If my 14-year-old self believed he could share one press box for one night with Boz, that would have been enough, a dream fulfilled. To have shared … how many, Boz? Hundreds, right? RFK and Nationals Park, Congressional Country Club and Augusta National, FedEx Field and Capital One Arena, the Stanley Cup and the World Series. Shoot, we even climbed the Great Wall of China together.
Tell my 14-year-old self that was the career ahead — riding shotgun to Boz for close to 18 years, watching how the best to ever do it got it done — and he wouldn’t have made it to 15, what with the ensuing heart attack and all. It is the great honor and privilege of my career to have shared those spaces and had those conversations with Boz. He was and is who I want to be when I grow up.
That Boz is one of the best sportswriters of his generation is obvious to anyone who read his work. Seeing how he did that work, though, was nothing short of a master class. It was pointless for any of us to try to match his prose, and any astute reader realizes that. But the habits and the attitude that informed each one of those columns — that make Boz who he is — that’s what the readers might have missed. That’s what I’m here to share. (Sorry, Boz.)
In 2005, baseball returned to Washington after a 33-year absence. Somehow, with no baseball experience, I was tapped to be The Post’s beat writer. I was, in a word, scared. That February, The Post had dictated that those of us covering the new Nats would share an apartment in Viera, Fla., for spring training. I arrived a couple of days before Boz. The town was barren. The stories seemed scarce. I was nervous. And then he showed up, charging over from the airport in Orlando after 10 one night, ready to share his excitement.
Boz brought baseball cards. Here they were, spilling out onto the kitchen counter. Washington Senators, names and characters I knew and didn’t know, Mickey Vernon and Harmon Killebrew and more. Boz had a history with and a story about each one. Shoot, he pedaled his bike from Capitol Hill to Griffith Stadium to see so many of them.
The card I remember most was the one Boz laid down with particular enthusiasm, the one that depicted Mickey Mantle’s legendary 565-foot home run at Griffith Stadium. In my mind, that shot was apocryphal, involving characters and ballparks that seemed ancient and mythical. But here was Boz, connecting what we were about to cover — Jose Vidro and Chad Cordero and Brian Schneider — to the decades that preceded it, all of which mattered.
In that moment with the baseball cards spread over the countertop, he was a kid and I was just his bubble-gum-chewing buddy, poring over the images and stats and thinking, “Man, this is fun.” The intimidating aspects of what was ahead of me melted away. Boz made the fun part of the job seem not only possible but inevitable because he never once showed up at a ballpark or a stadium downtrodden. Even as he sailed past 70, Boz was never the reporter who arrived needing energy. He was the one who supplied the energy.
And so, so many of us learned from him, most of the time in some combination of awe and admiration. On April 14, 2005, I sat next to Boz in the ramshackle press box at RFK Stadium for the first home game for a Washington major league team in 33 years — then sat, jaw agape, as a representative of the Hall of Fame asked him for his scorecard, Livan Hernandez’s effort into the ninth and Vinny Castilla’s near-cycle sent to Cooperstown through Boz’s chicken scratch. Later that summer, when it became apparent that the fences at RFK Stadium weren’t measured properly, it was Boz who encouraged me to buy a 300-foot tape measure, Boz who brought red ball caps to the yard one afternoon — so we would perhaps look like stadium workers rather than sportswriters — and Boz who devised a plan in which I stood at home plate, he walked out 300 feet toward center field, and I ran past him to measure the distance to the wall, the quickest way to work before we got caught and kicked out. Which we did — but not before we had enough data for a front-page story.
But in all the fun, Boz demonstrated how to take the job — but not himself — seriously. Before meeting him, it would be easy to think his columns read as they do — informative and entertaining, each one beautifully composed — because of his talent, which is immense. That’s only part of the truth. The rest is preparation. He writes with literary flair. It’s built by a coal miner’s work ethic.
Boz’s work day never began at the ballpark. If he had an intended column target — be it Max Scherzer or the backup catcher or anyone in between — he brought with him not just questions but research. His notebooks should be preserved and studied — stats written in different-colored ink showing how a player compared with someone from another era, what seasons were outliers, whether minor league performance mattered — anything and everything you could think of and a lot of stuff you never would.
He is eternally curious and inquisitive, and he never stood in the clubhouse waiting for a single target, as so many of us do. Any player or coach who appeared might unwittingly find himself in a conversation with Boz, who was armed with informed ammo for each and every one of them. The chat would start, and then here came his notebook. Even if he had information or stats to share with them, he was always learning from them.
His columns, even those that delved deep into numbers, weren’t mechanical. They were lyrical. Again, that’s ability — but only partly. At the 2013 World Series, I came back up from the field to our seats in the Fenway Park press box before Game 6. Boz wasn’t there, but his tools remained — his laptop, notebooks, game notes and a ragtag paperback. I’m still not sure I should admit this, but I will: I peeked. It was a dog-eared copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journals, with various passages underlined — some in red, some in blue, some in both.
When Boz returned to his seat, I asked him, essentially, “What gives?”
“Oh,” he said. “Emerson’s poetry isn’t worth much, but his prose is great.”
He wanted, he said, to be in the right frame of mind to write that night’s column. There is uncommon care and thought in that process.
The Red Sox could win the series that night; indeed, they would. Boz knew that a series-clinching column could be the one to remember — not for him but for the reader. The column that might be framed as a keepsake. The column that might be read and read again to relive the moment. He had to be at his best so his words could be the best they could be.
That’s what he produced, over and over, the best of anybody in the press box. It might be the clinching game of the World Series or the final round of the Masters. But it was just as frequently a mid-May businessperson’s special or the third game of the Washington Football Team’s season. In that way, he is like the best athletes he covered, Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Sugar Ray Leonard. The talent was enough to shine on its own, but it was accompanied by a drive to work that left him lapping the field.
It is possible to be happy for Boz in his retirement and absolutely saddened not to work with him — not to read him — anymore. Not many people get to work with their heroes. For 18 years, I got to work with mine. Thank you, Boz, for the columns and the camaraderie. My 50-year-old self still can’t believe it.