Buzz Knight 00:00:01
Taking a walk with Buzz Knight. Well, hi, I’m Buzz Knight. I’m the host of the Taking a Walk podcast series, our special Boston Gem series. So excited. Here today you’re going to find out how a gentleman who grew up in the mean street streets of Waltham, Massachusetts, graduated to become one of the most significant voices in the Boston sports scene. Tony Massarotti is our special guest on this episode of Taking a Walk. Tony is, I think, one of the busiest guys in show business these days. He is part of the successful, the wildly successful Felger and Mazz show on the Sports Hub 98 Five in Boston. And he’s also now added a little bit to his repertoire in terms of the Boston Red Sox. I’ll let him tell you all about it. But Tony, it’s so great to be taking a walk with you here in Concord, Mass. at Verrill farm.
Well, you two Buzz, obviously, we originally connected when Station became part of the Beasley Media Group. You and I were both at Beasley, so I’m happy to do it. I’m flattered that you think of me in those terms, but I appreciate it.
Buzz Knight 00:01:18
Well, listen, it’s a track record, dude. And how can you help us, first of all, understand the psyche of the Boston sports fan? I know you have a book that is just releasing, which kind of gets inside of that a little bit. So how can you help us understand the fanaticism of these fans?
Well, so I’ll tell you this. In this project, part of the challenge is trying to understand why it is the way it is here as far as sports fans go. And I say that as it’s as intense a sports market, media market, as there is in the country, if not more so, what you already know, and I don’t know that there’s a right answer. I talked to Bob Ryan about it. I talked to Shaughnessy about it, Bill Parcels, and there were some really interesting people. And I think we all have different theories. But I think the one thing that a lot of these markets have in common, if we can if there are any that you can lump together and Boston is really unique. We are one of the original. This is where the country began, and Northeast is where the country began, actually.
Buzz Knight 00:02:38
Right, in Concord, Mass.
Well, right. There’s a lot of tradition here. There’s a lot of history here. We have a change of seasons here where they don’t have in other places. And so everything here is very deep rooted. And I think over the years, whether it be because of the change of seasons or the history or a combination of those factors, people are just really intense about their teams. And the only other market, to me, that really compares and again, there are bigger places like New York, but they have multiple teams in multiple sports. We only have one of each so Philadelphia to me is probably the closest thing, and I would say many of the same characteristics apply to Philadelphia that apply to Boston. So it’s personal here. The experience between the fans and the teams is very, very personal, and that can make it volatile.
Buzz Knight 00:03:41
Well, and I think you would agree that the fans can turn very quickly on players, ownership, managers, et cetera, right?
Oh, definitely. Yeah. That’s what I mean by volatile, is that it really is all over the map and the emotions run deep. They’re genuine, you know, like anything else. The older you get, you know, the more mellow or even keeled you get. But I think that the teams here are just such a big part of who we are. And you know, in a place like this, it’s noteworthy, too, because of all the other elements we have. You know, if you were to look up best medical cities in America, Boston’s on the list. Best cities for education and universities, Boston’s on the list. And yet most people think of Boston as a really passionate, intense sports town. The fact that that identity exists tells you just how strongly that message comes across to everybody else. Felger and I talk about this a lot, Mike Felger and I People here care. They just really care about it. And so the why is hard to explain, but there’s no better place to do what we do, that’s for sure.
Buzz Knight 00:05:10
So the book really taps the vein there. This is your fourth book, right?
This is actually my 5th, 5th book.
Buzz Knight 00:05:15
Yeah, this is my fifth. And it’s really just a look at the last 20 years and the extraordinary run that Boston has had. And I think there has been a real competition that’s been built between the teams in town for market share, really, and for the attention of the fan base. There are only so many of us. So again, the size of the city is a factor, too. Again, New York is very big, lots of options. Boston, when you get right down to it, is pretty small. So I think we’re 22nd in population in the United States or something like that. So places like Indianapolis are bigger based on population.
Buzz Knight 00:06:00
Well, do you remember the first game you went to?
I think I do. Let me see. I would say my recollection is that it was a patriotic game between the Red Sox and Yankees in the early seventy s. I was probably six or seven years old, the Red Sox got killed. I remember thinking it was eleven to nothing. But I looked up the score recently of that game and I think it was more like 16 to two, which tells me that we left when it was eleven to nothing because my father had seen enough, and I don’t blame him. It’s a little disgust, I’m thinking, probably. And it’s a long time for anyone to be in a ball game let alone at the time, I was probably five or six.
Buzz Knight 00:06:47
And you were more interested in popcorn and peanuts and those terrific hot dogs.
Exactly right. It was all about I was a baseball pimp at the time. I was a kid. So you go to the ballpark and I remember just very like anybody that age, very sort of few images of it. I think we sat over by the Yankees, dugout on that side. The Yankees had a pitch at the time whose name was Pat Dobson, used to pitch for the Orioles, was a 20 game winner with Baltimore at one point. And I remember Dobson pitched that game, which is how I looked it up. So the game definitely existed and I have very clear images of having been there. So I’m pretty sure that was the first one. You know, back then, it’s not like it is now. You show up for your first game and they give you a photo and a little frame and like, everything is this big orchestration back then, all you have is your memory. Right.
Buzz Knight 00:07:51
I mean, boy, in that first memory of setting foot in Fenway, I certainly never forget it in my instance. I also have this indelible memory of the first time walking into the old Boston Garden. I’ll bet you have a memory like that as well.
So you know what, honestly, when it comes to the Garden, I couldn’t tell you the first time I was there and my father did not. I mean, if I were to think about it, my father wasn’t a big hockey or basketball fan. So I think the first time I ever went into the Garden might have been to see pro wrestling. So my father had a friend who was a big wrestling fan. And if you remember at the time, my parents were immigrants. Buzz so my father came over in 55 and he had a friend who was also an immigrant. And if you remember, back in the WWF, champion was a guy named Bruno San Martino.
Buzz Knight 00:08:52
So my father’s friend, whose name was Al, was a big Bruno San Martino fan and he was taking his kids to wrestling one night and asked if my and my cousin wanted to go. So I think that was the first time I was ever in the Garden, was actually Bruno wrestle Larry Zabisco, if you remember him.
Buzz Knight 00:09:15
I don’t remember him. I was going to say Guess who? Wahoo wahoo McDaniel. But I wasn’t a big wrestling fan, although I love the names. Who was the other one? Killer Kowalski.
Oh, sure, right.
Buzz Knight 00:09:30
So I’ll tell you what the relevance of Bruno and Zabisco was Larry Zabisco was Bruno’s protege, who then rebelled against him. So it was like Theo Epstein or Larry Lucchino or Belichick and Parcels like the story that is as old as time. But again, it’s amazing how many times it’s played out here, but it was that kind of thing.
Buzz Knight 00:09:53
And now, of course, to this day, you have our buddy James Stewart wrestling in a completely different way.
Yeah, Jimmy is a wrestling guy. He’s completely maniacal about it, and I’m not sure people even realize, although he’s got quite a following on his wrestling podcast.
Buzz Knight 00:10:11
But Jimmy is a true WWE insider. He knows all those guys. They all know him. He’s on the inside there.
Buzz Knight 00:10:24
He’s a savant.
Oh, he is, yeah. And again and he’s also tapped into that world.
Buzz Knight 00:10:29
I mean, in more ways than one.
Totally. Yeah. They all know Jimmy.
Buzz Knight 00:10:33
So the book, congratulations. I’m curious of the process, though. When did you first get it in your head that you were going to write this fifth book?
So I had told the last one I did was about a little over ten years ago was Tim Wakefield’s book, which I really enjoyed doing. And I told myself at that time I wasn’t going to do another one unless I really wanted to. And so the topic had to be right and just before the start of the Pandemic or right around them, the woman who had been the editor on that project, whose name is Susan Canavan, she lives out here. Susan had formerly worked for Houghton Mifflin and then took a job as part of an agency that handled authors. And we went out to lunch one day, in fact, not far from here, and she said, hey, look, nobody has chronicled this run in Boston and how it’s all changed. So you feel like a good person to do it. Is it something that would interest, you know, let me see if we can sell it. Pandemic was coming, and I sort of thought, well, I’m going to be home a lot, and the topic has interested me and still does, because there’s just never been a time like it, really, in any North American city ever. So that was the impetus. And I started cranking away and made a lot of phone calls, did a lot of research online with the help of some databases and archives. And it’s really the hardest part was whittling it down because there’s just so much that has happened here in the last 20 years.
Buzz Knight 00:12:31
Wow, what a terrific accomplishment and what a great thing to capture and just put the finger on the pulse. And what’s so cool is what The Falcon Mash Show talks about frequently, as well as sort of a basis and a backbone towards why you feel a particular way right now if a team is not performing or something. So it’s sort of back into your guys overriding theme around that show.
Yeah. And the nice thing about a project like that is that you’ve lived it. So a lot of this stuff is already in your head, and that makes the research easier when you’re going back and looking for things that you want to include. But I would agree. One of the things we really try to examine on the show. And Mike is excellent at this is sort of the feeling of things and what the genesis of those emotions is and the conflict that exists both in terms of what’s inside any fan or what’s inside any organization. And he and I were both beat reporters for a really long time. And I think what that does is give you just insight into how a sports team works and what types of stuff goes on inside the walls, whether it be a Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park, because there’s a lot of politicking and angling and conflict and resolution and all that stuff that goes on that most fans aren’t privy to. And we both were.
Buzz Knight 00:14:10
Tony. The show operates with such precision, and of course, the radio station operates with such unbelievable precision. What’s the key to that?
So with regard to the show, I mean, I don’t think it’s a secret. Mike is very unique. He’s extremely gifted, talented, and he’s really smart. And he and I worked together for a long time at the Herald when we were younger. But at that age, you’re sort of in your own world. I don’t think we really knew each other at all as much as we knew each other, if you know what I mean. Of course you know. You know what I mean. So there was, like, anything when you’re in that kind of relationship. He and I are elbow to elbow every day now for 13 years. So you see the other person’s best, the worst and everything in between. And he is unbelievably perceptive. He’s really, really bright. He’s got an unbelievable memory. I mean, he’s really smart. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
Buzz Knight 00:15:31
It’s like no, I completely agree. And I just think obviously you have that as a starting point, and then you have, obviously, the cast of characters you and then, of course, Big Jim Murray. I mean, it’s just an amazing chemistry collaboration, like I said, a machine like brilliance. And the results show.
Yeah, but it always takes a lot of people for something like that to work. But you need your principles, too. And there’s no question Mike’s one of our principles. But then, on top of it, I’ll say that I think we’ve had good leadership over the years, both at CBS and now at Beasley, which matters because it all speaks to culture and how the whole thing works and what is valued, and that’s important. And we’ve had a good staff of people, really, all over the building, including sales and marketing and promotions and producers, all of it. The one thing I can say, I would say one of the things I think we should all be most proud of is there’s not a lot of back biting or jealousy between the shows. We really haven’t had any of that. I mean, there have been times where people get on each other’s nerves and whatnot but I characterize all of that as sort of the human element, like, you’re never going to get rid of that stuff because it’s the end of the day. People have stresses in their lives, and the more time they spend around one another, the more they’re going to see each other’s flaws. But there’s a reason why it slaps it as long as it has. I think that’s a credit to the people involved, that we’ve all kept it in perspective and just try to show up and do what we’re supposed to do and accept the good and the bad that comes with it.
Buzz Knight 00:17:50
What was the most in your mind, pivotal moment that really put the station on the map and the show really on the map?
I think I know the answer, but what’s your answer?
Buzz Knight 00:18:02
Well, I certainly remember this little incident that occurred with the Red Sox ownership, which to me was one of those remarkable moments. I remember I had landed at Logan from, I think, Philadelphia, actually, when I was doing corporate programming work, and I heard it all unfolding in my hour and a half drive and my jaw dropped. That’s what I remember. What do you think?
I mean, that’s what I would have picked.
Buzz Knight 00:18:32
And I think that, again, it’s one of those that you just can’t plan for something like that. And so Mike and I were talking about the Red Sox, and they were at a really sort of unstable time in their history where Terry Francona had just been fired. His departure was ugly. There was a smear campaign, it felt like, in the Globe. So Mike and I were talking about that, and Rick Radzik, our assistant program director at the time, stuck his head in the door and says, hey, John, Henry is in the lobby. And Felger is like, yeah, okay. Right. And Rick’s like, no, he’s upstairs. He wants to come on the air. So we sort of looked at each other like, Bring him down. It’s not like you can plan for that sort of thing, but I suppose if you’re listening in the car like you were, it was real drama unfolding in real time. And Henry was pretty calm the whole time, but he clearly wanted to be heard. And we always joke. We told this story on the air a million times that we had to take I think we went something like 45 minutes without a commercial break, maybe an hour. And then we finally took one. We said, we have to take a commercial break, and he said he was going to stay. And during the commercial, he said something like, you know, I used to like you. And we kind of chuckled about it, but it was a significant day for us, there’s no question.
Buzz Knight 00:20:16
Well, it’s funny, you mentioned being ready for the moment, and that’s something I think about a lot with brands that are working their way up the ladder in a market of any format, frankly, that there are moments in time that you’ll never know that it’s going to happen. And then suddenly you’re presented with a decision in a situation and you need to just execute at your highest level. And I think that, you know, was the beginning of this rocket ship that, you know, you’re certainly part of and is such an amazing team and award winning and tremendous rating. So I couldn’t be happier for you and the whole crew that was for me with easily purchasing that station, a real highlight to be part of. Meet you guys and become a fanboy.
Well, look, and again, I think we all make a concerted effort to keep our feet on the ground. So again, Felger and I have talked about this a million times, along with everybody else at the station and around the show. Obviously, I keep mentioning Mike because we’ve had a lot of interaction in the last 13 years, but Boston had not won a championship in a long time before the Patriots won in one. And so Mike was on the Patriots beat at the right time and then the Red Sox won and I was on the Red Sox beat at the right time. So there is a certain amount of timing in these things that nobody could ever control, right? And as much as we like to think we do a good show, we’re proud of it, or all of that, people have to care. And the caring comes from the fan base and also from the winning, because when they win, the fan base grows. So the timing was a huge part of it for us. And again, we’ve had a run of championships here like nothing anyone has ever seen over 20 years. It’s twelve championships and 19 trips to the finals, so I think Boston is twelve and seven in those 19. That includes just the recent loss by the Celtics. But it feels like every year someone’s been vying for a championship and people like to talk about good teams, so we kind of hit the terms of the timing. We hit the bullseye on it, which is that’s a blindfolded dark that you’re throwing and hope you hit something.
Buzz Knight 00:23:03
Do you pinch yourself and go, I can’t believe where this is all going and can exist right now? In terms of your career, I think.
There are times where you’re aware of it, you’re like, this is unbelievable. Like the Celtics run last year is a good example. It looked like that team was going nowhere, and then overnight it’s like they they flipped the switch and then all of a sudden they were vying for the title and they started playing at a level that I think was apparent to all of us, that while they’re really good now, it just happened overnight. And so there are times where we’ll go to commercial breaks. I can’t tell you how often or but every once in a while there’ll be a story where we stop and go, this is unbelievable. This is incredible. This is happening. And we’ve said that a lot. And that doesn’t even include the scandals like Spygate and Deflate, gate and Belichick versus Parcels and Theo vs. Larry. And theater.
Buzz Knight 00:24:08
It’s all theater.
It really is. Yeah, it really is.
Buzz Knight 00:24:11
And in a town like this, it’s compelling theater. It’s great theater, and people just can’t get enough of it. Neither can we. Again, there’s a lot of good fortune in there for sure.
Buzz Knight 00:24:30
Well, it’s an amazing ride, no doubt. Well, let’s see a couple of shoutouts. First of all, Discover Concord did a nice little feature on Taking a Walk, so I want to thank them. I can’t be remiss in my appreciation also to Bob Malatesta, who I was mentioning to you, Tony, who does our production. So shout out to him and to the great folks at Point to Point Marketing who are helping out Taking a Walk. So, Tony, in closing here, who’s your favorite coach or manager of all time in Boston?
Oh, wow. Good question. Coach or manager? I would have to say, I mean, I think I’d probably lean Bill Parcels. Just the magnitude of the persona. He was larger than life, and there was a symbolism there, too. Right. The day Parcels became coach of the Patriots is the day the Patriots were validated as a franchise. It just totally changed the whole mindset of the Patriots fan and put the Patriots on the map. So to me, that’s sort of a landmark event. You didn’t win a championship, but football here has never been the same since Parcels got here. So I would lean there. I don’t know that I had a favorite Celtics coach, a Red Sox manager, joe Morgan. And Walpole is a good one. He was great. Just a local guy, as genuine as it gets. I’d say probably as far as Bruins coaches. Don Cherry. That goes back to when I was a kid. And again, he was just really blunt, vocal, borderline crazy, who’s great, but I gotta go. Parcels, he was just to me, he was kind of a titan.
Buzz Knight 00:26:21
He certainly his press conferences were not boring.
No. And you know what? I never really got to I mean, I went to some of his pressers. I never covered him one on one, per se. Or Tom Coughlflin, a favorite of mine too. I did get to know him a little bit, and I really liked him. But I did speak with Parcels for this book project that I was telling you about, and he was fabulous. He’s much older now, but the time we spoke, he couldn’t have been more gracious. And he was exactly who he is. He even said to me at one point, like, how did you get my number? And then I explained to him what I was because I think he thought I was like, digging for Belichick dirt. And he go even said to me at one point, I could tell you this, even said to me, Seth Wickersham recently wrote a book about the Patriots internal struggles there. At the end, it’s better to be feared, I think was Wicker scheme’s book. And when I called Parcels, Wickersham was in the process of working on it and he said to me, are you working with Seth Wickersham? And I said, no, it’s got nothing to do with that. He was awesome. I mean, he was awesome.
Buzz Knight 00:27:28
Tony, we can’t forget about your newest addition. I’m sorry. Your work on the Red Sox and your color. Tell me about that before I let you go.
I won’t bore you with too much of it other than to say it kind of came out of nowhere, but I was surprised. I did not see it coming. And we were talking about the day John Henry came into the studio. My relationship with the Red Sox over the years has been, as you would expect, hot and cold. And so along the way there were times where the relationships were intense and still are. Obviously they own NESN. They have a say in who does their games. So I was both floored and impressed. Like, I give them a lot of credit for being willing to entertain it. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a fun year. It will be about 40 games. Where it’s leading, I have no idea. Obviously they can ask me back or not at any time, but it’s been cool. Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed being at the ballpark again, which is somewhere I hadn’t been in a long time.
Buzz Knight 00:28:43
And the work on your baseball hour is amazing too. I know it’s a labor of love, but I know there’s a lot of work involved in it. So congratulations on that. Appreciate on everything on the book. Give the book a plug one more time.
So the book is This Is Our City, which again was the editor. I see the editor, former editor Susan Cannon, who came up with the idea she wanted to play off the Ortiz speech and she was right. So This is Our City and just really recounts the 20 years in Boston here and the winning and some of the scandal and controversy all built around sports. It was a lot of fun to do and it will be out in October.
Buzz Knight 00:29:25
Then go get it. Order it, pre order it, buy it for Christmas, all the above.
Thanks a lot, bud.
Buzz Knight 00:29:32
Congratulations on everything. Thanks for taking a walk. This has really been a ton of fun and thanks for not only the enjoyment you give to the masses, but my personal enjoyment for what The Station does and for your show does with you and Mike because I’m a big fan.
Well, thanks a lot and really I’m flattered that you would even ask. So I appreciate that.
Buzz Knight 00:29:54
Thanks for taking a walk here in Conquered. Taking a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast.