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SUNDAY BASEBALL NOTES

A tribute to Nick Cafardo, baseball writer extraordinaire

Nick Cafardo at his beloved Fenway Park.
Nick Cafardo at his beloved Fenway Park.(Globe Staff/File)

Nick Cafardo wrote the Globe’s Sunday Baseball Notes column for the last 15 years, never missing a single week. To honor Cafardo, who died on Thursday, we devote his space this week to tributes written by colleagues and readers.

PETER ABRAHAM

As a newcomer to the baseball beat 18 years ago, I knew Nick Cafardo only by his reputation as one of the best-connected people in the business.

After a while I got to know him as an easy-going, friendly presence in the press box, somebody I looked forward to talking to when our paths crossed. Everybody, and I mean everybody, liked Nick.

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Then he became somebody who changed my life.

In 2009, I was covering the Yankees for a newspaper in Westchester County, N.Y. Nick approached me one day that summer and said the Globe was looking to add a baseball writer and I should look into the job.

I had applied several times for positions at the Globe with no luck and had given up on the idea. But Nick prodded me to try again, saying he had been following my work and thought I would be a good fit.

That led to an interview and then the job offer I had been waiting for my whole career. As a kid who grew up in New Bedford reading the Globe then went to UMass Amherst to study journalism, it was a thrill to come back home.

Nick made it happen. He opened a closed door because he could. What a lesson there.

I would thank him from time to time, especially when we covered a World Series or All-Star Game together. But Nick would always wave me off, refusing to take any credit.

Of course, he did find ways that I could pay him back. His phone battery always seemed to be at 3 percent and he would borrow a charger from me that I wouldn’t get back for a month. And if he had any cash on him, it was never more than $4. I paid for a lot of pregame meals.

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I also endured hours of the Fort Myers, Fla., real estate channel when we shared a condo at spring training. Nick was endlessly searching for just the perfect place to buy as a retirement home.

And I often came back to our place to find space in the refrigerator taken up with pickles, blocks of oddly smelling cheese, and leftover pizza from the latest Italian joint in some strip mall that he was positive was better than any restaurant in the North End.

That Nick died before he could find his place in Fort Myers saddens me. He would have loved having his two grandkids there.

The coming season won’t be the same without Nick. I’ve grown accustomed to his knowing even the most esoteric bits of information about the Red Sox. Or having the phone number of every important person in baseball. Or encouraging me to chase down a story because it would be good for the Globe.

And I’m quite sure nothing will happen as funny as the time he went to a bargain outlet to buy sneakers and proudly came back with a $20 pair that inexplicably had the NHL logo on the side.

“Can you believe they were this cheap?” he said.

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Well, yes, I really could.

Most of all, I will miss my friend and his stories, laughter, wit, and guidance.

When Game 3 of the World Series lasted 18 innings last fall, Nick turned to me at one point and said how much fun he was having. He was in his element, watching the Sox in a huge game and writing his column.

That’s what I hope to remember in time, not all the tears of the last few days.

Now I’m going to watch some of the Fort Myers real estate channel. I’ve been told they have some great deals here.

Peter Abraham covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe.

Roses mark Nick Cafardo’s spot in the press box at JetBlue Park, next to Nick’s friend and colleague, Peter Abraham.
Roses mark Nick Cafardo’s spot in the press box at JetBlue Park, next to Nick’s friend and colleague, Peter Abraham.(STAN GROSSFELD/GLOBE STAFF)

BOB NIGHTENGALE

It was the worst room in our quaint, 19th-century house. The house had four bedrooms, 1½ baths, and one of the rooms was decorated with frilly pink accents for a little girl.

This was Nick’s room.

It was the Cooperstown, N.Y., rental where we stayed one weekend every July for the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This was where Red Sox special assistant Gary Hughes, Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report, and I resided. It was our little hideaway from the grind of the baseball season, our favorite weekend of the year.

We’ve been doing this together for a decade, and every year we’d ask Nick if he wanted to switch off and change rooms, and not sleep on a small twin bed, in a room smaller than a walk-in closet. Nick, even with his legs hanging over the end, always declined. This was his room, darn it, and he wasn’t about to break tradition.

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Nick and Kevin would get up early every morning, bring back coffee and donuts, and Nick would regale us with stories about his favorite coffee spots in the American League. He was a coffee snob, pure and simple, and proud of it. Nick would spend the weekend condemning analytics, saying how much of it has suffocated the soul from the game, and after mingling with the Hall of Famers at the Otesaga Hotel was so proud to hear they readily agreed, too. We would talk until the wee hours every evening, filtering out truth from fiction on the rumors on the upcoming trade deadline, debating everything from the upcoming Hall of Fame class to our favorite Marriott hotels, and contributing a few nuggets to Nick’s Sunday notes column.

We’ve known one another for 33 years, mostly living on opposite sides of the country, but we always stayed in touch, even before cellphones. I couldn’t wait to get to Boston each year, not because of my affection for Fenway Park, but simply so I could hang with Nick. I loved when the Red Sox made the playoffs, not that I was a secret Red Sox fan, but knowing that I’d get to see Nick an extra month in October.

Nick, you see, had this way of making you feel special. He was one of the most popular baseball columnists in the country, a journalistic icon in New England, but there are high school stringers who had bigger egos than Nick. Never in my life did I hear a soul say a single negative word about the man. Not once. I can’t say the same about anyone else I’ve ever known.

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My fondest memories with Nick were our dinners together, particularly away from the ballpark, when we actually had to order our own food instead of the usual buffet. Nothing personal, but Nick spent the last few months wishing bodily harm on that waiter in Carlsbad, Calif., from the GM meetings, the one who talked four of us into ordering the special, opah fish. None of us had ever had it. None of us will have it again. But, oh man, did we ever laugh about it, with John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle actually starting a text strand from the evening.

I’ll take sole blame for our catastrophic meal at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Now, Nick is the pickiest eater I know, and doesn’t like sushi, but the sushi restaurant in our hotel was highly recommended. Nick sat down and simply wanted to order a California roll. Well, our waiter told us to trust him, that he’d order off the menu for us, and we talked Nick into trusting him. Well, Nick hated every bite he took, and now feeling guilty, we told Nick to go ahead and order some Kobe beef sliders. Nick didn’t realize it was $35 a slider. He happened to have two. Thank goodness the folks in the Globe accounting department weren’t looking too closely at that bill.

Really, Nick’s expense accounts have always been a tad on the pricey side. There’s a good explanation. Nick had no advance-planning skills. You would ask Nick during the playoffs what flight he was taking the next morning. Oops, he hadn’t gotten around to making a reservation. Globe colleague Pete Abraham will tell you it was no different during the regular season. I’ll take credit for making sure Nick wasn’t homeless last October during the World Series in LA. He never got around to making an advance hotel reservation, and all of the nearby hotels were filled. Well, I knew the drill by now, so every postseason, I always made sure to reserve an extra hotel room for Nick.

It wasn’t really an act of kindness, but selfishness, because I always wanted to be where Nick stayed. I wanted to eat with Nick. I wanted to drive to the ballpark with Nick. In many ways, I wanted to be Nick.

When Nick took over for Peter Gammons, the godfather of the world-famous Globe Sunday notes column, I was fearful for him. Come on, replace Gammons? It’s like being the quarterback who takes over for Tom Brady. Or following Will McDonough on football or Bob Ryan on basketball. The Globe was the Mount Rushmore of sports writers, and now Nick was part of it. Well, was there ever anyone who carried that torch more diligently and elegantly than Nick?

It remained baseball’s finest notes column in the country. An absolute must-read. He had friends and contacts in every organization in baseball, from GMs to scouts to the clubhouse attendants. I’ve been talking to so many of them these past few days, sharing our grief together. There were enough tears to create a tsunami.

Nick and I may have lived on opposite sides of the country, but rarely a week went by when we didn’t talk, text, and certainly laugh. The guy was brilliant in his job, but ever so cool. Never once in all of these years did I ever see him stressed in his life. It would be minutes before deadline, and he’d be in the back room at Fenway, debating the virtues of Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts.

The deepest regret I’ve ever had in this baseball writing business is that after all our years of friendship, I never told Nick how I really felt about him. Certainly, he knew how much I admired and respected him. But I never uttered the words I always felt, and I hope you’re listening now, Nicky, “I love you, Nick.’’

My God, will you ever be missed.

Oh, and you know that pink room we make fun of every summer? Well, I’m going to show it to your family the weekend we’re all together in Cooperstown celebrating your induction into the writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame.

It will be your room forever, Nick. Just like you wanted it.

Bob Nightengale covers baseball for USA Today.

BRIAN CASHMAN

This is a big loss for us all.

Nick was one of the best people you can come across in life. He was warm, he was welcoming. Obviously he was passionate about the sport he covered. I kind of grew up in this game and you come across people that you feel are a part of the game. This was one special human being.

I always looked forward to reading the Globe’s Sunday notes. I’d hunt for it on social media. I constantly made the effort to get to it because I always found it enlightening because Nick was connected to so many people because of the personality he had. He was someone you really could trust. He had a gift . . . of allowing people to open up. So he could uncover the truth of whatever was at hand.

What a person. What a true, genuine man. He was a dear friend, someone you could rely on. If you were walking down the tunnel even after a bad game, you could engage with him because of the goodness he projected. He obviously rose to the highest level of his profession and was a professional in every sense of the word.

I don’t remember when I first met Nick, but he was the type of person that you would have a relationship for life after the first time you meet him. Any time he reached out, I’d get back to him. If Nick Cafardo reached out to you, you were returning that call.

The rivalry obviously produced a lot of emotions and it will always do that. Despite all of that, without question, I think he judged the Red Sox objectively and I think he judged the Yankees objectively. He would navigate all franchises with impunity because he was only interested in the level playing field of accuracy. He just wanted to project an accurate picture of whatever the story line of the day was. It didn’t matter if you were a Red Sox or a Yankee or if you were on the short end or the winning end. You’d get the real deal.

He was so gifted in what he did and would allow people to open up and provide the real truth for him. I don’t think anybody could get mad because ultimately they knew they got a fair shake. Nick presented things in an honest and accurate way. He put himself in a position for people to trust him enough to provide access. You knew he was going to shake it out accurately.

Brian Cashman has been general manager of the New York Yankees since 1998.

Prior to their exhibition game on Saturday, the Red Sox and Yankees observed a moment of silence in honor of Nick Cafardo.
Prior to their exhibition game on Saturday, the Red Sox and Yankees observed a moment of silence in honor of Nick Cafardo.(STAN GROSSFELD/GLOBE STAFF)

SEAN McADAM

I began covering the Red Sox during the 1989 season, wholly unprepared for the job and maybe more than a little unqualified. The entire season felt like I was stumbling around in the dark, trying — often in vain — not to embarrass myself. It was eye-opening to know what I didn’t know.

On one of my first road trips, I was writing, pregame, in the old Comiskey Park press box. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find Nick, beckoning me with a gesture of his head. “Step into my office,’’ he said quietly. I followed him to a quiet spot where Nick dutifully tipped me to the fact that something was going on with Oil Can Boyd, the Red Sox talented but often troubled pitcher. More than three decades later, I can’t recall the specifics. It may have been that Boyd was being suspended for some infraction, or was being taken out of the starting rotation, or was being placed on the DL. The details don’t matter. What mattered was that an experienced and seasoned reporter went out of his way to help a clueless newbie look more informed than he actually was.

That gesture was the essence of Nick: humane, selfless, and without ego. Nick may have been competitive, but he wasn’t above extending a helping hand. This sort of behavior — an offer of help, a word of encouragement, a bit of advice — would be repeated often with countless others over the decades. Anybody who worked with Nick can tell a similar story.

Over the years, we shared many cabs, flights, dinners, and drinks. We talked about the joys of family, children, and grandchildren (Nick had two, and he was thrilled that I’m readying for my first next month). We would argue about hockey (I love it; Nick dismissed it), his hopelessly passé taste for Italian-born crooners (Jerry Vale, Nick? Really?), and the relative merits of Italian (his favorite, naturally) vs. Mexican food (mine). He lived in mortal fear that we would one day both show up at the ballpark wearing the same shirt. He was strangely consumed for my love of fresh fruit.

With Nick’s passing, I’ve become the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox beat. It’s an honor that, under the circumstances, I would rather not own.

The days and nights on the beat, the games, and the endless waiting around won’t be as fun, interesting, or memorable without you, friend.

Sean McAdam covers the Red Sox for the Boston Sports Journal.

MICHAEL SILVERMAN

Last June from Seattle, Nick wrote the tenderest of Father’s Day columns. It focused on Alex Cora, who lost his father at a young age, and the life lessons our fathers leave us about how to treat each other and how to value family over work. What Nick wrote was a reflection of how Nick lived his life.

Nick and I shared loads of time with each other, and I never felt we wasted a minute because we mainly shared about our families first, and our jobs second. We waited out plane delays at airport gates (Nick hated flying, he could not sleep on planes), we shared meals (Nick preferred Italian food, shockingly), we spent time in press boxes digressing on topics, many much odder even than the merits of yellow vs. brown mustard and who could have outsprinted whom in our prime. In clubhouses I’d watch Nick smoothly glide up to a player and coax comments that he would turn quickly — Nick wrote fast — into a strong column. We enjoyed a professional rivalry without once exchanging a sharp word or elbow, just one saying to the other, “Oh-oh, why are you smiling, what are you so busy working on, should I be worried?” or “I’ve got absolutely nothing, don’t worry” and “I don’t believe you.”

I was home in Boston when Nick’s Father’s Day column came out, my own father having passed away only a few days earlier. Of course, Nick had been one of the first to pass along his condolences and then, a few days later, he penned that column from Seattle and made me cry all over again.

And now, Nick’s gone, too. Besides my cherished memories, I’m comforted by the Father’s Day tribute he left us, which, if we substitute “Nick” for “our fathers,” offers a helping hand on how we will all have to move forward: “And when we reflect back on our fathers, if they’re deceased, it brings a smile, a tear, a longing. We well up thinking about what we’ve lost and what we will never experience again.”

Michael Silverman covers the Red Sox for the Boston Herald.

DEVOTED READERS

Readers of Nick Cafardo took to the comments section of tributes to honor the impact that he had on them. Here are just a few of those comments:

■  Cml75: “The relationship between fans and a writer and man like Nick is hard to explain. Nick connected so many to the sport and team they love, and he did it brilliantly. I trusted everything he said. Everything. Everyone who loves baseball and the Sox feels this deeply.”

■  Msusox: “What a great writer and guy! You could sense Nick was the kind of guy you’d like to hang out with at the ballpark and listen to stories. He will be missed.”

■  Parce7: “Nick was great about responding to emails about his stories. Always thoughtful, even to strangers like myself. A great human being and certainly a Hall of Fame reporter.”

■  DiscoStu01: “Nick was a pro. A craftsman. He was accurate and fair. I read every one of his stories. There’s no end to the superlatives. I’ll miss him. Wish I’d have met him. Thanks for honoring your craft, Nick.”

■  jkjkjk: “So sad but a life well lived. He lived his passion which was baseball. I will miss his eloquence. Condolences to his family, wife, children and grandchildren. He was a special man.”

■  NufCedKid: “I’ve spent a lifetime paying probably too much attention to Boston sports, and over the past 30 or so years you can probably count on 2 hands the amount of days that I completely missed reading the great Globe sports section. Writers like Nick gave us blood-thirsty fans everything we needed to get from game to game and season to season. Nick will be greatly missed. What a shock.”

■  Eyeshooter: “Nick was why I would get in the car every Sunday @ 7 am and drive to our village store to get the Globe. The kids loved it because I always brought home 2 freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. They would have their cookies and I would have my Sports section with a cup of coffee and a guaranteed baseball article, regardless of the season. The kids grew up and an online subscription replaced the drive, but I still saved Nick’s article until last as it was always my favorite. Thanks, Nick. Sundays just lost some of their glimmer.”

■  Padraig02169: “I have been reading Nick’s columns for decades, back to his days at the Patriot Ledger. He was a reasonable man who clearly loved Boston and its passionate fans. Above all else he was a beautiful writer whose columns were always a joy to read. His was always the first thing I read every Sunday morning in the Boston Globe and I feel like I have lost a friend today. Rest in peace, Mr. Cafardo.”