Readers of The Boston Globe have been able to depend on the sports writing and commentary of Bob Ryan for over four decades. But several months ago, Ryan announced that after the London Olympics, he will retire.
Let’s begin this story about “retirement” with the understanding that — at least for this particular retiree — it won’t be a matter of sitting on the porch with a pitcher of cold lemonade and a scrapbook.
“It’s a technical term in my judgment, which means that in my case, I’m going to cease being in the full-time employment of the company I’ve worked for these last 44 years, but it does not mean I’m going to become a monk,” Ryan said. “I’m going to have a second life. I’m not going to learn to play the piano, or walk a tight rope, or God forbid, juggle or something.”
Ryan assures me that he admires those talents. He even reveals that he used to play the piano when he was 8 years old. Then he goes on elaborate on that second life, which, like the one he’s been living and chronicling since 1969, will involve travel. And in many cases, apparently the destinations will still be basketball arenas.
“There’s venues, like in college basketball, which I enjoy,” Ryan said. “I know people are going to say, ‘What’s he talking about?’ Oklahoma State, that’s supposed to be a very interesting place to go to a game. LSU, I’ve been there, but not at night, a night game at LSU. Here’s one for you: Wouldn’t it be cool to be a the South Dakota State basketball championships at the Corn Palace?”
At 66, Ryan has seen sporting events in 45 states; he’d like to make it an even 50. That midnight baseball game they play each summer in Alaska would take him to the one state he hasn’t seen. It would give him a column, too — since the likelihood is that in retirement, he’ll still be producing somewhere between 30 and 40 Sunday pieces for the Globe. But even with that responsibility, Ryan figures he’ll be doing more of what he wants to do and less of what he doesn’t want to do. And beyond that, he’s begun to think about how he’ll be remembered.
“I want to maintain an image of having been a high-quality person, and I do look at certain things I’ve done when I come across them and I say, ‘I did that? Who’s that guy?’ ” he said. “It required an energy, an enthusiasm and a knowledge base, everything that comes together in a manner that I’m not sure I can do anymore, and I think that’s a very good sign for a writer to know when it’s time for someone else. Your time is up.”
Happily for Ryan’s many enthusiastic readers, his time is far from up, this alleged retirement business notwithstanding. He looks forward to whatever Olympian surprises fall into his lap in London, beginning with his arrival there on Sunday.
He tells me that his TV career will continue “as long as the suits are so inclined.” And then there will be those Sunday dispatches from Alaska, South Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma and who knows where else. But by “retiring,” Ryan will be fulfilling a vow he made years ago.
“I had promised myself that I would not hang around too long, and I would not risk having people wanting me to go, and I would go out when I’m still — to borrow a baseball metaphor — throwing 94 or 95 on the black.”
It may be an ironic metaphor for a fellow known as “Mr. Basketball” to employ, but perhaps a useful one for a man who’s been a starter at the Globe for all these years, and a dependable guy providing plenty of innings at that. Kind of makes you feel sorry for whomever gets brought in to relieve him.