Dan Shaughnessy

...in his own words

Groton is a small town in central Massachusetts.

About This Project

In his 1973 book "No Cheering in the Press Box," author Jerome Holtzman chronicled the lives of the greatest sports journalists of his generation. Four decades later, students at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism are updating his work with a series of interviews with the best sports journalists of the last 40 years.

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This chapter was produced by Constantine Martin.

About Dan Shaughnessy
HOMETOWN: Groton, Massachusetts
EDUCATION: College of the Holy Cross
OCCUPATION: Columnist, The Boston Globe

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It’s about 40 miles northwest of Boston -- very small apple town, 4,000 people when I grew up. I was in all public schools and played sports throughout high school. Varsity baseball, basketball and cross country, but I wasn’t very good. I was mostly on the bench, especially in basketball. But I loved it. I had four older siblings, two of whom were really good.

I was very sponge-like as a young person, reading and writing a lot about sports and was very consumed by it. The Boston Globe expanded its footprint to have home delivery to little towns like ours in the late ‘60s, and that was a game changer for me. When I was in high school, they were pretty thorough with their high school sports coverage. There would be box scores of our little games on Saturday mornings from the Friday night game. You run down the driveway and see your name in The Globe getting one point in a blowout where I came off the bench. Reading Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan, Ray Fitzgerald, Bud Collins, Will McDonough, just these gods at The Globe, they had a tremendous staff.

I went to the College of the Holy Cross where I was an English major and finished in ‘75. I was sports editor of the student paper, which was a weekly. During that time, I got to work summers at The Globe as a stringer and covered high school sports for three years. While doing that I got to know some of the greats and their kindness and support to me was really helpful. The Globe writers were my influential guys. I read all the fiction and whatever books there were, John R. Tunis baseball novels and all that. The librarian in our town would put aside the new baseball stuff that came in, there wasn’t much then, and I would gobble that up. It was very helpful to have read all that and have the influence of the Globe guys.

Our high school staff at The Globe in ‘75 had Kevin Dupont, who was doing Division 2 and he’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Lesley Visser was doing Division 4 and she’s in the Football Hall of Fame. I was stuck with Division III. We had deep depth in our high school coverage.

Upon graduation, I was scrambling to do whatever I could. I wanted to work at The Globe right out of college, but they couldn’t take me on. They wanted me to get more seasoning, and I understood that. My affiliation from Holy Cross with The Globe covering high schools sort of led to an opportunity to cover the Baltimore Orioles for the Evening Sun in Baltimore in 1977, which was my big break. I did that for two years, and then went to The Washington Star, which is no more, and competed against the great Tom Boswell, the baseball writer at The Washington Post. Those were great years there, ‘77-’81. The Washington Star went out of business in ‘81 and I didn’t get offered a job at The Washington Post or I would have stayed in Washington, D.C. It was unfortunate. I could have gone just about anywhere, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, New York Post, Baltimore Sun, there were a million papers stepping up at the time. But I came back to The Globe in ‘81 and have been here ever since.

I would say there were four occasions over the next 40 years where I had a serious enough offer where I thought about leaving. [Washington Post sports editors) George Solomon did call, and I flew down there, and I wanted to meet Ben Bradlee. It was pretty ceremonial, he offered me a pretty good job, but I liked my job in Boston, so I didn’t really seriously entertain going back to The Post at that time. That was in 1986, five years after my paper went out of business when I would have killed to be at The Post. By then I was established in Boston, and I just didn’t want to leave. The only threats for me after that were a thing called the National Sports Daily which started in ‘89. Frank Deford was hiring everybody, and I had a great offer from them. That was a serious debate and it was more money, but I turned it down and they went out of business in a year. Then in the early ‘90s, when Sports Illustrated was still at the top of its game, they made a serious offer. I thought about it and just decided I was better served to stay. One last time in 2008 when Comcast was expanding into online and The Globe didn’t have a lot of security at that time so I did consider that, but I’ve stayed at The Globe, and it’s proved to be a good decision for me. I’m better with this audience, it works for me and I’ve never regretted staying and turning down more money or higher profile things.

I’ve really been fortunate in the teams that I’ve covered. We’re obviously in this high renaissance of sports in Boston now with 11-plus championships in this century. Having been a beat guy for the Celtics for five season, the Red Sox for a lot of seasons and being a columnist, I’ve just been very privileged. I even got to know Ted Williams because he looked after my daughter when she had cancer. I never got to see him play, but I got to be with him quite a bit and write about him in his last days. Even Bob Cousy, who’s 90 years old, I can pick up the phone and call him. I love that and I did see him play. Bobby Orr was the greatest hockey player who ever lived, and he still lives among us and he’s a wonderful man, charitable and humble. It’s been great to get to know him. Tom Brady, who’s still playing and is the greatest football player, is a baseball guy at heart so we bonded over that. To see him come in as a young man out of Michigan in the sixth round and do what he’s done has been great. We’ve had a lot of winning teams and colorful players. I got to cover Larry Bird all three years he was MVP in ‘84, ‘85 and ‘86. I was the beat guy on the Celtics then, and I really cherish the years I had with them. I thought the ‘85-’86 Celtics were the greatest basketball team ever and still do, and to see the Red Sox break the 86-year drought was a big deal. I wrote “The Curse of the Bambino.” I’ve written 12 books, a lot of them on baseball, and to see what’s happened with that franchise, just their identity completely flipped and now they’re perennial winners and they’ve won the last four World Series they’ve been in with 16 wins and three losses. That’s not the way it was when I grew up so we’ve seen a lot of change.

A lot of great athletes, a lot of great stories, but what you really have in Boston are the passionate fans. Smart people, young people, people from out of other places that come here because of the great colleges. It’s a really passionate fanbase that keeps you on your toes at all times. I would put our readers up against any other readers anywhere because of their loyalty, smarts, their savvy and what they know about the game.

Being in the Boston market and a voice for The Globe for a lot of years, you can’t help but get attention with that, and then it’s on you to be good or be interesting or make yourself someone that folks want to read. Even if they’re mad about it, they’re reading it. That’s the way I’ve approached it. It’s the best place to do what we do as writers because of the nature of the readers and the now continued success of the teams.

There’s a ceiling on what you can make as a newspaper guy in terms of your salary, and I had three children all go to college locally. They went to Harvard, Boston University and Boston College all simultaneously, and that’s why there’s so many books. I don’t have a lot of fancy cars or clothes, but education is something that I valued and being able to support my kids’ careers, successes and achievements was very gratifying. I’ve always had a lot of jobs in other venues like ESPN, local TV, radio. In my case, books were just extra side work and a way to pay the tuitions.

I’m a little different than everyone else when writing books. I don’t take leaves. It’s like a term paper that’s really big and it’s always due. I never interrupted my other work to do it. You kind of live it. I did a book with Terry Francona and I lived the eight years with him. I knew everything that happened. It wasn’t like writing about Albert Einstein or Galileo, I knew the background because I lived it. I haven’t done any great literature, but it’s my access to being around them and the teams and interesting people and interesting seasons that came with the Globe job. That’s what allowed me to be at all those places, witness what I witnessed and to have the access that I got.

Being given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2016, that’s a big deal for what we do. I was always very overwhelmed by that and always will be because of the people that came before me. For a writer, obviously, the Pulitzer prize would be the ultimate, but for a sportswriter doing baseball, this is as good as it gets for me. It’s nice to still be working after that, but it was an amazing, overwhelming honor that professionally is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.

To the aspiring journalists out there, read as much as you can and write as much as you can. I understand the evolution of the industry and the disappearance of print. For sports, I get on airplanes and no one is reading the paper anymore. I go to TV stations and no one has got the newspaper. The young people haven’t read what we’ve wrote, and I understand that. We’ve lost our clout, lost our podium at the town meeting. So, you’ve got to do that on your own now with the individual self-branding and make yourself a must-read. You don’t have the platform that was there before. If someone wants advice and they call me, I understand that what I went through isn’t particularly relevant to what people need to do now. There are a lot of opportunities now, not so many in print but just across the board with all the websites and the startups with The Athletic and Bleacher Report and that stuff.

I think it’s important for people of the new generation to get off the couch and get out of the house and go report something and learn something. I don’t want to know what a 20-year-old thinks about the Wizards, what they think about the Nationals. Tell me about something you can tell me about that’s around you and don’t just sit there and watch TV and tell me what you think. That’s lazy. That’s what talk radio is for. Good luck with it, I have no use for it.

In the future, I don’t anticipate any more books. I’m in a good position, I have a good agent and a house publisher who has been good to me. If I wanted to do a book I could, but I really don’t. The kids are out of college, I’m 65 years old and I like what I do and I’d like to keep it going. John Henry, the owner of The Globe, might decide otherwise, but for the time being this is more than enough. I’m just trying to sustain it. I did the whole World Series front page every day, amazing deadlines, 18 innings and stuff like that. I can still do that, I’m fast, I keep up, but I’m not interested in taking on new projects at this time.

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