est Regnare, overhead.  As you move to your right, you enter the Athletic Hall of Fame.  A picture of the great Peter Gammons (as captured above) catches the eye.

In his life beyond the Circle, Gammons set the modern standard for learned writing on baseball.  He pioneered the analyst role that has become the standard for modern cable sports broadcasting.  Most importantly, he changed how we read, watch and think about the game of baseball.  

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3 comments on “Shaping Baseball with Words
  1. KB says:

    I can’t wait to see the other profile pieces. My top writers are Frank Deford and David Halberstam. I also think George Plimpton had some great stuff.

    Great piece.

  2. DT says:

    I am old enough to remember when Peter Gammons started on EPSN. They would have him on Baseball Tonight and then also on Sportscenter. He always knew more than just about anyone about just about everything related to baseball.

    Great post.

  3. Sturges says:

    Gammons is incredible. I love his blog. His predictions on what is going to happen this season are good. The Royals fans on this site would like it: he cites KC as one of the six teams that EXPECT to be playing in October. He stops short of saying they WILL play in October.

    We will see. The Royals are tough, particularly if their starting pitching holds up.

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