Dan Shaughnessy Shares Stories from a Life in Sports

01May14

Boston Globe sports columnist delivers Sweetser Lecture

shaughnessy4The world of Boston sports came to Wakefield, MA this week in the person of longtime Boston Globe sportswriter and columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who entertained the Sweetser lecture audience with colorful and at times hilarious stories from his career interacting with some of the biggest sports figures of the past half century.

Shaughnessy began with his own introduction to sports growing up in the small town of Groton, Massachusetts – population 4,000.

“You guys are the big city for us,” Shaughnessy joked with the Wakefield crowd that filled the The Savings Bank Theater.

“I always have fond memories of small town life,” Shaughnessy said as he described playing Little League baseball during the early ‘60s in a town with four teams. The coaches were all men from the Greatest Generation and had fought in World War II. Shaughnessy remembered one coach in particular who had lost the use of one arm.

“He could hit us fungoes with one arm while smoking a cigarette,” Shaughnessy recalled.

He talked about covering high school sports for his local newspaper under a pseudonym because he also played on the teams.

He went on to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester where he said the Jesuit teachers stressed independent thinking.

“I had a passion for sports,” Shaughnessy said. “I would be a terrible writer if I weren’t writing about sports. I could only be a good writer if I had passion for the material.”

fenway_infield052109Shaughnessy said that after graduating from college in 1975 he made a connection with the Globe and with fellow Groton native Peter Gammons, who looked out for him. Shaughnessy managed to land a job in Baltimore covering the Orioles and when that newspaper folded a few years later he returned to Boston and began writing for the Globe. He covered the Celtics for four years before being assigned to cover the Red Sox during the magical year of 1986, when Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners on April 29 on the way to a 24-4 season.

Shaughnessy regaled the crowd with stories of Boston sports figures from Ted Williams to Terry Francona.

He recalled the time in 1993 when his daughter, Kate, recently diagnosed with Leukemia, was in Boston Children’s Hospital when the phone rang in her room. A booming voice on the other end told her that she was going to be fine before the eight-year old handed the phone to her father.

“This is Ted Williams,” the caller said. “You tell your little girl I knew Dr. Sidney Farber and he told me someday we’re going to cure these kids and, damn it, they’re doing it.”

Today, Shaughnessy said, his daughter is a high school teacher in Newton.

franconaShaughnessy talked about how he came to co-author Francona: the Red Sox Years, with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

The two weren’t on the best of terms while Francona was in Boston, and Shaughnessy admitted that his “wise guy” style of writing did not endear him to the Red Sox skipper. But once the manager and columnist roles were removed, Shaughnessy said, the two baseball lifers hit it off.

Shaughnessy related one of his favorite Manny Ramirez stories from the book.

The Red Sox were in St. Louis up 3 games to 0 against the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. The Cardinals rookie catcher that year was Yadier Molina, who is from Puerto Rico. At the plate was Manny Ramirez, from the Dominican Republic.

“So what they had in common was Spanish,” Shaughnessy said. In the fourth inning, an argument erupted between Molina and Ramirez and the two had to be separated. The umpire didn’t know what the two players were saying and called Francona out to try to help sort things out and restore order.

Francona got in Manny’s face, Shaughnessy said, and demanded to know what the argument was about.

Manny pointed to Molina and said, “He thinks I’m stealing signs.”

Francona turned and announced, “Manny doesn’t even know our signs!”

Shaughnessy called the 2004 postseason that included the comeback from an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees “the Biblical sports story of our lifetime.” He admitted that baseball remains the most interesting sport for him in part because they play every day.

Shaughnessy was asked how he felt about baseball players found to have used performance enhancing drugs getting into the Hall of Fame.

Shaughnessy said that it makes being consistent in voting for the Hall of Fame impossible. He dismissed the attitude that says PEDs shouldn’t matter because everyone was doing it.

“It does matter to me,” Shaughnessy said. When it comes to voting PED users into the Hall of Fame, Shaughnessy said, “I’m a ‘no,’”

As to his own sometimes provocative style of writing, Shaughnessy offered no apologies.

“I can’t worry if Jon Lester or David Ortiz is angry,” Shaughnessy said. “They make $15 million. Get over it.”

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