Friday, August 21, 2009

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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