Menino was always a good sport

Posted by Gary Dzen, Staff  March 28, 2013 11:52 AM

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David L. Ryan/Globe file photo

The waterfront is booming, the Innovation District bustling, and there's a long stretch of green where an elevated highway used to be. Mayor Thomas M. Menino has accomplished a great deal for the city in 20 years on the job.

He has also, partly to his detriment but mostly to his benefit, butchered just about every athlete's name that's come out of his mouth during that time. Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo became "K.J." and "Hondo." He twisted "Gronk" to "Gonk." During a dedication ceremony at the Tobin Community Center in 2010, NBA commissioner David Stern was greeted by the mayor as "Donald Sterns."

A lesser politician may have crumbled under the circumstances. Some, like 2010 senate candidate Martha Coakley, have seen their reputations take a hit for similar transgressions. In a sports-obsessed town like Boston, brushing up on your knowledge of the Sox, Pats, Celts, and B's seems like a minimum requirement.

And yet Menino has seen his popularity increase with each slip-up. Combined with clumsy, everyman speech, Menino's lack of sports knowledge comes off as endearing. A reference to Wes Welker as Wes "Wekler" isn't a sign that the mayor doesn't care. On the contrary, his persistence to get burned and keep sticking his hand back in the fire is a testament that he's trying like heck. After the KG/Rondo gaffe, the following tweet was sent from Menino's Twitter account:

The substitution of Jason Varitek for Adam Adam Vinatieri in the clip below reveals Menino has at least some sports knowledge despite an inability to ad lib. (The clip below featuring that flub is a favorite. Note the long pause between "hail mary" and "pass" on the Flutie reference).

One of the things we like most about Menino is that despite his lack of knowledge, he's ours through and through. He goes to bat for us even when he's woefully out of his league. In an off-the-cuff chat about the 2004 Red Sox, Menino fares well until the very end.

"2004 coming in here when Davy Roberts stole second base, Mueller [supposed to be pronounced Miller] hit the double, got him in, then Ortiz won the game. There's so many," Menino said at the Fenway 100 celebration. "Jim Lomberg had that great year he had."

That would be Jim Lonborg, who played for the Sox in 1967.

Menino defended our local sports teams, never shying away from the ceremonial chowder-for-BBQ bets with the mayor of the opposing city. He defended our beer, incredulously asking "Colorado Rocky beer?" before a Patriots game against the Denver Broncos despite the Globe's beer columnist proving just how wrong he was. With each miscue we loved him even more.

Of course, Menino is much more involved in sports than his knowledge of the city's big four teams might indicate. After a series by the Globe's Bob Hohler revealed a lack of support for athletics in Boston public schools, Menino founded the Boston Scholar Athlete program to address the problem. Menino's "Game of the Week" telecast shined a spotlight on city teams. A quick search of the Globe's photo archives reveals shots of Menino shooting a basketball and throwing a baseball, a football, and a dodgeball.

For all the grief he gets, Menino's not the kid who takes his ball and goes home. Each time he gets it wrong he inevitably gets something else right. Boston is full of sports know-it-alls, and there's nothing wrong with that. That passion is what helps create the fabric of our city. But what Menino didn't know was also refreshing. It humanized him in a way that breaking down Bill Belichick's third-down defense or the Bruins power play could not. We'll miss the mayor's mistakes.

Maybe by November we'll get one more for old time's sake.

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