I had gotten used to doing a radio show every day. Did it for 9 years until an abrupt sidelining came in March of 2018. You can read about that here if you want; perhaps you already have.
Danny Parkins and I were just getting going, having found our natural chemistry after a bumpy beginning.
In the nearly 3 years since then, I have been awkwardly, vaguely employed at The Score. I was lucky to be so, especially as the Pandemic hit and reshuffled all of our opportunities and priorities.
It was an ongoing, incredible gift to be able to talk and engage as vocation. But I also had to emotionally manage the desire for a larger role, the relentless opportunity for resentment, and the confusion of the long term unknown.
This has been the source of repeated necessary reframing for the sake of mental health. The assortment of thoughts that have come and gone with alarming regularity:
“In due time. Stay cool.”
“I HAVE RAGE FOR CERTAIN PEOPLE AND FOR THE INDUSTRY AT LARGE.”
“Rage doesn’t help…remember, resentment is poison.”
“You’re a lucky dude to get to talk sports and such as a job, full time or not.”
“I thank god for my amazing wife who works her butt off to support us while I wait this out.”
“Who the hell thought this new show I’m listening to was a good idea?”
“I wonder if I can make it to level 347 in Bricks ‘n’ Balls…”
“Oh, I’m on today! Yes, I’ll be ready.”
“Money doesn’t define me, a job is not an identity. Or….does it and is it?”
“Good vibes, Babe…follow your own advice.”
“Really, you’re fortunate to have all this time with your son as he hits 7, and 8, and 9….”
“Will I ever work full time again?”
Those thoughts can now be silenced. The repetitive loop has been severed.
Thank you for your interaction and support during the hiatus. It was meaningful.
I’m thrilled to return to the focus it takes to do good radio, every day.
Danny is so good. His life and standing in the business have changed a lot in the nearly 3 years we have been separated; I’m really happy for him. No one works harder and no one wants it more. The possibilities for what we can do as a team in this next iteration are really exciting.
This is where I’m supposed to be: talking sports and more with you, creating a daily space for connection and companionship. There’s just nothing like it. Don’t tell the bosses, but I would do it for free.
I’m super excited to resume, move forward creatively, and see where we can go.
I was there, 5 years ago last night, high above the “new” Boston Garden rink. The very top level of the place is one single row of adjustable office chairs behind a small continuous table, circling all the way around. You’re way above the action, and good views are not guaranteed. I’d made a loop a few times throughout the game, talking with random media, watching from different angles, not knowing an all-time sports moment was imminent.
We had a lot going on that week. The Mac and Spiegs show was broadcasting from a bar right there in the West End. That morning, Doc Emrick had offered to grab me a Dunkin coffee as he waited to do a live interview with us. He got the order right, of course, and shuffleboarded the beverage right to me.
Sometime that week, the jamokes who hosted our brother/rival radio show on WEEI had sent us an erotic cake to “welcome” us to town. All class, that Mutt and Merloni. No wonder that station went in the shitter.
I was back in old college stomping grounds, and had made time for a predictably spiritual visit to the Boston Public Garden, one of my most beloved spots on Earth.
Oh, and the Chicago Blackhawks were in a serious fight with the Boston Bruins to try and win a 2nd Stanley Cup in 3 seasons. You remember they won, and how. But do you remember:
How Andrew Shaw screamed “I Love Shin Pads” after his triple OT deflection game 1 winner?
What a dirty, mean, admirable bastard Milan Lucic was all series?
The unrivaled maddening tension when three of the first four games went to Overtime?
How much Tuukka Rask really did look like a young Erin Moran in the role of Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days?
How Patrice Bergeron showed us he absolutely deserved to be mentioned along with Jonathan Toews as a great two way center?
How Corey Crawford allowed FIVE, count them, FIVE goals to the glove side in game 4? And how Pat Foley admitted on our show that the whole league had known it was a weakness?
How ridiculously tall, scary, and solid Zeno “Lurch” Chara was? No one could topple Big Bird in yellow.
How Joel Quenneville finally, after I and so many others had been pleading for weeks, Put Patrick Kane and Toews together with Bryan Bickell on the top line? And how immediately it worked, with 2 Kane goals in game 5?
Maybe you remember all of that. I sure do. It was a hell of a series, well before what happened in the final 1:16 of Game Six.
There are amazing stories from fans as to where they were for those 2 Blackhawks goals. Hell, they made a whole movie about those 17 Seconds, full of great inside stuff.
For me, what will linger forever is the sound and energy at the top of that building.
The Boston crowd had been explosive all night, and was frantically on its feet trying to carry their team to a deciding game 7. The juju would have belonged to the Bruins, with insane pressure on the Hawks. The loudness and intensity ratcheted up higher when Crawford was pulled for an extra attacker. Then, immediately, Kane leads a charge into the corner, and Toews gets it to an open Bickell to tie the game.
The volume shifts from frenzied Bruins fans, to the thrilled smaller Hawks contingent. There’s still a buzz, but it’s an odd one. And as the surprise wears off, it gets quieter.
17 seconds later, it’s Dave Bolland, on a rebound. That small Hawks contingent is losing their minds. But the dominant vibe in the building is shock. Shocked silence, in the faces of the fans. Media who had seemed so jaded hours before (“Lobster, again?!?” I’d overheard near the pre-game dinner spread) now sat with mouths agape.
Watch the whole sequence again, because what better way could you possibly spend 2:05 of your time?
I thought Sports Illustrated used the picture of the year on their cover days later. See the puck?
Let me tell you, the collective shock lasted for a long, long time. I don’t remember moving much. I remember seeing lots of fans stuck to their chairs, begrudgingly watching the Hawks celebrate.
I captured the rafters view of The Captain delivering another cup to his mates.
And then somehow, we were downstairs, and on the ice. Again.
I had been there in Philly in 2011, and I’d felt awkward, out of place. I’d always liked hockey, and had grown slowly more knowledgeable as we covered that run. But that was Mac’s dream, Mac’s moment…to be there with the franchise he’d loved forever. I was mentally lost somewhere between acting professional, pretending I belonged, and trying to support him.
But now in 2013 with my name on the radio show officially, comfort with hockey conversation raised, and my place among the media more secure, I enjoyed the hell out of that special access. Barry Rozner and I compared Cup runs, and made fun of a few fools. I congratulated Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough, and Jay Blunk. I took pictures for posterity both personal and professional. The player I’d grown to enjoy the most, despite and maybe because of his tenuous hold on self control, was bloodied but beaming. I snapped a selfie.
And I looked around for a keepsake.
The benches were full of people. The penalty box was locked. But in the distance, one of the goals stood off to the side along the boards. I made my way there. On top of the net was a water bottle, and 2 long weird plastic tube-looking things that I could not identify. They seemed interesting, and were bright Bruin yellow. Each one fit into a deep pants pocket.
Yes, it’s stealing. No, I don’t feel bad; I never did. It was the last game of the year, pro sports teams and leagues make plenty of money, and I was gaining both a memento and what I figured would be great show content. It was a rationalization that made sense to me then, and still does now. Judge me as you wish.
As we broadcast the show the next day, the yellow tubes sat on the table. A listener snapped this.
With Google power, we learned they were Marsh Pegs.
The goal no longer gets knocked “off of its moorings.” Fred Marsh changed the game for the better, made it safer, and made a few bucks from almost every hockey arena in the world along the way.
“After looking at what was available and not being satisfied with anything on the market at the time, Fred began working on a better system. Thus he developed the Marsh Flexible Goal Peg, a deceptively simple but amazingly effective system. The design and material of the Marsh Pegs give them a flexibility that allows the net to move when jostled but remain on the pegs during regular play. The pegs will bend when the net is bumped, then return to their original position. Upon strong impact, such as a player crashing into the net, the net will pop off the pegs and prevent injury to the player. The nets can be replaced in seconds.”
A week or so later, we did a delightful phoner with Fred Marsh, and he didn’t judge me for stealing 2 of his yellow ones from Boston. Or at least he didn’t say so.
We came home, with the Pegs now explained and excitedly in the studio for the first shows back in Chicago. The parade was tomorrow, and I had the day scheduled off. So I left it in the show’s hands, for sub host Ben Finfer and Mac to have in front of them at the parade. What a conversation piece for the live audience.
But tech issues forced them back in studio, and when I returned the next day, my Marsh Peg was gone.
What I’d stolen had been stolen! Oh, the injustice or cruel irony or deserved “hot crime on crime action,” depending on your perspective! Oh, the genuine anger I felt as I thought Finfer actually pilfered the thing and wouldn’t tell me! Oh, the misery that crept in as I imagined a clueless cleaning crew throwing it in the trash! Oh, the Ebay hunt I went on, as I wondered whether Les Grobstein would try and sell it along with some old media guides!
Oh, the ancient Score mystery that went unsolved. Until now.
More on that in a later post, promise. I’ll tell my own story here. That story has a placebo Marsh Peg that became more meaningful than the original could have been. That story has a perpetrator, whose life has evolved since then. And that story has a happy ending.
Maybe there’s even a moral.
In those magical 17 seconds, 5 years ago last night, are layers of meaning. There’s a hockey team and storied franchise performing at its very best. There’s my absurd personal good fortune to be in the building and on the ice afterwards. And there is our often misplaced value of memory versus memento.
The feelings of that crazy finish on June 24th, 2013 were the thing. And if you can hold onto those, not much else matters.
I will no longer commune and connect with my people every day from 9 to 1. That sucks.
I love being a part of your day. The spontaneity and precariousness of live, interactive radio is unmatched, as is the genuine magic that occurs when a show gets rolling.
Our show was rolling. Spiegel and Parkins had come so far in terms of our chemistry, and you knew it. The quality of the conversation, the unpredictability of every segment, the musicality (or honest lack thereof) in our song parodies, the evolution of ideas, the inclusion of the whole crew with Jay and Rick; the momentum was palpable to everyone. Well, almost everyone.
Also, as you’ve probably read by now, the ratings numbers had steadily climbed and by now were very, very good. That was not the issue. My contract or salary was not the issue. As far as I know, societal conversations and other non-sports content was not the issue.
The issue is that each radio host is not beloved by everyone, and a new boss gets to do what he wants. This has played out in our industry, and others, for decades. Because I’m me, I’m reminded of so many rock bands who sign a record deal with a passionate A & R man, only to be hung out to dry when that record label goes through management changes. I feel a little (just a little) like Wilco when Reprise Records said they didn’t want to put out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The band found a way to get the music out, but it was awkward and tumultuous. It’s the content creator’s lot in life to carry on.
So It Goes, as Vonnegut wrote. In that sense it’s been pretty easy to not take the move personally.
But please know that I miss you. We had a hell of a 9 year run.
We is not me and Danny Mac, or me an Jason Goff, or me and Patrick Mannelly, or me and Danny Parkins. It is not me and the 30 or so different co-hosts that have joined from 9 to 1 at some point.
We is me and you. The connection we’ve had is the absolute goods, and I deeply appreciate it. I thank you for hearing me, for yelling to or at me, and most of all for furthering conversations with me. You’ve made my best thoughts funnier and more fleshed out. You’ve withstood my worst thoughts, and let me find good ones again. You’ve shared life experience that helped conversations synthesize and be enriched deeper than I could have imagined.
I’ve always thought of you as one big collective, theoretically comprised of every slice of Chicagoan imaginable. It took a couple years, frankly, to accept that amidst that collective were some that deeply loathed me. Local radio is unique in that way. We are often chosen by listeners with the direct expectation of supplying a target for derision and/or rage. As long as you listen, it counts. This can lead to some really bad programming choices by certain hosts, who go for the easy denominator of being provocative instead of genuine. If you’re not careful, you can lose yourself and become a contrarian by convenience, ready to inhabit a debate role that virtually anyone could play.
Thankfully, I realized this danger, and have worked to avoid it. I didn’t succeed all the time, but please know I tried to remove as much of the filter between my head, heart and microphone as possible. I’ve been me, for better or for worse. Sometimes my sensitivity would show through, but I lived with that because it sure felt better than being a fake tough guy. Anyway, if you feel like you know me, you do.
Onward! I’ll be on the station, filling in on various shows as needed. I’ll resume writing baseball columns for The Score. I’ll be launching the podcast idea of my dreams, through the station’s website. This idea has been percolating a long time…if I can pull it off, it will fuse my worlds together as they’ve been destined to be. And, I’ll obviously still be playing and singing around town with Tributosaurus.
I want to thank each and every one of you who have reached out to wish me well, or remind me of moments that meant something to you. It’s been amazing; kind of like a living wake. I’ve joked that both me and Jason Goff have had that “noble martyr” thing going, like when Conan O’Brien got displaced on The Tonight Show by an entitled, waffling dinosaur in Jay Leno.
But that imagined martyr role doesn’t last, or carry any real heft. I have to create content, and keep the connections with you active. I’m on it. Hell, Conan’s been pretty damn funny since then. Content is king.
You’ll hear or see or read me soon. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your life.
Good vibes babe, (staying on brand)
He also can detail musical evolution within the 15 Shostakovich symphonies.
My oldest brother Jon plays the bass, slide guitar, banjo, dobro and pedal steel. He was once considered a Don in the Chicago Bluegrass Mafia.
My other older brother Bobby was a center fielder on a really good high school team, for which I was the bat boy. The team bus picked me up at elementary school for away games.
My passions have always been split, equally. I was the kid racing from tennis practice to trumpet lessons. A trip to New York usually meant both Yankee Stadium and Lincoln Center. I’ve chased concurrent dreams, and professions, in both music and sports for as long as I can remember.
I now often go from radio shows directly to sound-checks. I sometimes sing 15 songs at a sold out concert, go home to watch a game on tape delay, then host a show in the morning.
Hey, look! There’s Max Crawford, an original member of Poi Dog Pondering and now the leader of the Total Pro Horns, who also happens to run the electronic scoreboards at Wrigley.
Hey, that’s our emcee Lin Brehmer, a fine high school pitcher and Cubs season ticket holder who is also the best rock and roll DJ in the city.
Who’s starting the show on bass? It’s the organizer of the whole night, Len Kasper. He’s relieved that the Cubs game he just called did not go extras or have a rain delay. He’ll try to get home at a reasonable hour, because he’s doing the national game the next day on Fox.
Our greatest living baseball writer, Peter Gammons, is over there tuning his guitar as he preps to play a Paul Butterfield Blues Band song called “Born in Chicago.”
The musicians we get to play with include members of Smashing Pumpkins, Local H, Shoes, Wilco, Bob Mould, and Rage Against The Machine. In the middle of the show, Rick Nielsen and a couple other members of Cheap Trick show up and take the stage.
Every one of them loves baseball.
These realms, the two that I will always inhabit, are not that different.