High among the great changes in my business, which is journalism, in the going-on 60 years since I entered upon this improbable stage has been a none-too-subtle alteration of its most basic dictum.
When I came along, about the time Jack Kennedy was taking over the land and Ted Williams was wandering off to pasture, the business was still entirely dominated by the daily newspaper, and much the better for it, although one freely concedes not all of them did the job either wisely or well. But there were certain basic understandings shared by all – be they the good, bad, or indifferent – and they were hallowed. You disputed them at your peril if becoming an ink-stained wretch of the glorious Fourth Estate is what you yearned for most.
First among the commandments was as simple as its gets. The primary and essential task of the reporter in telling his or her story was to inform the reader of Who, What, Where, When, & Why. You’ll note there’s no implying in that fundamental equation that you had a license to predict what will happen next let alone farther down the road, and the hardened pros who ran the business back then would come down on you like a ton of bricks if you dared try. I can still hear Bob Plaisted, my unforgettable first city editor at the estimable Patriot Ledger, bellowing from his imperial nook, “Dang it, Booth. I don’t give a hoot what you think might happen, only what you learned did happen.” Or words to that effect.
Columnists, of course, even back then played by different rules. But it’s my recollection that the best of them were smart enough to avoid delving into mere and banal prophecy. Citing the potential consequences of policies, acts, or twists of fate is fair game, but according them a certain inevitability by predicting their likelihood is quite another. Too many in this dodge nowadays are purveyors of doom and peddlers of the dire, and even if it’s only foolishness they are so gleefully indulging, that’s no excuse. Prophecies are pointless. We have no such skills. None of us is an oracle. The “swami” thing expired with Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent.
Obviously, the occasion that inspires this rambling discourse is the beginning of another new year when the rage to reveal the mysteries of the future becomes epidemic in our business. It happens every year. We never learn. That it should be especially an affliction of the toy departments of the now much more vast and wide-ranging world of media makes what we are referencing here in this space fairly harmless, but no less stupid.
Bear in mind that precisely a year ago predictions were loud and rampant that your Red Sox would run away with the American League East, that the Bruins would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, that the Celtics would sink deeper into their abyss, with Tiger Woods coming all the way back. Moreover, there was no such term in the entire jock lexicon, let alone the dictionary, as “Deflategate.” Things happen fast in these times. Alleged dynasties rise and fall, sometimes overnight.
So with that elaborate caveat in place, let’s proceed with the citing of a few things that might reasonably be anticipated in 2016, noting the possibility some might even please or amuse us, and with the further, and very firm, understanding that they aren’t predictions. Call them “hopes and expectations,” if you will, and, of course, “questions.”
… Like, where will the Red Sox end up? I have no clue. But haunted by the lessons of their history, I feel safe in offering assurances it won’t be as merry a romp as their vast legion of cheerleaders seem already celebrating. You can bet that at least one of the fundamental premises of their latest restoration will crumble. At $210 million over seven years, they only hope it’s not David Price.
… Unravelling in step will be the 162-game farewell victory lap of David Ortiz. Never one to miss a trick, our redoubtable slugger has given the entire baseball world a whole year to plan the tributes they must shower on him to properly convey “respect.” We have the otherwise impeccable Derek Jeter to thank for this relatively new but already old shtick, which I guarantee that you, too, will soon enough tire of.
… Where will the Bruins end up? I have even less of a clue. For about six happy weeks, Claude Julien had his re-booted club soaring in lusty defiance of their gloomy off-season prospects. But they ended the year in a tailspin punctuated by a dreadful swoon in their epic New Year’s Day date with the Canadiens, a potential classic that abruptly metamorphosed into a public relations disaster. This is not exactly the luckiest team in town. They start the new year having to prove all over again that they are still viable.
... And if they somehow manage to do that it will only be because Claude Julien contends for coach of the year honors and Patrice Bergeron wins the Hart Trophy as MVP. Actually, both ought to be worthy candidates for such prizes even if they wind up in the NHL lottery.
.… More sanguine are the hopes of the Celtics under a bold young coach whose stature seems rising by the game. They still lack the go-to, climb-on-my-shoulders, resident superstar without which no NBA team can aspire to a championship. But the last and lustiest of Danny Ainge’s shrewdly schemed draft chips is about to be plucked, thanks to Kevin Garnett. Maybe the star they lack sits near the top of June’s NBA lottery. You should root for Brooklyn to lose a lot.
... Other tender hopes include:
… A Summer Olympics not blighted by the darker global forces unloosed in our times and also for a festival that doesn’t leave poor Brazil in a state of financial ruin for a generation.
… A cleanup of FIFA to go with the permanent banishment of the infamous Sepp Blatter and his light-fingered cronies. The “Beautiful Game” deserves better, and desperately needs it before facing its next huge challenge: a World Cup extravaganza in merry Moscow.
… A wake-up call for the NCAA to get to work reforming allegedly amateur collegiate sport instead of focusing as usual on further amassing greater television royalties. College sport has never been rolling in more ridiculous riches and more pathetic shame. Simultaneously!
… The slashing of at least 30 of the 42 college football bowl games that are needlessly played this year leading to the Idiot Bowl at the end of the line to allegedly decide a national champ. And while they’re at it, how about abolishing “one and done” basketball champions.
… A timeout in the assault of technology would be welcome. Electronic and digital gimmickry increasingly invade and clutter all the games. On-site replays have gone haywire. Official reviews are much overdone. Every tag doesn’t require affirmation nor do all goals beg to be ratified by nameless, faceless replay officials hidden miles, even nations, away. You let this monster get any further out of control and you’ll ruin your games. That, too, is guaranteed.
And other things you might expect, for better or worse:
… The rousing welcome Fenway Park’s bleacher boo-birds are sure to accord the latest jewel in the Yankees crown, controversial reliever Aroldis Chapman.
… The retirement of Tiger Woods, reputedly now having trouble even walking, leaving us to forever wonder what might have been.
… The further decline of boxing, now teetering on total extinction.
… The gradually easing of both PED sanctions and the disapproval that goes with it as suspects climb in Hall of Fame voting. It will only take one more suspect to make it for the cause to be lost, much to the chagrin of traditionalists.
… Another round of Deflategate as Sir Galahad’s appeal is heard, although if the NFL czar has any sense left he’ll make it as quick and quiet as possible. When Tom Brady gets the last laugh, many will cringe. Believe it or not.
... And lastly, how will the Patriots end up? Don’t have a clue, old Sport. But all things considered, I’d rather have a surprise. Our boy Bill is full of them.