The great outdoors is still great, but it’s not nearly as big and bountiful as it once was here in the sports section.
For decades, large metropolitan papers such as the Globe dutifully chronicled all things field and stream, with at least one sports staffer assigned full time to deliver stories on the trends, oddities and bits of breaking news in the hunting and fishing world, along with the latest happenings in skiing and camping and hiking, or whatever else didn’t fit the boss’s particular definition of mainstream sports.
The talented likes of the Globe’s Henry Moore, Monty Montgomery, and Tony Chamberlain were icons on the outdoor writing beat, their prose peppered with passion, information, analysis, and wit. Even the reader with zero interest in life beyond the ballpark or arena could be easily hooked on their prose.
The likes of Moore, Montgomery, and Chamberlain could make a moose matter. What more need be said?
Many aspiring sports reporters here at Morrissey Boulevard had to prove they could handle the “Fishfinder.’’ Every summer, right here on these pages, once a week we published a map of the New England shoreline, and it was the reporter’s job to call various bait shops along said shoreline (identified by zones) to find out exactly where the blues, cod, tuna, flounder, and stripers were biting best.
So keep your fancy electronic GPS fish tracker, OK? We among the Globe’s faithful Fishfinder alum got the word directly from Bob at “Bob’s Bait Shop’’ on Plum Island or from Rita at “Block and Tackle’’ on Block Island. We had it on the down low what was happening down low. “Oh, yeah, Fishfinder’s on my résumé . . . summer intern, 1968,’’ recalled Bob Ryan, whose other non-outdoorsy stuff you’ll find on Page 2 some Sundays, 46 summers later.
I cranked out my share of Fishfinders in the early- and mid-’70s. Handed a rod and reel today, I would be challenged to land the laziest catfish in the Assabet River, but I somehow navigated the Fishfinder with a literary flair that no doubt today would make Charlie Moore’s eyes water.
“Never [wrote] the Fishfinder,’’ fellow staffer John Powers, our Olympic expert, informed me via e-mail last week. “A massive gap in my résumé. Don’t know how I missed it.’’
Good pal Dan Shaughnessy also shook the Fishfinder hook, his Globe summers away from the Holy Cross campus spent chronicling the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League.
“Never,’’ Shaughnessy reported succinctly by e-mail last week from St. Louis, where he was writing a column on John Lackey.
For myriad reasons, mainly related to a shrinking budget in the digital age, many North American newspapers have trimmed back substantially on outdoor writing. Joe Sullivan, the Globe’s sports editor, pulled the plug on the Fishfinder soon after taking the corner office in 2004.
“Tony [Chamberlain] retired, which was a large part of it,’’ said Sullivan. “We found ourselves lacking anyone with enough expertise for us to put the Fishfinder in the paper, in my opinion.’’
There are pockets of the country, added Sullivan, where newspapers remain engaged in outdoor reporting, including, he noted, Minneapolis, the Pacific Northwest and Florida, which all have a robust fishing tourism business. But by and large, he said, many sports editors around the United States view it as expenditure that doesn’t pay off in terms of readership with the likes of college and pro sports.
“I still believe to have a complete, rounded sports section you need that outdoor component,’’ said Sullivan. “And we still do a few of those stories written by staff members each year. But in total number, no, that doesn’t make up for the space we once gave it.’’
For many years, America’s two most popular sports magazines, “Sports Illustrated’’ and ‘’Sport’’ frequently featured a fishing or hunting photo on their respective covers. That’s hard to imagine now, what with “Sport’’ no longer in business and SI fixed on trying to grab eyeballs with superstars and young women in bikinis.
What would it take for a striped bass or 12-point buck to be featured on the SI cover today? Probably nothing less than a scandal connecting money laundering, a steroid mail order business, all of it headquartered in a hunting lodge. To sell the great outdoors today, it really has to be one whopper of a story.
In order to review some SI covers, I searched Google “images’’ last week and typed in the words, “Sports Illustrated wildlife covers.’’ Simple enough. Of the dozens upon dozens of pictures, the majority were of women in bikinis. It was a reminder yet again how SI’s marketing approach has proliferated.
But not all was lost. There were two outdoor SI covers of yesteryear that fit the bill. One was of a majestic Golden Eagle, wings expanded, swooping in for a landing, a shot from 1959 with the headline, “Golden Eagle in Flight.’’ Another was of a captured giant marlin, hanging by its tail dockside, with proud angler Alfred Glassell Jr. eyeing the kill. It was shot in 1956 at the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club off the coast of Peru, the spot where Ernest Hemingway filmed “The Old Man and the Sea.’’
It was the revered Hemingway who once said, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.’’
Years later, all the rest are pretty much all we get.