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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