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Leigh Montville

After 24 years away, back for more fun and games

There is no subtle way to return through the front door after being gone for 24 years. The cornball approaches come first to mind — “As I was saying . . . ” or maybe “What’s new?” — but they sound silly and flat. Probably the best approach is simply to turn the knob and take a few steps forward.

“Hello . . .

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“Anybody home?

“Hello?”

I wrote my last regularly scheduled sports column for the Boston Globe on Aug. 20, 1989. That was a long time ago. The column was a goodbye as I left to take a job at Sports Illustrated. I mentioned a bunch of stuff I had seen in my 21 years at the newspaper, a list that included moments such as Doug Flutie’s touchdown pass in Miami and Marvin Hagler’s middleweight championship victory in London and Larry Bird’s NBA title in Houston and a certain American hockey championship in 1980 in Lake Placid, etc., etc. Again, a long time ago.

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“When I was 10 years old, fifth grade, I delivered newspapers in the morning,” I wrote in my column. “Somewhere in my route, I would take a break. I would sit on top of my bag full of papers and read the morning sports.

“On the lefthand side of the page there always was a column written by a man whose picture was printed at the top. The man would write about the grand events he had seen, the grand places he had visited, the grand people he had met. I would think that he had the greatest job in the world, this man with his picture printed every day in the sports page . . . ”

I said that it had been “an honor and a flat-out pleasure” to work that job for the Globe, to have had my picture at the top of that column. Exit, stage left. I was replaced by a couple of guys named Shaughnessy and Ryan.

Years passed.

“I was Shaughnessy before Shaughnessy,” I had to explain, the further removed I became from my time at the Globe.

Eyes would harden. Dispositions would become colder.

“Except maybe I was a kinder, gentler Shaughnessy,” I would add. “Hah.”

I never left Boston. That was part of the deal with SI. I was even grandfathered into the Boston Globe basketball league for a while, still able to play with the Sports Department and do weekly mortal combat at the Dorchester House with the Press Room, Delivery, the Return Room, and, of course, the effete quasi-intellectuals from News. I was still around for daily Boston life, a reader, an observer of the local scene. I was still a follower of the Celtics, the Bruins, the Red Sox, and Patriots. I just didn’t have to deal with them on a daily business basis anymore. I almost could be — strange word here — a fan.

Years passed.

I wrote a couple of books while I was at SI. This was a conflict. The magazine could call you at any time, say there was a crisis that had to be handled in St. Louis or San Antonio or somewhere in Croatia. It was like being a fireman for sports emergencies. I quit the magazine and wrote books full time. I have written eight books, ranging in subjects from Manute Bol to Dale Earnhardt to Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and the Red Sox’ transcendent World Series championship in 2004. I am working on a book now about Muhammad Ali and the military draft.

A little more than a year ago, the editors of a newly created website called sportsonearth.com asked if I would like to write a semi-regular column for the site. Major League Baseball and USA Today were the financial backers. I was intrigued. I hadn’t written a regular sports column since I left the Globe. I found I also hadn’t gone to many games since I left SI, watching mostly from my couch as the string of local championship heroics grew longer and longer. I missed the games. I missed having a reason to go to them.

I took the job.

It has been an interesting experience, returning to environments I once knew well, sort of like going back to the old neighborhood or, better yet, the old high school and finding it inhabited by different people doing many of the same things your class did. The players and coaches are different, of course, and maybe 90 percent of the media are different, and the technological whiz-bangs that have been developed certainly are different, but the bottom line of people and games and stories is the same.

I was on the scene for the Patriots in the playoffs last year, for the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final this year, for the Red Sox and their entire postseason run to the World Series. (Yes, that’s a champagne stain on my Marmot parka, thank you very much.) The electronic side of sports journalism seems to have taken charge in these situations, cameras and microphones everywhere, staged news conference settings the rule rather than the exception, print reporters forced to tweet about what they had for dinner, but if you look hard enough, room still can be found for conversation, give-and-take, anecdote. Room can be found for fun.

When the Globe called and asked if I might want to write a weekly column again, picture at the top of the page, I didn’t have to think long. Why not? So here I am.

I tell people that I am Red Sox owner John Henry’s first free agent in his new journalistic enterprise. I am a Mike Napoli type of free agent, a veteran catcher/first baseman with possibly bad hips who might be able to help a little bit. I will do what I can do. I might even grow a beard, add some tattoos, maybe take off my shirt and go for a midnight stroll down Boylston Street if everything works out.

I am a team player, here to win a championship.

I also can use the money.

I am saving to buy a duck boat.

Starting today, Leigh Montville’s column appears regularly in the Globe.
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