Nick Cafardo, baseball writer of uncommon grace and dedication, dies at 62
“For a sports reporter the biggest rush is to break a big story,” Nick Cafardo once wrote, and for him, the only way to do that was to show up every day for every practice and every game — at home or on the road.
So no one was surprised to see Mr. Cafardo Thursday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., even though it was his day off. As he watched and listened to Red Sox players, he’d often snag a stray detail or quote that might bounce between the legs of another reporter like an unruly ground ball, and he’d turn it into a must-read story the next day.
At work at the park Thursday, a day before the team’s first spring training game, Mr. Cafardo collapsed of an apparent embolism and died in Gulf Coast Medical Center. He was 62 and lived in Plymouth.
During nearly four decades in journalism, covering the Red Sox most of that time, he built a national reputation story by story, season by season. He also wrote the Globe’s nationally read Sunday baseball notes column, a staple for aficionados in Boston and far beyond.
As an uncommonly dedicated baseball beat reporter, a calling known for its grueling hours and life on the road, he was legendary among all who cover sports.
“He never wanted a trip off. He never wanted a day off. He came early and stayed late. He was never in a hurry to get out,” said Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy.
Baseball players take the field every day “and Nick showed up every day without fanfare,” Shaughnessy said. “He was part of the daily heartbeat of baseball.”
“Nick was one of the best people to ever walk through our doors — generous with his time and insights, immensely knowledgeable, deeply devoted to the Globe,” said Brian McGrory, the Globe’s editor.
“He had a view of the Red Sox and the game on a national scale that is virtually unrivaled,” McGrory added. “For those reasons, he was one of our most read writers, constantly attracting followers near and far, his weekly baseball notes column being destination reading for tens of thousands of people.”
John Henry, who owns the Globe and is principal owner of the Red Sox, said that “Nick was focused on giving baseball fans a clear lens with which to view the Red Sox and the game he loved so much. What I respected most about Nick was that he always went to great pains to be as accurate as possible without varnish and to uncover what was most interesting for fans of the game.”
Mr. Cafardo, Henry added, “would often give me insights on what was happening outside of Boston because he was so well respected by baseball men throughout the game. The baseball family will greatly miss him.”
Colleagues across the country tweeted condolences. “I absolutely loved this man. Nick Cafardo was one of the greatest people I’ve ever met in this business, and such a dear friend,” wrote Bob Nightengale, USA Today’s Major League Baseball columnist, who added that “the sports world lost a great one.”
Though respected and liked by organizations and players across the country, Mr. Cafardo never eased back on his fastball when he sat down to write. Those extra hours of reporting at every ballpark provided material for sharply observed reports, including, recently, his stories questioning the team’s decision to not resign closer Craig Kimbrel.
Mr. Cafardo also wrote books such as “The Impossible Team: The Worst to First Patriots’ Super Bowl Season,” published in 2002, during a few years when he switched from baseball to covering football.
He also authored “100 Things Red Sox Fans should Know & Do Before They Die”; “Inside Pitch” and “None but the Braves,” both with former Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine; and “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories From the Boston Red Sox Dugout, Locker Room, and Press Box,” with Jerry Remy, which will be published this year.
Daily reporting and the Sunday baseball notes column were his calling cards, however.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 16, and I’ve never been around anybody who worked as much as he did — and without complaining,” said Globe Red Sox writer Peter Abraham.
“He would show up at the park on days he wasn’t writing because he wanted to be there in case something happened, or maybe to get a nugget of a story for the next day,” Abraham added. “He was an everyday presence around the team during the season. It’s hard for me to picture being around the team without being around Nick.”
Born in Weymouth in 1956, Nicholas Cafardo was a son of Nicola Cafardo, a shoemaker, and Adelina Pizzi. His parents were Italian immigrants who mostly spoke Italian, and Mr. Cafardo was well into childhood before becoming proficient at English.
That late start learning the language “made him love and appreciate it, work tirelessly at it, and ultimately propel him to make a career out of the written word,” said his son, Ben, of West Hartford, Conn.
Mr. Cafardo grew up in Hanson and graduated from Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, where his senior yearbook entry noted that there was “goodness in his soul.”
He initially attended Northeastern University and would later write for Yankee Magazine that “I owe a long-overdue apology to a college professor for an early morning class I missed in the fall of 1975.” He had slept in the morning after Carlton Fisk’s famous home run in Game 6 of the World Series. Mr. Cafardo stayed up late to watch, and to study “the type of history I couldn’t learn in a classroom.”
He graduated from Suffolk University and started his journalism career at The Enterprise in Brockton before moving to the Patriot-Ledger in Quincy, where Globe sports columnist Will McDonough began noticing his baseball writing in the late 1980s.
“I was breaking stories on the Red Sox that the Boston papers didn’t have,” Mr. Cafardo later wrote. “Leigh Montville had left the Globe for Sports Illustrated. Dan Shaughnessy moved into his column spot from baseball. It was then that McDonough walked into sports editor Don Skwar’s office and said, ‘This is the guy you have to hire.’ ”
The Globe became Mr. Cafardo’s home for the rest of his career.
In 1979, he married Leeanne Wood, and they had two children — Emilee of Plymouth, and Ben, who said his father “was at his happiest” when he spent time with his two grandchildren, 8-year-old Annabella and 4-year-old Noah.
“My Dad was everything I ever wanted to be, personally and professionally,” said Ben, who is communications director at ESPN.
He added that while many knew his father solely as a sportswriter, family and close friends “knew his love, his respect, his unwavering support and love of family, his loyalty, his patience. Most of all, we knew him as one of the best people we ever had the opportunity to love. He was our rock and he will be missed endlessly.”
A service will be announced for Mr. Cafardo, who in addition to his wife, children, and grandchildren leaves his brother, Federico, of Hanson.
At the Globe, Mr. Cafardo had considered McDonough a mentor.
“For those of us who fancy ourselves as sports reporters first and sports writers second, Will McDonough was our Babe Ruth,” he wrote after McDonough died of a heart attack in 2003.
The sudden loss of a friend and colleague prompted Mr. Cafardo to reflect in ways that his own friends and colleagues may now be doing, upon hearing of his death.
Work matters, Mr. Cafardo wrote, but what endures is who you are and how you act:
“When you wander through the visages of your life, there are people you will always remember. Those who were kind to you. Those who said something or passed along some wisdom that will stay with you forever. Those who always had your best interest at heart.”