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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.
Email Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jerrybeach.
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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