“Shaughnessy…get a life!”

This was one of the first extensive pieces I wrote for BSMW, way back in 2002. Not much has changed.

“Shaughnessy…get a life!”

So goes the old woman in the sound clip played frequently on Sports Radio WEEI. Many Boston and especially Red Sox fans often feel the same sentiment.  What is it about this guy that elicits such emotion on the part of readers?

Like any good columnist, Shaughnessy frequently causes an uproar with what he chooses to write. Of course, the goal of any columnist is to evoke passion and to get people talking and reading. They may hate what he writes, but the idea is that they’ll always come back to see what he says the next day. Shaughnessy though, is different. People have written to me and said they have canceled their Globe subscriptions and refuse to read anything written by him. People post their outrage on internet boards and say it on the streets. Yet the guy just keeps ticking along, cranking out columns one after the other, most with similar and by now familiar, themes. So familiar, in fact, that many times it seems like you’ve read it all before.

I must preface the paragraphs that follow by saying they are regarding Dan Shaughnessy the columnist and Dan Shaughnessy the public figure. I don’t know him as a person, and do not pass judgment on him in that regard. He is, as far as I know, a good family man with children that he provides for and cares for deeply as evidenced by his recent column about “The Catcher”.

However, just as he analyzes and critiques the work of the athletes and management types he writes about, many feel he should be subject to the same examination. Shaughnessy has made living fueling the paranoia of Boston fans. The title of his book, “The Curse of the Bambino” is now a household term, referenced by people everywhere. One of Larry Lucchino’s first public statements after taking over as Red Sox team president was “We will extinguish the ‘Curse of the Bambino’”

It’s a nationally known phenomenon, thanks to Shaughnessy. He usually finds a way to reference the curse or Babe Ruth into any column dealing with the Red Sox. He finds a way to turn any good feelings fans might have into fears and negativity.

His columns have contained inconsistencies, personal attacks, and general doom and gloom. He is accountable to no one. There are many instances we can cite, but let’s stick with a just a few here:

Let’s consider a case from last season, In the Globe on April 30th, 2001, Shaughnessy wrote:

“The Red Sox shortstop crisis was obvious yesterday when Craig Grebeck (.059) was allowed to hit in the ninth inning with two on and two out in a tie game. Grebeck grounded out, while Dante Bichette, Jose Offerman, and Jason Varitek sat on the bench.”

You see clear criticism here of Grebeck being allowed to hit with the other players being mentioned as available. The very next day, Shaughnessy reversed fields, mocking:

“The Jimy Williams bashing is officially out of hand. You couldn’t go anywhere in New England yesterday without hearing that Jimy’s a dope.

Jimy’s a dope for letting Craig (.059) Grebeck bat instead of Dante Bichette with the winning run on second base in the ninth Sunday.”

The rest of the article was spent pretty much defending Williams, with the assistance of quotes from former Sox skipper Joe Morgan. He concluded:

“…one would be hard-pressed to think of another manager under this kind of attack while steering a first-place team playing without its best player.

With wacky Jimy calling the shots, the Sox are 16-9, folks”

Note the only problem Dan said he had with Jimy:

“One legitimate criticism: Williams owes it to fans to explain his decisions.”

Does Dan practice what he preaches there? Well, a knowledgeable reader had the temerity to write to Dan and ask him to explain why he seemingly switched camps overnight. A reasonable request, no? Here’s Dan’s answer:

“sorry to displease you. but it’s only baseball, rite?”

The reader wasn’t satisfied with that answer, and pressed further on the issue. No explanation was still forthcoming, and the reply came back:

“…i feel i’ve been very professional about this for 25 years. if you disagree, that’s cool. i’m just not emotionally attached. it’s a job. i love the job. i love the games. when i say it’s only baseball, i’m saying its not life and death and doesn’t have impact on religion, income, family…”

“Not emotionally attached.” Those words are rather stunning, considering his shtick is all about playing on the emotions of the Boston fans.  Is that the key, he’s bored and doesn’t care about the teams and events themselves, so he just gets a rise out of getting people riled up? Damn the facts. Consistency? Who needs it? It also should have an impact on his income…it’s his JOB.

Next topic is personal attacks. Let’s again look at some of Dan’s own words. These are from 1996 when writer Skip Bayless came out with a book titled “Hell Bent” about the Dallas Cowboys and included passages that might have led readers to believe quarterback Troy Aikman was gay. Shaughnessy takes Bayless to task in these excerpts from a ’96 Globe article:

“Who cares what Troy Aikman does after hours? As long as he’s not breaking the law (like teammate Michael Irvin), Aikman should be allowed to do whatever he wants in his private life.

What troubles me most about Bayless’ book is the violation of Aikman’s privacy and the way a printed exploration of rumor forever changes the QB’s life.

That’s the trouble with those of us who work in the business. We just go on to the next story and leave innocent victims in our dust. We leave guys like Troy Aikman standing there saying “How do I fight this?”

Admirable words here. Shaughnessy is right on. Those types of things are out of place. No need to get into a guy’s personal life or make statements or attacks on someone.

Before the 2000 baseball season the Red Sox added centerfielder Carl Everett to the team. To welcome him to town, in February 2000, Shaughnessy wrote:

“Everett’s got every right to his privacy; but just in case you didn’t catch the lurid details of his past, I’ll rehash them for you . . .”

The “lurid details” are that the charges were thrown out of court, and the judge concluded that Everett’s wife had disciplined the child too harshly and Carl didn’t stop her.  Like Tory Aikman, Everett could only say “How do I fight this?” It’s tantamount to the classic, “When did you stop beating your wife (kids)?” question.

Everett’s biggest mistake while he was here was not the incident with Umpire Ron Culpa, it was crossing Shaughnessy. There was a clubhouse incident with the two of them and it was over for Carl. Suddenly it seemed every week there was an article about Everett. Every article not directly about Everett seemed to contain a reference to “Jurassic Carl”. As a result, Everett refused to speak to anyone from the Globe. Gordon Edes attempted to question Everett one day, and was shooed off with the now-famous “bye-bye-bye” statement and the equally notorious “curly haired boyfriend” phrase in reference to Shaughnessy was wrought. (To this day, Shaughnessy is referred to as CHB in many Red Sox boards and discussion groups.)

The attacks intensified, as time went on, phrases like “nut job”, “scourge of the Red Sox”, “crazed loser”, and “the Ebola virus of the Boston clubhouse” were weaved into columns. Try calling your neighbor a “nut job” or a “crazed loser” to their face. Shaughnessy does this to people in front of millions of readers.

From March, 2001

“Call him Jurassic Carl. Call him C. Everett Kook. Call him Late for the Sky. But please … call him a cab. Get him gone.”

(Late for the Sky? What, besides a Jackson Browne song, does that mean? Does he want the guy dead?)

It got old quick. It was like Shaughnessy was obsessed with ripping Everett every chance he got, it became personal. In the two instances above, Shaughnessy stated that he doesn’t get emotionally involved, and that players shouldn’t be subjected to innuendos in print as long they aren’t breaking the law. During his time here Everett didn’t break any laws that I know of. Sure, he had a temper and was very high-strung.  He also always hustled. He played hurt. He never gave up in a game. Shaughnessy and others were disgusted that Everett broke up a perfect game bid by the Yankees Mike Mussina last year, but it captured Everett’s intensity and determination on the field perfectly.

A friend of mine got sick of the Shaughnessy Everett-bashing and wrote him on it. He made many of the arguments above and stated that perhaps Dan was being a bit unprofessional in his continued attacks. Dan replied. (A point in his favor is that he does often reply to those who write in.) Here’s what he said:

“thanks for the mature email, shawn. i really care how carl feels about me. just can’t sleep at night, in fact. you take care now.”

Well…Dan does reply, but he never seems to say much, does he?

Other fans got sick of Shaughnessy’s act too. Check out this transcript from a Boston.com online chat that allowed readers to interact with Dan:

PSF (***.**.45.61, 12:28PM)

With the eventual dismissal of Carl Everett (for good reason), whoever will you pick on mercilessly next year?

Dan Shaughnessy (***.***.73.178, 12:32PM)

psf — ooooh. you think i hurt poor carl’s feelings? sorry you think i was too hard on carl. in retrospect, i wish i’d done more to run his butt out of town. but it sounds like everything he does is okay with you. hey, the man’s own teammates hate him and want him gone. but you sound like duquette. Any other questions, psf???

PSF (***.**.45.61, 12:36PM)

hey; I’m not defending the guy. But just because he got in your face once, you seemed to include a barb about him in nearly every column. Reminiscent of your petty rantings against Hartford a couple years ago. So I was just curious as to who was next on your hit list…

Dan Shaughnessy (***.***.73.178, 12:41PM)

psf — thanks for writing back. guys like you really tick me off. it’s not BECASUE he got in my face that i wrote unkind things about him. it[s because he deserved it. he is a cancer on a team. i have had guys get in my face for years — clemens, vaughn, boggs, boyd, scott wedman, quinn buckner, Robert Parish. name that tune. you don[t read about those things because it’s just a little tiff between writer and player. who cares? but in carl’s case, I felt there would be more coming and i was right. so i tried to tip you off that this guy was a loose cannon and all you can do is think it’s a personal vendetta. i don’t have the time or space to “”get back” at every player who gets in my face. carl was just a guy i felt the readers should know about because i was pretty sure this stuff would eventually hurt the team. and I don’t need a no-nothing anonymous guy like you challenging my work. You still talking about hartford? go back to american’s file cabinet and take a look around.

Moderator (***.***.67.35, 12:47PM)

PSF: If you wish to speak with Dan personally, you are more than welcome to call the Boston Globe. As for your comments, that’s all for today.

-    -        Moderator

Note that “psf” said the Red Sox were getting rid of Everett “for good reason” and yet Shaughnessy goes off on him. He calls the questioner a “no-nothing” and the moderator steps in. Shaughnessy said Everett’s “teammates hate him” yet ask Shea Hillenbrand how well he and Everett got along. Manny Ramirez was tight with him. Pedro Martinez to this day will defend him and tell the media they went too far in their persecution of him. Pedro even named Shaughnessy personally in an interview on WEEI’s “Big Show” a few weeks back.

Well, Everett is gone now, and Shaughnessy is always on the lookout for a new target. The odds makers had established Manny Ramirez as a firm favorite coming into the season, given some comments Manny’s agent made in the off season.  However, on May 26 2002, Jose Offerman found himself looking down the wrong end of Shaughnessy’s keyboard after failing to execute a sacrifice bunt:

“Let us consider for a moment the piece of junk that is Offerman”

“Call him Offie. Call him Jose. Call him a bowser. Just call him a cab. Get him gone.”

Sound familiar?

So let’s see, the “Piece of junk” statement was made a big deal of, but how about that “bowser” comment. Calls the man a dog. (He also used the same term on former Patriot Chris Canty.)

More than a few readers were in an uproar over this one. Some even canceled their subscriptions. The Globe’s ombudsman was called in to address the issue. Shaughnessy tried to get around the matter by insisting he was talking about Offerman as a player, and not as a person, because, as he said, he doesn’t know him personally. This is Offerman’s fourth season with the Red Sox and Shaughnessy is in that clubhouse very frequently. Seems a little lame.

He also stated on television that he would not have used the phrase had Offerman attempted to explain his actions. That statement is damning to Shaughnessy on two counts. 1) It means that the statement is personal. Had Offerman talked, he gets spared the wrath. 2) What about that thing about explaining your actions? Jimy had to do it, Offerman has to do it. Shaughnessy doesn’t have to do it.

The ombudsman and Globe Sports editor would only say they wished Shaughnessy had been a little more precise in his wording of the article. That’s it.

Speaking of taking responsibility for your actions. In September 2001, Shaughnessy wrote:

“Everett is the biggest fraud to hit town since Rosie Ruiz. He never takes responsibility for his own actions, cries racism when things don’t go his way …”

Doesn’t take responsibility for his actions? Shaughnessy can make personal attacks in his columns and not have to be accountable for them.

Last November, Shaughnessy had an article titled “This can’t get more ridiculous” which was about Sox GM Dan Duquette, who had said that the Red Sox were not trying to trade Everett.

Here’s a sample:

Sometimes, it seems Duquette wants to make himself the most loathed man in New England. He will stand alone and tell us the sky is pink when we all know otherwise. He will be smug and arrogant, intent on proving he is smarter than everyone else.

Try inserting “Shaughnessy” in place of “Duquette” in that paragraph. Fits, doesn’t it?

The only thing that is different is that Duquette actually had to try to prove he was smarter than everyone else, while Shaughnessy isn’t accountable to anyone.

But consider, he writes a whole article to bash Duquette for doing the what is actually the smart thing, he admits that Duquette was doing the right thing, and then proceeds to ignore that and trash Duquette some more.  Whether or not Everett was coming back, Duquette was doing the right thing in announcing that the team was not trying to trade Everett, so they wouldn’t destroy his leverage on the trade market.  Shaughnessy knew this.  Shaughnessy admits it in the column.  And then Shaughnessy decided to slam him anyway.

And then he bashed Duquette for having the nerve to do his job: to get the team and organization ready for the next season – rather than doing nothing and waiting to be fired.

To further show the unfairness of his writing. Shaughnessy has cultivated a relationship with John Henry Williams, son of Red Sox hall of famer Ted Williams. The younger Williams has developed quite a reputation in the local area for his self-marketing schemes, the perceived exploitation of his fathers name, and lust for money. John Henry Williams is involved in two activities at the moment, one is attempting to start a baseball career at the age of 33 in the Red Sox minor league system, and the other is suing his sister Claudia because she sold 2000 autographed bats to a reputable memorabilia dealer. Will McDonough wrote in the Globe in May 2002:

The final straw came at the All-Star Game in Boston two years ago when Major League Baseball had blue blazers for every star that would be on the field that night before the sellout in FenwayPark. Just before Ted made his dramatic entrance from center field to home plate, where he was mobbed by players from the past and present, John Henry dressed up his father in a Hitter.net T-shirt and baseball cap, making him look foolish.

Now, not surprisingly, Hitter.net has gone bankrupt; John Henry filed for Chapter 11 protection in Florida, with creditors due millions. In the past two years, John Henry has taken the American flag from in front of Ted’s house, had him autograph it (which is illegal), and sold it on eBay; provided Internet space to a pornographic Web site; and had himself wired by the FBI trying to put some of his best friends in the New England area in jail.

Sounds like quite a guy. Sounds like someone who should be right in Shaughnessy’s wheelhouse. A person taking advantage of a legend, someone making a mockery of the game of baseball. Someone that every other member of the Boston media is disgusted by. Shaughnessy does not condemn him like others do. While other media figures were deriding John Henry Williams getting a tryout with the Red Sox, The title of Shaughnessy’s article was “LIVING A DREAM, THE KID WILL GET TRYOUT WITH SOX” While it’s likely that someone else at the Globe created the headline and not Shaughnessy, it gives you an idea of how his article went.  Similarly last fall, when John Henry Williams said he was attempting to put together a group to buy the Red Sox, (remember that?) the headline given to Shaughnessy’s story was: “A SPLENDID IDEA: TED CONSIDERS SOX” in both stories, Shaughnessy had extensive and exclusive quotes from John Henry Williams. All other media figures rightly dismissed John Henry Williams’ efforts as a farce

Attempting to rationalize why Shaughnessy has sought out John Henry Williams is easy. It gives him access to Ted. When Ted was in the hospital this past winter, Shaughnessy had the scoops on many of the stories. But for Shaughnessy to align himself with this character and yet castigate and insult baseball players like Carl Everett and Jose Offerman is self-annulling.

A final example to consider is the paranoia.

We’ll go back a bit to show it isn’t a new thing for him. Back in September of 1995, the Red Sox were cruising along, with a 14 ½ game lead on the second place New York Yankees. In this Globe column, ol’ Dan stirs the pot and fears big time:

“It is the new nightmare for Red Sox fans. It’s worse than Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner or even Wes Chamberlain. Best you start thinking about it.”

“This is why Sox fans would do well to hold off on the gloating. The Sox have a whopping lead of 14 1/2 games over the Yanks. Boston’s Magic Number is eight, and first place no doubt will be clinched sometime next week. But it won’t be over. Remember Glenn Close in the bathtub at the end of “Fatal Attraction”?”

Sure, it’s all in good fun. Yes, the Red Sox did lose to a superior Cleveland team that year in the playoffs. The Yankees did win the Wildcard, but lost to the Mariners in the first round. But that’s beside the point. The Red Sox were doing well, and the fans were enjoying it, but someone had to step in, and throw some cold water on them. Shaughnessy felt that the obligation was his to do so. Make a “Fatal Attraction” reference…possibly the scariest movie for any man. Why write the negativity? Perhaps hoping to add another chapter to his “Curse” book? Maybe people will be reminded of the Red Sox past and rush out to buy his book? Who knows?

Shaughnessy also manages to get his Curse plugs into football columns. This from 2/6/97:

This could wind up being the biggest New York heist of a Boston athletic commodity since Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth for money to produce “No No Nanette.”

The New York Giants haven’t won anything since Parcells left. Let’s see how the Patriots do now that Kraft is back in control of the football operation, and has rid himself of the Tuna.

Let’s see indeed, Dan. The Jets won one playoff game during Parcells’ tenure there. The Patriots, after struggling for a couple years, won the Super Bowl this year.

To top things off, Shaughnessy seems to get a kick out of bashing the very people who read his columns and who watch and listen to him. While he was on WEEI, he often mentioned the “Bloodthirsty shut ins” (He mentioned them in the above ’97 article) as well as “Nitwit radio”,” Idiot culture”, and “get-a-lifers”.  He loves to take shots at sports talk radio, seemingly placing himself above the common man, but at the same time he insinuates that his columns speak for Red Sox fans everywhere.

He ostensibly left WEEI because the station was too offensive, yet he cultivates a relationship with that fine upstanding citizen John Henry Williams and appears on former Globe writer Mike Barnicle’s radio show instead. (Barnicle lost his job over allegations that he had made up stories and copied material from a George Carlin bestseller and then lied about it.) He left WEEI, and then two days later the Globe decided none of it’s writers should appear on “The Big Show” and now, no Globe writer appears on any WEEI show. It seems that perhaps Shaughnessy, by his leaving, forced the hand of the Globe, and led to their banning of all their writers, some of which I’m sure would still like to come on WEEI.

The man as a writer is a walking paradox

There’s no doubt that Shaughnessy is a talented writer. I’ve even enjoyed a few of his columns, his column the Monday after the Darryl Kile tragedy was reflective and thoughtful. For the majority of the time, however, he relies on negativity, recycled clichés and personal attacks to generate controversy and attention for his writing. At some point he needs to be held accountable for when he goes too far.

This piece was not meant as a personal attack on Dan Shaughnessy, it’s rather a critique of his styles and method of writing. To paraphrase Dan: “It’s only sports writing, rite?”

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