Friday, August 28, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Kevin Millar (2004)

Kevin Millar spent a lot more time on the other side of the microphone during his three years with the Red Sox. Photo from this site.

Below is the first of a couple Q&As I’d like to post with Kevin Millar, the loquacious former Red Sox first baseman who arrives in town tonight with the Blue Jays for a three-game series. Millar, who was kind enough to pen the foreword for Fighting Words, was incredibly cooperative and always willing to answer another question or two for this book both during and following his three seasons with the Sox.

This was conducted July 22, 2004, before a doubleheader against the Orioles, and my inability to use a lot of this in a book that wasn't finished for another four years doesn't diminish the insight Millar offered on the relationship between the media and the Red Sox and the dynamic therein.

Five years later, though, the most interesting thing to me is the pretty impressive sense of prescience Millar displayed in asking for patience with both himself and the struggling Sox. Millar, who had been coming under heavy criticism for his quiet production at the plate, was less than 12 hours removed from hitting a homer and going 3-for-3 in a performance that raised his average eight points to .277. He hit four homers in the next two games, including three against the Yankees July 23, and hit .336 with 13 homers, 49 RBI and 17 doubles in 211 at-bats beginning July 21. He hit .269 with five homers, 25 RBI and 19 doubles in his first 297 at-bats of the season.

Millar also implored fans (and media) not to worry about the Yankees and to think of October and how the Sox stacked up to the Yankees in a short series. Suffice to say he was proven correct three months later. Hope you enjoy:

What had you heard about the media in Boston before joining the Red Sox?

Just you’ve got to be careful. It’s known around baseball and around sports [as] probably the toughest media you’re going to deal with. The thing about here is you’ve got one paper or two papers that have six writers that write for the same paper, so you’re going to have six different stories every day. You’ve got three or four people writing for the Herald, three or four people that write for the Globe. Where in different cities—other than New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago—you’re going to find one page, one writer.

Was it a culture shock for you going from Florida to here?

You deal with about four or five reporters there in Florida. Here, you’re going to deal with 25 to 30. It’s just one of those things that you deal with. I think, if you’re accessible every night when you’re doing good or doing bad, I think they’re going to respect you. I’ve never had a problem with the media. Just be accountable for your actions each and every night. There’s going to be good articles, there’s going to be bad articles. But that’s their job.

Do you read the papers or pay attention to the coverage?

No. One thing I don’t do. I’ve never got caught up in that. I read the USA Today, but you don’t want to get caught up in stuff because your feelings will get hurt. First of all, because you’re a human being. And second of all, you’re never as good as the good articles are about you or as bad as they are. You’ve just got to kind of find a happy medium. I get up and read the USA Today and look through box scores from other guys. I don’t get caught up in the local press. Obviously, someone says there’s an article about you, I hear about it.

Can you describe what happened last summer when you asked everyone to “Cowboy Up?”

I was upset at the negativity that everybody wants to put around this club or the past and 1918. That’s when I originally wanted the to ‘cowboy up’ and say to enjoy these guys, enjoy the team, don’t worry about all the negative. There’s 20 bright spots and maybe five black spots. They want to dwell on the black spots. And I don’t fall for that bad press sells papers. Good press sells papers also. There’s always going to be a negative and that’s what’s wrong with society at times. But there’s also good stories that [will get] people [to] sit and watch and listen and read.

It doesn’t always have to be a negative, gloomy day. But that’s the difference between people. You have good reporters and you’re going to have [crappy] reporters. Just like players—you have good guys and some of the guys [aren’t].

Is it tough for players to forget an organization’s past?

Well, historical stuff doesn’t really faze me at all, because I wasn’t alive. The big thing is you have to have a short-term memory as a player. It’s day-to-day each day, so it’s not hard to forget about anything. I’m struggling, I’m not going to hit 12 homers in one night to turn those numbers around. It takes time to turn numbers around. As soon as you start swinging the bat well, the numbers just aren’t going to fly out there. It takes a month to get those numbers back to healthy. So as a player, no, it’s not hard.

When you catch some criticism, as you did for last year’s "Cowboy Up" statement, do you ever think it’d be easier just to give clichés to reporters?

Yeah. No reason to express your true feelings, because it always comes out wrong and then you’re the bad guy. So most of the time, yeah, they’re all clichés anyway. What goes on in here is our business and you do the best you can. But I happen to be a guy who wears my heart on my sleeve and I’ve come out looking like the bad guy. Sometimes it’s easier just to answer the right question the right way. It doesn’t benefit you either way. Let someone else be the bad guy.

Like for instance, last year when they were on Derek [Lowe]. I called them over here and went [off] on them and a couple day later I went off on the media and it was all ‘Millar can’t handle the media, Millar’s starting to tell the fans they’re too negative’ and all of a sudden I was turning into this big bad guy. [He’s] like wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. All I was basically saying was ‘Lay off Derek, we need him.’ He came up with a blister, we ended up losing [a game] and they were all over him. I was basically saying ‘We need Derek.’ Sure enough, we did get him in the fifth game of the playoffs and all of a sudden everything was all right.

But the media, it’s 162 playoff games. We lose last night, it’s the end of the world. We win tonight, we’re getting better. Baseball’s a long year, man. I can’t tell you if we’re going to go 50-10, I can’t tell you that the Yankees aren’t going to go 25-25. I don’t know, it could happen, you know? [All] anyone wants to talk about is ‘Is the season over?’ It’s [expletive] 70 games left. Baseball’s crazy [stuff]. We could go on a rampage [or] just keep plugging away. Obviously, second week of September, you’re right around the corner. Right now we’re just in July. This team just got healthy a week-and-a-half ago.

Do you sense more pressure in the short-term from media here than in Florida?

This is definitely different. The media here thinks they’re general managers. Everyone wants to be a GM instead of a fan or a writer. Everyone’s got all the answers. When I was in Florida, we were young and we were losing, we were a .500 team, but we were so young and talented pitching-wise. [The] potential [was a theme of] a lot of the articles, and obviously it worked out because they’re champions last year. But I was there when Beckett was 20 and Brad Penny’s 21 and A.J. Burnett was 20.

Like I said, all these talk radio guys, they’re all GMs, they all know everything. Derek Lowe throws seven innings, now all of a sudden he’s great. Derek Lowe gets knocked out in the third, get him out of here. It’s just [Millar whistles]. Pedro last night—you’re gonna start hearing about ‘Well, what’s wrong with Pedro?’ [Expletive], the guy’s 10-4. Everybody’s a GM. Well, who are you going to bring in [that’s] better than Derek Lowe out there right now? Kip Wells? That’s my point. Hey, this guy’s won 21, this guy’s won 17. He’ll be fine. He’ll have a good second half for us.

But they want to get rid of everybody. And who are we bringing in? They want to get rid of Nomar, they want to get rid of me, they want to get rid of Derek Lowe. It’s like, OK, who do you want? Everybody’s [a] GM. And something about this you’ve got to understand: This is the same group that made a lot of people happy last year. No one’s changed. Minor disappointment, not a major catastrophe. Minor disappointment, that first half. It’s a couple months [the Sox have] been in a little bit of a minor slump. But we’re OK. That’s what you try to get over.

The sky is not falling, you know? We could be six out in the wild card. But you’re compared to the Yankees so much. It’s like ‘Oh, God, the Yankees.’ [Screw] the Yankees. They’re gonna win 100 games. You put us in a five-game series with them, I guarantee you I’m taking us. That’s my feeling. I don’t care if the Yankees won 170 games this year. Go for it. Put us in a five-game series, go get Pedro and Schilling. Good luck. Put our offense and their offense and they’ll go head-to-head. But their pitching and our pitching?

Were you surprised at all by the attention when Manny Ramirez didn’t start the final game of the first half due to tight hamstrings, started the All-Star Game and then missed a handful of starts after the All-Star Break?

I don’t know who made the nickname ‘Mannyisms.’ Maybe those are ‘Mannyisms.’ I don’t know what that means and what it is. But you deal with certain things. Everybody in this locker room’s got 25 different personalities—different people, different backgrounds. We don’t know what people go through. People want to get on Pedro for going home early for the All-Star Break. Well, you know what, I don’t think anyone else lives away from their family like he does in the Dominican Republic. I don’t think a lot of people [don’t] get to see your family for nine months. And if you get a chance to go home for a couple days, go for it. He ain’t pitching. See ya later. You’re a pain in the ass anyway [grins].

But for him, before we jump to conclusions when the radio guy’s sitting at home with his wife and kids, sometimes you’ve got to sit back and [say] ‘OK.’ But all we want to see is dollar signs and athletes and spoiled athletes. So that’s what people see is dollar signs and spoiled athletes other than you know, hey, we’re people, we’re human beings. We have moms and dads and kids.

Did you think people were less willing to give Ramirez a break because he’s got a track record of missing games right before the All-Star Break with minor injuries?

No one has any right to question any injuries from athletes. Who’s to say how bad Nomar’s Achilles [is]? Who’s to say how bad Manny Ramirez’ hamstrings are sore? Who’s to say how bad someone’s lower back is? You can’t question anything, because this is a major league level game we’re playing. One sprint down to first base and it smashes his hamstring, now he’s out six-to-eight weeks. If a guy needs two or three days off because he’s got tight [hamstrings], go for it. Now we want to talk about why he played in the All-Star Game. Who gives a [crap], you know? Maybe he did it in his third at-bat in the All-Star Game, maybe he did it the second. Who knows? The point being is Manny had a bad hamstring.

But I like I said, it’s 160 playoff games. Oh God, oh God, oh God. No, it’s not like that. Guess what? Gabe Kapler gets to get some at-bats. Guess what? Gabe Kapler goes deep two times that series. It’s OK. It’s why you have a 25-man roster. Nomar isn’t playing last night, why isn’t he playing? It’s OK. Gives him a day so he doesn’t snap his Achilles and we lose him for two more months. That’s why you put a 25-man roster together on a big league team.

Do you sense reporters carry the team’s championship burden here?

We’ve got some guys who make a lot of money on ‘The Curse,’ so they’re going to keep that going as long as it’s going to make them money, basically promoting themselves and keeping ‘The Curse’ alive and keeping the fans intrigued. Curse, there’s no such thing as a curse. We haven’t ha the better team in that time. You tip your hat to the Yankees last year. They got some big-time hits in some big-time situations. Nothing to do with the ghosts flying around, you know? Matsui hit an 0-2 fastball down the line. Derek Jeter hits. That’s just baseball, you know? Bucky Dent’s home run.

Do you have any reporters whom you trust more than others?

Yeah. You’ve got a few reporters you trust, you know. You have your few reporters you don’t, you know what I’m saying? But that’s life. Some guys you trust, some guys you don’t, [whether] it’s media or players. I like [Tony] Mazz, Bob Hohler. I don’t know, there’s probably [more], all that I deal with. Honest to God, that’s the thing: I don’t know a lot [of reporters personally]. Bob Hohler, I deal with a lot. Ian [Browne of], we deal with. We get The Boston Globe at home.  Some guys, I don’t know if they write on me or not. It’s unfair to say if I trust them or not.

Email Jerry at or follow him on Twitter at

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Youk’s Fuel

There's a pretty good chance you have fueled Kevin Youkilis' fire. Photo from this site.

If I hadn’t gone to the well so frequently in the last couple weeks with Q&As—and wasn’t planning to post a Kevin Millar Q&A tomorrow morning with the Blue Jays coming to town for a weekend series—I would have posted today the Kevin Youkilis interview I conducted for Fighting Words in September 2007.

I’ll post the Youkilis Q&A sometime in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’ll say (or write) that I was pleasantly surprised at how well the interview went, given how Youkilis seemed as fond of the media then as he did in speaking to Dan Shaughnessy Tuesday (Youkilis clarified his comments yesterday and said he was not angry with the fans). But Youkilis was expansive two years ago in describing the negativity players perceive from the media, the awkwardness of celebrity and why he was more intense and less approachable as a regular than as a reserve.

It’s hard to believe now, but when Youkilis joined the big club in 2004, he fit in seamlessly with the goofy, endearingly idiotic likes of Millar, Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo, et al. In fact, Youkilis contributed background vocals to Arroyo’s CD in 2005 and joined Damon in backing up Arroyo at a concert during the All-Star Break.

Youkilis was decidedly less amiable in 2005, which I figured was a byproduct of riding the Boston-to-Pawtucket shuttle all year long, but the gruffness was a sign of things to come. The persona of the Sox, too, began to change in 2005 and particularly during Youkilis’ first season as a regular in 2006, and I have often wondered what Youkilis’ public persona would be like if the idiots still ruled the roost.

Dustin Pedroia can walk up and down the dugout talking trash, complain about the media alternately praising and burying the Sox vis a vis the Yankees and rail at skeptics seen and unseen, yet he does it all with an impish grin that implies even he doesn’t believe everything he says.

But there’s no sense of winking self-awareness coming from the perpetually scowling Youkilis, who seems to get both better and unhappier by the day. He’s a perennial MVP candidate, one of the Sox’ building blocks and rich beyond all comprehension, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him or reading his comments.

It doesn’t seem to make any sense, especially his complaining about negative Boston fans. Youkilis spent most of his minor league days in New England, which made him a cult hero to Sox devotees long before he even appeared at Fenway Park. If he’s not the favorite player among the faithful, then he’s surely in the top three with Pedroia and David Ortiz.

But maybe Youkilis’ words and actions are actually providing a glimpse into what drives a superstar, especially one who was never pegged for greatness , has always felt the need to prove himself in order to fit in and who is alternately motivated and pursued by unpleasant memories. All pro athletes use slights, real and perceived, to stoke their competitive fires, but Youkilis doesn’t have to dig too deep to find some fuel.

I don’t think there are too many superstars who were pudgy as kids—even today, one look at Youkilis indicates he probably wasn’t among the first kids picked in gym class—and who played four years at a non-descript Division I school before being drafted as an eighth-round afterthought.

“That’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with—sometimes, I’ve got to let that go and not think I have to prove myself all the time,” Youkilis said in September 2007. “But it’s in my nature, since day one, ever since I was young. [He has been] trying to prove myself since I was like 11, 12 years old. It’s been something that’s going on for a long time. Hopefully, at some point, it all goes away and I don’t have to worry about it.”

Youkilis also hinted at some darker childhood moments last month, when he spoke to a group of Needham teenagers about the suicide deaths of three of his closest friends. Pedroia is the one who has authored an autobiography, but the more I think about it and the more he speaks, the more I think the really interesting story would be the one penned by Youkilis.

Email Jerry at or follow him on Twitter at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Setting up Wagner to fail?

This could be a common pose for Billy Wagner as he adapts to setting up for the first time in 13 years. Photo from this site. 

Theo Epstein’s great chemistry experiment continued Tuesday, when the longest trade talks in the history of the game came to a conclusion with the Red Sox acquiring Billy Wagner from the Mets for two players to be named later.

That the Sox went ahead and completed the trade for Wagner even though Jonathan Papelbon originally thought it was a lousy idea was no surprise. Any doubt that the Sox don’t care what Papelbon says because he won’t be in Boston beyond 2011 should have disappeared yesterday, when Epstein and Terry Francona—two men who are almost always cautious with their words and complimentary of their players—basically called their closer an idiot, and not in the endearing Johnny Damon way.

Epstein said Papelbon’s comments about Wagner were misunderstood (a phrase echoed, not surprisingly, by Papelbon) and that Papelbon is “…not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with.”

Said Francona about Papelbon: “Not too much filter there.”

Must give some credit here to Bruce Allen, who wondered way back in April if Papelbon’s loose lips made him a bad fit for a team with an increasingly corporate demeanor. Daniel Bard’s struggles over the last few weeks probably assure Papelbon of remaining with the Sox next year, but I’d be surprised if the Sox don’t move him before his walk year in 2011.

One thing is certain: Barring a serious injury this season to Papelbon, his successor at closer won’t be Wagner, who is 38 and desperate to close for someone in 2010. The Sox are not expected to pick up Wagner’s $8 million option for next season, though I’d wager good money on feelings being bruised when the Sox insist on offering Wagner arbitration and therefore making teams reluctant to relinquish draft picks in signing Wagner, who will likely cost his new team two picks as a Type A free agent.

The Sox, of course, care as much about Wagner’s feelings come November as they do Papelbon’s feelings right now. This is about winning it all and adding some valuable and hard-throwing depth to an already solid bullpen. And I imagine the Sox already see this move as a success because it keeps Wagner away from potential playoff foes.

Which is good, because it’s hard to envision him contributing much more than that. Wagner is less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, made just two appearances with the Mets before he was dealt and won’t be able to throw on consecutive days.

The biggest problem isn’t how Wagner will be accepted in the locker room but how he’ll accept his new role. Wagner, who ranks sixth all-time in saves with 385, has been a closer since 1997 and said Monday he didn’t expect to drop his no-trade protection and go to Boston because he was “…too old to set up.” Both parties, of course, are in full spin control mode now that Wagner is in Boston to not serve as a closer.

Wagner’s agent, the awesomely named Bean Stringfellow, said Wagner changed his mind about the trade because of his “competitive nature” and the chance to compete for a championship. And Terry Francona said Wagner won’t have Eric Gagne-like issues in the transition because he’s a situational lefty, not a set-up man. Well, unless that situation is getting the last out of the ninth inning, he’s still a set-up man.

In addition, Wagner doesn’t exactly possess a Papelbon-like playoff resume: He has an 8.71 ERA in 11 postseason games, including an 0-1 mark with a 16.88 ERA in the Mets’ seven-game loss to the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS. He was so ineffective in that series—particularly in a non-save situation in Game Six, when he entered the ninth with a six-run lead a four-run lead and gave up two runs and allowed the tying run to reach the plate before he finally escaped the jam—that Willie Randolph gave the ball to Aaron Heilman, the human gas can, in a tie game in the top of the ninth of Game Seven instead of Wagner. Not quite the history you want out of a guy who will be setting…err, serving as a situational reliever in the playoffs, is it?

The Sox are banking their World Series hopes on a whole lot of people transitioning on the fly. Fitting five players into four spots (catcher, first base, third base and designated hitter) is working pretty well thus far, and Epstein’s long-term track record earns him the benefit of the doubt. But I still can’t shake the feeling that acquiring Wagner is the equivalent of hitting one too many times in a game of blackjack, and that he’ll be left to wonder this fall if Wagner would have done a lot more to help the Sox in somebody else’s uniform.

Email Jerry at or follow him on Twitter at

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Hawk Harrelson

The Hawk made Ken Harrelson's time in Boston an unforgettable one. Photo from this site.

Below is one of the more fascinating and unexpected interviews I conducted in the writing of Fighting Words. I wanted to talk to Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, the famed White Sox broadcaster and former Red Sox outfielder and broadcaster, because Carl Yastrzemski credited him with lightening the mood around the 1967 Red Sox, embracing the role of team spokesman and making it easier for Yastrzemski to concentrate on baseball.

I had no idea how highly Harrelson thought of Yastrzemski, nor of how Harrelson has come to view the “Hawk” as a different personality that overtakes him during pressure situations and allows the naturally shy and reserve Harrelson to thrive in those scenarios.

With the White Sox in town this week, I figured it was a good time to post this interview, which was conducted in the visitor’s television booth at Fenway Park in August 2007. Hope you find it as fun and interesting as I did.

What did you think of the passion you saw upon arriving in Boston in 1967?

It was something. It was really fantastic to be a part of. Because the franchise had been down so for long, it was almost like it was apathy among the fans. And then to come in here and see the packed house every night and the atmosphere and the attitude and just to watch Yaz play—that was unbelievable.

Carl said your presence really helped him, particularly when it came to dealing with the media and all the attention. How do you think you helped him?

I’d been the “Hawk” since I was 17. Dick Howser gave me that when I was 17 years old. And when I got here, again, it was only a nickname. Only the “Hawk” took a life of its own and I really became—we became buddies, he and I. Because I’m like Yaz. People who know me will tell you I’m very quiet and very introverted. But the “Hawk” was not. He was just the antithesis of that. And that’s what Yaz was talking about. And he’s right. It took a lot of pressure off a lot of the guys, and just like that helped them and helped Yaz. He helped me, hitting behind him in ’67 and ’68, you know? It made me realize what you had to do. And if you look back, you’ll see in ’67 and ’68, I had my two best years. And two big parts of that was because of Yaz: Hitting behind him and learning, when you’re facing good pitching out there—I’m not talking about mediocre pitching, I’m talking about 20-game winners—you better know how to ratchet it up a little bit. And that’s what he did in ’67. To this day, that’s the greatest offensive season I’ve ever seen by anybody.

We were talking the other day: Sometimes, you’ve got to go beyond the numbers. Now there were guys who had a lot better offensive years, numbers-wise than Yaz. But nobody ever had a better offensive year than he did, as far as when he hit it. Don’t tell me what you hit, I don’t give a [crap] what you hit. I’ve played with guys hitting 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs [and it] didn’t mean a damn thing. When he hit it, it was phenomenal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He was the renaissance of baseball in New England. And in fact, I used to call him Renaissance Man. He was the man. I mean, he brought all this back to one of the great franchises in the world and in sports. He was the one that revived it and literally made it what it is today.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the best Red Sox teams have had guys who were able to absorb the media attention?

The biggest killer of performance is pressure. It’s not being overweight. It’s not getting enough sleep. It’s pressure. That’s what it is. It’s that simple. Yaz is the most fearless baseball player when it comes to pressure that I’ve ever seen.

Most of the time, guys who enjoy the limelight, pressure doesn’t get to them too much. It doesn’t bother them too much, because they have created a way to handle it. If you ever wanted to start with a guy who handled it, you start with Yastrzemski. It’s that simple. And then you would go to a guy like Michael Jordan.

When I got here and joined him, I watched him. I just watched him and you see him handle the media. To see him handle the pressure of the media, I’d never seen it before. I had never seen a player handle the pressure of the media, because it was phenomenal. Our lockers were catty cornered. I was here and he was there and in between was a beer cooler over here and the entrance to the showers right there. There was a room there and I had room to sit. And sometimes he would sit with his head in his hands like this [motions] for a long time. And I would sit there and watch him, and then he’d go into Vinny Orlando’s little room where he kept the hats and stuff. And then once the game started, he had everything under control.

Absolutely magnificent—his execution, his leadership in a time that no Red Sox player had ever faced, maybe ever. Maybe ever, including number nine [Ted Williams].

Did you think the Chicago media was as aware of and quick to reference the White Sox’ title drought as the Boston media was of the Red Sox’ drought?

I thought they presented it to the fans very well while it was happening. They had a great sense of the moment, never got ahead of themselves. It’s almost like they just went ahead and enjoyed [the White Sox' 2005 title] as much as the players and the fans did.

I understand the media’s job, and that’s the media’s job to look at things in an objective way and for the most part in a negative way. And there’s some members of the media that believe what they write can be an influence to the ballclub. And sometimes it can. The media today—I can’t imagine that same scenario with the media being like it is today, back in ’67. On a scale of 1 to 10, the media’s at a 10 today. Back in those days, compared to today, that media was like a 3. So I can’t imagine that same thing.

And then ’04 comes along. My wife and I were watching the playoffs, and when the Yankees were up 2-0, she asked me ‘Well, do the Red Sox still have a chance?’ I said ‘Hell yeah, they’ve got a chance.’ Then when they lost the next game [and] went down 3-0, she asked me again. I said ‘No, they don’t have no prayer.’ But that even made it better. If you had to write a script, that would have been exactly the script you would have written. And then when they won the World Series, I had tears in my eyes again, as I had tears in my eyes in ’86.

Can you expand a bit on how the “Hawk” emerged?

Fans made it. Fans brought him out. There’s an on-deck circle down there that we use to have. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in that thing and said ‘All right, Kenny, get out of the Hawk’s way and let him go,’ because he could do it. I couldn’t. And I’ve talked to some psychologists about it. They said it’s very common. They said ‘You were very fortunate to at least recognize that, even though you may not have understood it. You recognized it at an early age’ We all have—you have multiple personalities, everybody has them. You’re a different guy when you’re angry than when you’re happy than when you’re sad. We all have different personalities and I was able to recognize mine. I couldn’t stand the pressure. I didn’t like it one bit. Hawk loved it. Now, he didn’t come out all the time. But when he did, he did well.

But I was a product of the fans. And a lot of times, you know, you come out of the dugout and you’ve had a long night or a short night or whatever way you want to put it and you’ve got a hangover or you’re not feeling good. And all of a sudden you walk out of that dugout and there’s 35,000 fans there with their arms outstretched saying ‘Hawk, we love you.’ All of a sudden, poof, that hangover’s gone and you’re ready to play some baseball.

To a degree, he still [appears] when we get on the golf course. I remember a few years ago when I beat Rick Rhoden in the playoff of [a celebrity golf tournament]. Rhoden, I think he was leading us by seven shots at the turn. All of a sudden, my caddie and I are walking down [the fairway]. He’s like a second son to me and he knows about the 'Hawk.' He says ‘So where’s the Hawk?’ I said ‘He’s here. He just came in.’ And sure enough, we birdied five out of the last six holes, shot five under on the backside, got into a playoff and then birdied the first hole. I didn’t do it. I’m just watching him play.

Is it like an out-of-body experience when the "Hawk" arrives?

Yeah. He did it in the only senior event I played. I shot—he shot—69 and 71, so we were four under. If we shoot 64, 65, [they’ve] got a chance to win the tournament. We didn’t, because I took over rather than letting him do it. But on the 18th hole, we had a 40-footer for eagle. And all of a sudden we get up over the putter and I’m looking at it and there’s about 15,000 people around this thing. All of a sudden, 'Hawk' just turns around, looks at them and goes ‘Are you with me?’ like that. And I’m just dying, I’m embarrassed, because I never would have done that. But all of a sudden they say ‘Yeah!’ He gets up, knocks the son of a bitch right in the hole. And that was almost like an out of body experience. I had tears in my eyes.

I also had one happen to me here April 10, when I came back for the 40th reunion [of the 1967 team]. They introduced us and I got to first base and everything’s OK and I can feel the 'Hawk'—he’s enjoying it, he’s taking the moment in. And then all of a sudden, it was almost like I felt somebody tapping me on my shoulder and I started thinking about [the late] Joe Foy and Jerry Adair and Elston Howard. It was almost like saying ‘Hey, Hawk, don’t forget about us buddy,’ and when that happened, all of a sudden, I had tears in my eyes. Just welled up and I had tears in my eyes. Yes it was weird. It was almost like a vacuum that I hadn’t experienced.

He comes in sometimes. He comes in sometimes and I’m glad it’s only sometimes, because when he gets in, usually [there’s] a lot of stuff that’s written about it and talked about what he said. He’ll say some [stuff] that I’d never say. But, again, it’s not that unusual. We all have that. We all have that side to us. It’s an alter ego. When I had a chip shot to [force] that playoff with Rhoden, I’m talking to him. I’m saying ‘Hawk, let’s get these other guys with us. Let’s get our other friends,’ because we’ve all got parts. You’ve got Mr. Anger, Mr. Fear, you’ve got all these people and there are parts of you and they’ve been with you your whole life and they’re going to be with you until you’re dead. And if you want to recognize them, fine. If you want to have them work with you and be a part of your family, you’ll be fine. If you don’t and you exclude them, they’re gonna get pissed off, because they are parts of you and they want to be included.

So he and I got together and were talking over this chip shot. And it’s an impossible chip shot—in fact, Bobby Murcer and John Brodie were standing there and they’re just shaking their heads because it’s just an impossible chip shot. So I’m talking with 'Hawk,' I’m looking down and I’m not having the same reaction they are. And 'Hawk,' he’s [getting the] guys together. First thing, you know, we talked about it, and we say ‘Mr. Fear, we want you to be with us, but we want you to step aside right now.’ Get up and hit it and hit it absolutely perfect. This far from the hole, knocked it in. Bobby to this day says it was the greatest chip shot he’s ever seen. I said ‘You’re talking to the wrong guy I didn’t hit it.’ And it’s the truth. It was easy.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Yaz didn’t have something going for him, the way he was in ’67. He was one of the few guys to show you how he can handle his mind He’s one of the guys, the older he got, he was a better fastball hitter at 40 than he was when he won the Triple Crown. How many guys you see like that?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Dan Shaughnessy (Part Two)

Of those players who had testy relationships with the press, whose was the most overblown and whose was the most accurate?

Rice. That was just unfortunate. Jim just had a chip on his shoulder and chose not to show much of himself. Everett was like that. Then you had Mo was the polar opposite. Mo was a go-to guy from day one. We loved him, he was great.

Rice has been good to me and I certainly respect what he did on the field. I think years later, they liked guys who were there when they were good. We remind them of how good it was. It may be an element of that. He has to know that I’m in his corner on this Hall of Fame thing, which took a long time getting there because he’s not a slam dunk. He has to know that I’m not hurting him. There were times when I’m sure he did hate me.

Dewey’s a perfect case. Can’t do enough for you now. He’ll drive to your house. The greatest. I enjoy talking with him now. It’s hard to think back [on] how painful he could make it. Maybe that was the way he [had to] make it. I think that with Dewey…[he might have been] so absorbed at the time, so pressured, and [he didn’t] do well handling both things.

Gordon Edes said that while he’s had tense relationships with players, he’s never felt physically threatened.  Is that the case with you as well?

I was there when Rice took the shirt off Fainaru. There have been times I thought it might be coming. Boggs got in my face in Yankee Stadium when he was with the Yankees. Danny Tartabull pulled him away. The Everett thing in Chicago was bad. Steve Crawford was ready to tear my head off. Mo had a bat in the clubhouse that day, he was pounding it against the side of a locker. It was weird. There’s four. Rice threatened me, that was in ’82 or ’83. I was doing sidebars, made fun of his fielding He came up to me at BP. Clemens, he got mad a few times. But there was never anything like you felt physically threatened. I’d say those five.

Is the tension between athletes and the media the same here as elsewhere? If so, is it inflamed in Boston because of the coverage the media receives?

There’s been more here. I don’t think there’s as much now, I really don’t, but I think people are a little bit unique to here. So many of us, the closeness of the quarters moves hands together. Episodes in Detroit—such a small locker room, more stuff happens there. Fainaru had one with Al Nipper in the beginning of ’86 in Detroit. It was not good because Fainaru was a very combative, take no [stuff] kind of guy. And obviously, you don’t want anybody to hit you or ranting. But at the same time, guys getting upset—I’m too old. My daughter had leukemia. I can’t get that absorbed in baseball players or baseball fans getting angry because things aren’t going their way. But at the same time, nobody likes to be criticized and you understand how that draws that out.

What was your take on the controversy about you and “The Curse of the Bambino?”

It kind of just went on too long, because the first book came out in 1990. It was only like the last three or four years when people started to blame me, like I invented Red Sox history. And this whole idea that he’s just perpetuating this to sell books. Anybody who knows anything about books [knows] I wasn’t making any money off the books the last 10 years to speak of. It was dribs and drabs, but nothing where [he’d say] ‘Let’s put it in the paper to sell another million books.’ Please. The money was made for the advance [and] then the first five years of royalties—and not that much compared to guys who write real books. It was such an easy theme for other columnists and for TV commentators and the Fox network. And then the Yankees people locked up on it and they carry around signage, Babe Ruth signage. And I became the point person to blame, which is pretty irrational.

After they won, they went back and did that HBO video [also titled The Curse of the Bambino]. Grand premiere of it is at a Boston sports bar. I took one of my daughters there. They’re booing every time my face appears on the screen. [shakes his head] Seems so immature. Don’t sit there and boo me from the next booth. Come over and talk to me. You’re grownups. It’s just so immature.

I’m glad they won on several levels. That’s one thing that needed to be put to bed.

Were you surprised “The Curse” became such a popular and oft-referenced phrase?

It was a great idea, none of which I mind. The editor, Meg Blackstone, it’s her title and a very handy, easy theme for TV and columnists. It became part of the language and I’m kind of happy with that. It’ll be the first graph of my obituary. [He’s] OK with that.

Did you ever think Curt Schilling’s criticism of you was a way to curry favor with fans?

Curt, he clearly rode into town and just tagged me as the guy targeted, as the one he would use to fortify his agenda. It’s tantamount to standing up at the Democratic National Convention and saying ‘George Bush sucks.’ He knows he has got an audience that’s going to go ‘Yeah, he does,’ because of the people he’s dealing with and what’s out there. So it’s a little bit pathetic and easy for him to do, and I understand he’s very manipulative and so it works.

No provocation. His first chance to go at me was regarding Pedro leaving the park [before the end of the 2004 season opener against the Orioles] and he tried to galvanize this alliance of being a Pedro guy. Little did he know Pedro was not his friend, so Curt didn’t choose too well there. It was odd. I kind of figured it out—the guy he hated in Arizona was Pedro Gomez, [for] who[m] I have the ultimate respect. He chose the best guy in town to be his nemesis.

It’s almost comical. I went up to him Sunday to talk about Papelbon. He’s always been professional, and that’s all you can ask. Sometimes we’ve got to go over some old territory. When I have a baseball question, he’ll generally give a very thoughtful answer. That’s good enough for me. [When] things pop up unprovoked, of course I’m so immature I fire back in my own way. There was a classic [when] the Theo column came out and [Schilling] goes on and says it was all wrong, not specifying one thing that’s wrong. That pissed me off. But I had a chance to straighten that out on the radio.

What are your thoughts on the media watchdog sites and message boards?

It’s nice people take interest in our work. We’re certainly not above being criticized. I find it to be quite cowardly in my case and quite unfair, because nobody ever talks to me.

[Ron] Borges and I are 1 and 1-A, whatever you want to call it. I take some pride in that, because I think Ron does a good job and does tough reporting. I’d be a little worried if they never said anything bad, because I would think I wasn’t doing the job. Used to be the idea was people read you and you were somewhat interesting and not boring and hopefully that qualifies as that, but I need to make the people at the Globe happy. I think most of the readers are happy, but there’s certainly a faction of this new world that is wildly unhappy because they want the columnist to be a Red Sox chapter and website and emotional tool and it’s never going to be there.

I remember Jeff Horrigan saying that you catch a lot of verbal abuse from fans as you’re standing outside the locker room. Do you ever view your career in bittersweet fashion, as in you’ve enjoyed great success but it has come with a price?

When alcohol kicks in, [there’s] always a lot of bravery. I don’t see it going in a good direction, and I think that I can certainly hang in there until it’s time to no longer do it.

[There’s a] tendency to exaggerate what is out there. It’s not as if The New York Times or The Washington Post is kicking the crap out of me every day. It’s a fairly small yet vocal group that is criticizing me. So I think it stings, but it’s a mistake to think that everybody’s walking around [criticizing him]. If I get a [positive] letter from David Halberstam or [Washington Post CEO] Donald Graham, those things tend to reinforce that you’re doing OK, doing a good job. I respect their opinions and [try] not to get caught up in too many opinions of guys in the basement.

What were your thoughts when The New York Times Company bought a stake in the Red Sox? Are you surprised at some of the theories regarding the relationship between the team and the newspaper that float around?

It’s bad. It’s bad. We can’t win. What’s really unfortunate is the way it impugns the work of Gordon Edes and Chris Snow. Gordon’s a lifer, a veteran, Chris [is] the Theo of writers. Young, great talent, working their asses off, and no matter what they do, ‘EEI is going to say they’re being spoon-fed—the fans and the bloggers and all that. It’s really unfortunate. It’s put us in a no-win position.

I have relationships with Larry and Charles that go back to the ‘70s. Baltimore. I got that being out there and somehow it’s bad to have relationships now. Back in the day, Will McDonough was a God for that. Now something’s wrong with it.

But the ownership part is not good for us because of the appearance. But no one’s told me what to write. I think it’s pretty clear. No one mentions I was the one who first wrote about the TV taking the free games away—not exactly a puff piece. And [the Globe] got angry emails from Werner and Henry on that. But I’m still a bad guy in the eyes of those people. Not going to change those fixed minds.

From your vantage point, what was the off-season like? What were your thoughts about the criticism fielded by the likes of you and Larry Lucchino?

[Crap]storm after the column. There were very few new things in there. Seventy percent of the column was all documented in the book. I’ve known Larry Lucchino since 1979. I met Theo for the first time as a sophomore at Yale. And the background of those two men, I thought it was time, [that] this was a good day to get it out there.

And the big betray, apparently the hand grenade in the thing—I had three different people had told me, not necessarily right then [but] I thought it had been out there already, I was just, for the record, [writing that] management, i.e. Lucchino, took the bullet on [unsuccessful trade talks with the Rockies] for Theo, which is the truth. And apparently he felt betrayed and went thinking he was getting sandbagged by Dr. Charles and Larry and others. But they weren’t the source on that. It had been out there. I just found it odd that nobody minded Lucchino getting the [crap] kicked out of him for interfering with the deal the way Gammons and [Rocky Mountain News baseball columnist] Tracy [Ringolsby] wrote it. And then Theo feels betrayed. It just showed me they can work together, the front office is working as a team. And he didn’t take it that way.

In my case it was the hat trick of hatred. It played to ‘EEI, they hate the Globe, they hate me. That’s good. And then the Herald was on it right away, blaming me. That’s good for them, they want us to die. And then the bloggers. So hence the hat trick. Three corners.

When did you sense Epstein starting to become less revealing with the press?

It’s pretty gradual. And then last year, not gradual. Now it’s dramatically different. It’s unfortunate. I think this is more who he is. It’s too bad, because he’s extremely smart and anecdotal and funny and we’re not getting that. I understand why he feels the need to do that.

Assuming his new philosophy on media relations holds, where will he rank in comparison to Dan Duquette in terms of releasing information?

It’s still better, but it’s not what it was. It could be so much more.

Why do you think Epstein has, thus far, fielded less criticism for his media relations philosophies than Duquette did?

Because he’s a sacred cow, like Belichick. Get those who want to read to good things. Theo was GM when they won the World Series, therefore, anything he does is correct. This is more how he naturally is and he’s able to flex his muscles now.

How do you think the Sox will deal with the media going forward? Do you think they will try to manage the news more than in the past?

That’s the way it’s going everywhere. These guys are obviously much more media-friendly. They appreciate the tension. They are also kind of even more sensitive [and] worry about everything, what’s written, what’s said. I’m surprised a little. John’s just not very savvy in that area. I think John is so in love with Theo that he’ll do anything to keep him happy.

Is there a lesson to be taught here that no matter how cooperative a team or an executives wants to be, it or he eventually has to pull the reins in because of the attention and scrutiny of Boston?

They’re always going to be appreciative of how good they have it here—and careful as time goes on. They’re just a little less anxious to help and more careful about how things are parsed out. The announcement that Theo was coming back was because I was writing a column the next day, just to defuse whatever I was going [to write]. And it was made at like 8 o’clock at night. The weirdest thing [was] it said ‘details to follow,’ because they hadn’t done it yet. They were afraid that what I was going to write was going to change [Epstein’s] mind. Again, I think it was weird. I was stunned at that. And anyone who doesn’t think that is lying, because that’s how it played out. John has admitted it to me.

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Fighting Words Q&A: Dan Shaughnessy (Part One)

My chronic tardiness is something of a legend among my friends, but this is bad even by my standards. My humble apologies for posting this Dan Shaughnessy Q&A four days later than I planned, but within a 48-hour span between Sunday and Tuesday, my car broke down in Connecticut and my computer went to the great recycling plant in the sky. So I’ve spent the last few days scrambling to catch up.

Having already taken too long to get this to you, I’ll keep the intro here to a minimum. This interview with Shaughnessy was conducted at The Boston Globe cafeteria in April 2006, and he candidly touched on a number of interesting issues, including the arc of his career, his relationships with players (including, as promised last week, Pedro Martinez) and executives as well as fans, his take on his role in the drama surrounding Theo Epstein’s departure at Halloween 2005 and his perception of the Sox under the rule of a more reserved Epstein.

This is pretty long so I broke it up into two parts. Hope you enjoy it.

When did you realize you wanted to get into sportswriting and where did you work prior to Boston?

I grew up in central Massachusetts, Groton—Gammons’ hometown, oddly enough—and played everything. Youngest of five kids. I wrote for the town paper in high school. At Holy Cross, I was sports editor for three years. I was very immersed in it. I stopped playing when I was in college—I wasn’t good enough—but I knew a lot about sports. I was eight years old [and] I knew every team’s roster. Very immersed in it. I couldn’t do that now. I’d go to the library and get the new baseball book—fiction, whatever was out there, everything. Sports Illustrated. The trouble now is there’s so much available. Back then, I could absorb everything that was available.

And then Holy Cross, when I was 19, I made a goal to try [and become a sportswriter]. I guess the ultimate goal would be to be Gammons, the beat guy for the Red Sox, and after my junior year I got to come in here and cover the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League and I made that my own beat and met all the writers and let them know what I wanted to do. And then I graduated in ’75 and I was a stringer here for two years doing high schools. I wrote about 400 stories for the Globe, all small. I couldn’t get hired. And then in ’77, when I was 23, I took my first full-time job at the Baltimore Evening Sun. They put me on the Orioles beat. It was great. Two years there and then into the Washington Star. Three years there and then the paper folded during the baseball strike of ’81. I had many job offers and I elected to come back here. This was home.

Went to the Celtics in ’82, did four seasons with them, then went on to the Red Sox in ’86 and four seasons with them. Gammons replaced [Bob] Ryan on the Celtics [and Shaughnessy] replaced Gammons on the Sox. Then in ’89 I replaced Montville with the column. All that foot soldering and beat work, traveling and just living that lifestyle, really prepared me in a good way to do the column, I think. I’ve done the daily, I know how hard it is and I was fortunate to be on beats that were really high profile. The Celtics were really bigger than the Red Sox and Patriots because Larry was the MVP all three years and [the Celtics] won two titles. I started doing books in ’86, wrote One Strike Away. Been 10 of those. And I got the column in ’89. There was a big domino—Frank Deford left Sports Illustrated, became editor of The National. Montville left here to replace Deford. I had an offer from The National from Deford and the Globe gave me the column. I stayed.

The Sox, it was an unusually tepid time for them. They had boring teams. Glenn Hoffman, Dave Stapelton—it just wasn’t that they were boring. They were .500, they were around there, they didn’t hit many home runs, Yaz retired in ’83, Boggs started hitting. He was the only draw. ’86 happened and I walked into that. Coming off the seventh game of the World Series was very memorable in every way. Rice, Baylor.

The Celtics were still bigger, but when [the Red Sox] got to the playoffs, they were the story. First World Series since ’75 and the Celtics in October [were] training. So they certainly got the market back, in a good way, at that time. The Celtics started to falter, then [the Sox] just gained steam. Made the playoffs in ’88 [and the attention has] been pretty much non-stop since then.

The Sox have remained the top attraction in Boston even as the Patriots put together a dynasty in the NFL. Why do you think that has been the case?

A lot of factors involved. I’m not that surprised the Sox are New England’s team. They’re never out of season, never out of style. They don’t have waves of trendiness that the others do. I’m old enough [to remember when] the Bruins had it in the early ‘70s, the Celtics in the ‘80s and the Patriots have it now. The real trendy thing owns a lot to winning and just having celebrity players, and Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, Tom Brady are those kind of guys. Whereas the Red Sox, they have flattened out on a few occasions, but they don’t even have to be that good anymore to be the top dog anymore. They are it.

What kind of effect did the 1967 season have on those who would grow up to cover the team?

Astronomical. Cannot be understated. It helps to be old, because I came of age as a fan in ’61 or ’62. Eight years old and they were terrible—lose 100 games, [finish in] eighth, ninth place. And then all of a sudden—we’d have liked a .500 team, I never knew what that was like. ’67, not only are they .500, they’re in the race, a 10-team league that’s as good as you’re going to get. Four teams in it, a dream finish.  Yawkey was fed up with the ballpark and the team was dreadful. I think they drew 8,000 for Opening Day in ’67. So it’s just light years from where they are now.

When they won it in 2004, it was emotional for a lot of people because they grew up in this area—Gammons, guys like that, guys like Steve Krasner and Sean McAdam, Steve Buckley, Tony Massarotti, some younger than others, all with that ingrained. Jeff Horrigan. Guys grow up with it. Chris Snow, we have now. Bob Hohler was from here. For a while, we had quote unquote outsiders: Steve Fainaru, Larry Whiteside, Ryan from Jersey. But it does make a difference.

Does any other city in America have as many beat writers and columnists who are as well-versed in the history of the local team as Boston?

Lot of New York guys, I think. It’s because we don’t have much else. New York, there’s so many other things. Not everybody’s a Yankees fan. Everybody’s a Red Sox fan. So many books and so much product out there—record albums and CDs and movies and books—[it’s] just a very comprehensive saturation of the market.

Leigh Montville said the explosion of talk radio has dulled the impact of the columnist. How do you see the columnist’s role evolving in American sports journalism?

He certainly has seen it from both sides. I don’t know. I have no idea. Everybody’s a columnist now. Every guy talking—talk radio whiner line, blogger—they’re all coming at you. You don’t need to cover high school football or interview someone or confront anyone or [have] faced anyone the next day. You can just sit in your basement and you’re a columnist. It’s like Wayne’s World. That’s what we are and I find it’s not for the better. But I’ll be curious, in 10 or 15 years, when I’m done with this, how it’s going to play out. It’s fascinating to me.

Apparently everyone being a columnist is happening everywhere. Everything is being exaggerated here, because of the power of talk radio, the fervor of the fans [and] the interest level. I think that goes to how small we are. So many things are bigger. I can’t explain that. There’s good things that come with being a high-profile sportswriter, and I’ve certainly benefited from those, and some of the things that aren’t so good. But you’ve still got to take the good with the bad.

Among the Sox managers you’ve covered, who dealt with the press in the most positive way and the most negative way?

Francona was probably as prepared as any because of Philly. And Joe Morgan, because he lived it. Those guys were ready.  It’s pretty overwhelming for most—notably Grady, he couldn’t possibly have known what that was going to be like. We’re a pain in the ass and we take up a lot of time.

[Kevin] Kennedy was good, he liked it. Butch [Hobson] was very polite, he’s a real gentleman. Grady was a polite gentleman. To tell you the truth, the last jackass we had was McNamara. He was just a mean, bitter guy. I don’t know what it was about. He hated me and I didn’t like him. He was just miserable. Two Irish guys couldn’t get along. Boy, he had a chip on his shoulder. ’88, he said to me in spring training—I picked them to win it—‘Some people pick you first to see you get [bleeping] fired.’ He [saw] being picked to win as another negative.

When was the relationship between the Sox and the media at its best and at its worst?

’86 was bad. As good as that team was, geez, I was miserable. They just had a lot of guys that really didn’t like us. It ran the gamut. Mac hated us. Rice had no use for us. Evans had no use for us. Buckner had no use for us. Schiraldi had no use for us. We had the whole Oil Can thing with Chelsea [Shaughnessy rubs his face]. Steve Crawford, Tim Lollar—man, they had some beauties. It was awful. And they were really good. They almost won the World Series.

I think that was the low. The final days of the Carl Everett thing were pretty bad. He and Darren Lewis rolled around the carpet. And [the Sox’] horrible behavior in the days after 2001. There was more of us and it was more ratcheted up. I think ’86 was the pits.

I think I’ll go out on a limb and say now is the best. More adults in there now. Grownups. And I don’t think a lot of nonsense will be tolerated. It’s not their job there to help us, I understand that. As long as they don’t try and abuse us. Nomar hated us with the power of one thousand suns. He was irrational. It was never going to change.

You were one of the few writers to get close to Garciaparra. Why do you think he had such a strained relationship with the press?

I think he needed it to make himself great, to drive himself. He just set that up as a demon. Part of it was the interruption of routine. You never knew [what you were] interrupting, when he was supposed to be eating a cheese sandwich. I picked my spots very carefully. But he would always look at you like you were standing in shit. And God forbid, I can’t even imagine what he would say when you weren’t around. It was unfortunate, because Jesus, he was Joe DiMaggio for a while there. And we certainly wrote it up that way. That’s what was so weird, [that] he would feel that way.

How about your relationship with Pedro Martinez? How did that evolve?

How could you not like Pedro? He was so smart. Even the last year, we were always saying hello and stuff. He was always into this [belief] that I didn’t respect him. He never made any public demonstrations towards me and I don’t remember him ever refusing to talk to me. He probably didn’t like the ‘diva’ thing, but it was true. I can’t help it.

But boy, ’99 and 2000, what a privilege it was to watch him. I enjoyed him. [The Sox] got that big Cuban pitcher [Rolando] Arrojo [and Martinez] translated for him. Had this guy making $10 million a year translating for a new player. I loved his brilliance. And he was a gentleman. He never made a big show of his dissatisfaction. Even his last year, he said something nice about me. Saw me on TV saying nice things and he pointed that out. ‘Even Shaughnessy said nice things’ and kind of smiled.

When Mo Vaughn tore into me that day, Pedro started to join in, thinking Mo was kidding. He really felt badly [when he realized Vaughn wasn’t kidding]. I liked him.

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