9:05 p.m.: The panel is asked for their thoughts about the controversy surrounding the latest ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Merloni’s passionate answer is that the hall is for the best players that have ever played the game and shouldn’t have the moral clause. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are certain hall of famers in his opinion. He doesn’t agree with what they did, but he “knows a hall of famer” when he sees one.
Ryan wants the hall to acknowledge that the steroid era existed and says people have to be stupid to think Bonds and Clemens didn’t cheat.
Massarotti says PEDs have inflated all of the numbers. He says the voting was inconsistent in the past and is even more so in 2012 and beyond. He’ll go purely by the eyeball. “I’m a yes on Clemens and a yes on Bonds,” he said. Edgar Martinez got his vote because he’s the “greatest designated hitter that has ever played.”
Littlefield says the hall is full of guys who did far worse things than the players currently under scrutiny. “There’s nothing moral about it.”
Shaughnessy says that sports are supposed to be a level playing field, and the steroid era has made it incredibly difficult to vote.
For Bell, Bonds’ and Clemens’ (and others’) cheating should disqualify them from a place in the hall.
9:05 p.m.: An audience member asks about the panel’s faith in the Patriots’ front seven (on defense) and undersized secondary.
Bell sums it up perfectly: No pass rush, no defense. “You could have Jesus Christ back there and it wouldn’t make a difference.”
9 p.m.: Bell says players are more disposable today than ever before, and playing more games during a span of seven days puts players in greater danger than ever.
8:55 p.m.: Littlefield says coal miners are compensated for black lung, asbestos workers are compensated for mesothelioma, why can’t football players be compensated for the injuries they suffer on the job?
An audience member adds that arthritis is prevalent among athletes — especially the big ones — of today.
8:45 p.m.: The next question is about football’s future in light of what we now know about head injuries.
Littlefield says the U.S. loves football and other countries don’t. He adds that this is the only military superpower in the world and the two facts “aren’t entirely unrelated.”
Bell adds that people he speaks to love the sport’s violence. He jokes that in 20 years, the losing team will be executed — like in the days of ancient Rome. Will Americans not be entertained?
Merloni cites his first experience watching UFC. “Apparently boxing is not violent enough,” he says. Fans booed two tired fighters. He thinks Americans love the vicious nature of the two sports.
Ryan disagrees. He says mothers of America could shut the “barbaric enterprise” down tomorrow because it systematically destroys the people who play it.
Bell notes that African Americans from poor communities played football to escape poverty in the 1960s and they still do today.
8:40 p.m.: The panel continues on the changing face of sports journalism.
Bell compares the Patriots to the Kremlin in terms of how difficult it is to get inside information.
8:35 p.m.: The next question was asked about the changing face of journalism in the age of Twitter and instant updates and analysis.
Shaughnessy says the function of the daily newspaper is a thing of the past.
Littlefield adds that there are still great places for writers to tell great stories.
8:30 p.m.: An audience member says the Patriots’ hiring of Bill Parcells changed the face of sports in the region, creating a race to the top among the local teams.
Bell says Parcells brought a way of playing football that is unique. He adds the Patriots might not be playing in New England if Parcells didn’t come.
Ryan adds that the Patriots rise has been the single biggest story in his career. He says the Pats are the number one team in the region — ahead of the Red Sox.
Bell adds that Belichick following Parcells was also critical, as the coach controls everything in the professional game.
8:25 p.m.: Bell asks if Francona was the best manager in Red Sox history.
Merloni says he is, but his refusal to change over time cost him dearly. The former Sox infielder says the players changed, Francona didn’t and it cost him control of the clubhouse.
8:20 p.m.: Caron asks if the Red Sox players face more scrutiny than their counterparts on the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots.
Merloni says the Red Sox are a special case because everyone in the region played and understand the sport really well. He says there’s no better place to play when things are going well, but players “face the wrath” when they fail. Some players can take it, others can’t. He adds that you learn a lot about players by how they react to failure.
8:15 p.m.: Bell wants to know what’s going on behind the scenes at Fenway Park.
Shaughnessy says there are plenty of bright and capable people in the upper reaches of Red Sox management working to dig out from the current situation. He says Ben Cherington has a “methodical” approach.
Ryan points out how difficult it is to win a championship. He cites the Yankees, who have spent over a billion dollars this century and have only one championship to show for it.
8:10 p.m.: Merloni says the Red Sox players never believed in the Curse of the Bambino. He adds that watching the Sox win the 2004 World Series from afar (he left for Cleveland after the 2003 season) gave him mixed emotions.
8:07 p.m.: Bell says the 49ers are the best team in the NFL.
8:05 p.m.: Ryan says Boston sports fans should be most upbeat about the Patriots, but we’ll know a lot more after the next three games.
The Celtics are in for a frustrating season, as their defense and rebounding are too inconsistent to put them among the best teams in the league. Shaughnessy agrees with Ryan’s assessment of the Celtics.
8 p.m.: The panel is making its way to the stage and the discussion will begin in a few minutes.
I’m Marcus Kwesi O’Mard, putting down my soccer shoes for the evening to bring you the highlights of the discussion.
If you’d like to make a donation to the Arthritis Foundation, visit ArthritisFoundation.org/Massachusetts.
If you want to follow along on Twitter, use #SportsConnection2012.
7:55 p.m.: Bob Ryan, the guest of honor, is making a few remarks. He says Celtics’ Dave Cowens was the biggest personality he ever got a chance to cover. It goes without saying that he feels Boston is the “perfect place” for him to be a sportswriter.
“The Commissioner” graciously accepts the Sports Connection Achievement Award.
7:30 p.m.: The panel discussion will begin in a few minutes. Those who want to follow the discussion on Twitter should use #SportsConnection2012. You can join the conversation there.
8 a.m. ET: December is not yet upon us, but it’s safe to say that 2012 was an action-packed year as far as Boston sports go.
Some of the region’s esteemed media personalities will review the year that was (and still is) at the Sports Connection “Your Ticket to the Inside Track,” presented by the Arthritis Foundation event on Thursday evening.
NESN’s Tom Caron will host a panel discussion about all the year’s best moments in Boston sports.
The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, Globe writer and 98.5 the Sports Hub broadcaster Tony Massarotti, National Public Radio’s Only A Game program host Bill Littlefield, WCRN’s (Worcester) Upton Bell and former Red Sox utility man and WEEI-FM host Lou Merloni will break down the highlights of 2012.
They will be joined by the guest of honor — legendary Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan.
We’ll be at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel to bring you all of the panel’s main points — as they happen. Join us right here on Thursday starting at 6 p.m. ET.