Any reader who thinks being a well-known sports columnist is all fun and games at the ballpark should consider what greeted Michael Madden in March 1985 when he raised the issue of race relations inside a Florida Elks Club that refused to admit blacks.
An award-winning writer who didn’t flinch at taking on tough subjects, he was writing about the Red Sox’ practice during that era of handing out membership cards that allowed players to visit that Elks Club during spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., even though everyone knew African-Americans weren’t allowed inside.
The team’s management accused Mr. Madden of trying to “stir up trouble” with his reporting, but after inquiries from the Globe and others about the practice, the Red Sox announced that the team would have “no further connection” with the Elks Club and rip up the remaining passes.
Patrons inside the Elks Club weren’t happy with his reporting, either.
One young man at the club’s bar sneered that Mr. Madden was “down here fighting the Civil War all over again. Well, boy, you know what they fought the Civil War with? With guns. And if there are any bad words about Winter Haven you write, I’ll be taking mine out.”
Mr. Madden, who spent more than two decades as a Globe reporter and columnist during the era when the sports department established itself as a national powerhouse, died in his sleep Wednesday in his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he had lived for several years to be closer to his two daughters. He was 73.
“He was not afraid to rattle cages and push back. He was fearless,” Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy said.
Mr. Madden’s piece on the Red Sox and the exclusionary Elks Club — headlined “Tacit Complicity?” — ran for nearly 3,300 words and included long passages that surely would have sent the irate bar patron heading for his gun rack.
In 1999, Mr. Madden won awards for a three-part series, which topped 12,000 words, about the betting scandal that brought a lifetime National Hockey League suspension for Boston Bruins center Don Gallinger. Filled with Mr. Madden’s richly detailed reporting, the series presented a layered portrait of life in the NHL and the gambling dalliances of more than just Gallinger and Billy Taylor, a former Bruins player who also was suspended for life.
“He would ferret out the details that made a story great, as opposed to good. And he was a terrific writer also,” said Joe Sullivan, the Globe’s sports editor. With the Gallinger series, Sullivan added, Mr. Madden “took a story that was 50 years old and got new information about it. That speaks to the kind of a reporter he was.”
On the day Tiger Woods first won the Masters in 1997, Mr. Madden devoted a column to prominent older African-American golfers, including those who had been excluded from the Masters because they weren’t white. Among those he interviewed was Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first black golfer to play in the tournament. “I felt this to the deepest part of my heart because this is an historic day,” Elder told Mr. Madden. “I just couldn’t stop the tears.”
At work, and even in pickup basketball games with colleagues, Mr. Madden “was very competitive,” former Globe sports columnist Leigh Montville said. “He was a great believer in the scoop, getting the story first, and the story that nobody knew. He was a true newspaper guy.”
Mr. Madden “was a great observer. Nothing went by him,” said Lesley Visser, a former Globe sportswriter who became a CBS sportscaster. “He had, I think, a brilliant vocabulary. He could take you there. He was a great writer.”
The youngest of seven children, Mr. Madden grew up in Hartford, where his mother, the former Eileen Fallon, was a homemaker, and his father, John Madden, was a sexton at St. Michael’s Church. Mr. Madden’s parents were immigrants from Ballinasloe in County Galway, Ireland.
St. Michael’s was “maybe 400 feet” from the family’s six-room apartment, and while the boys were growing up, they helped their father clear snow and cut grass, said Mr. Madden’s brother Joe of Newington, Conn. The seven children were born within eight years, and “we were a very close family,” Joe said, adding that when the seven children and their parents attended Mass at St. Michael’s, they filled an entire pew or more.
Mr. Madden received a partial academic scholarship to attend the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, where he majored in psychology.
While an undergraduate, he met Mary Lou Prunier. They married and had two daughters before their marriage ended in divorce.
After Holy Cross, Mr. Madden started graduate work in psychology at Boston College, but other interests drew him elsewhere. He started writing part-time for the Providence Journal, which hired him as a full-time sports reporter. Mr. Madden later moved to the Globe, where his byline began appearing in early 1979.
“He was a guy of passions,” Montville said. “If he got interested in something, he went crazy about it.”
A distinguishing trait was that Mr. Madden “was curious about everything,” said John Powers, a former Globe colleague. “And he had this extraordinary energy. A lot of people in this business have that energy because it’s imposed on them — you have a deadline. But he was always that way.”
Among reporters — some of whom had known him since his Providence Journal days — the fast-talking and driven Mr. Madden had a nickname that evolved. At first he was “Mad Dog Madden,” which was shortened to “ ‘Dog,’ and then it was ‘Doggie,’ ” Powers said.
A devoted father, Mr. Madden “was such a great storyteller,” said his daughter Melissa, of Phoenix. “He loved to travel, and quite honestly, a lot of his trips revolved around our family.”
After Mr. Madden moved to Arizona, he returned east periodically to visit his siblings and their families. “I would say Mike was the favorite uncle. The kids loved him,” said his brother Joe, who added that since hearing of Mr. Madden’s death, many nieces and nephews have said, “My God, we’re going to miss Mike’s stories. He always had stories to tell.”
A service will be held at a later date for Mr. Madden, who in addition to his daughter, brother, and former wife, of Scottsdale, Ariz., leaves another daughter, Courtney Comer of Scottsdale; two other brothers, John of St. Petersburg, Fla., and James of Newington, Conn.; a sister, Eileen McGuinness of East Hartford, Conn.; and three grandchildren.
On occasion, Mr. Madden wrote columns he called the “Disoriented Express” — a forum that afforded a winking playfulness. “I would love to say the Celtics have a realistic chance against the Lakers,” he wrote in June 1987. “But I would also love to say the Central Artery doesn’t have arteriosclerosis.”
“Eclectic would be a mild way of saying what that was like,” Powers said with a chuckle as he recalled reading those pieces. “You never knew what would be in that column. It was always going to be a little different than what you might think.”
Mr. Madden concluded a June 1992 Disoriented Express column with a pithy line: “Watching the Red Sox try to hit is like watching George Bush try to be president. Painful.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.