That answer verged on pro-athlete-style pabulum — the kind Shaughnessy might rip if it were handed to him — but he soon grew more candid. “I think it’s hard to know why one is singled out, or why one attracts a particular amount of venom,” he continued. “But I think The Curse of the Bambino had a lot to do with it. People think that meant I’d either invented the dark history of the Red Sox or was hoping they would lose to keep it going.” (By 2004, he assured me, there was “no more money to be made” off royalties from the book.)
Now Shaughnessy’s wariness was gone. Over the next few minutes, he played media theorist. (The Internet, he said, has emboldened angry fans and increased homer-ism.) He insisted that Ramirez did, in fact, bail on the team in 2006. (“It doesn’t make him a bad guy; it makes him a bad teammate. The belief in that clubhouse to a man is that he quit.”) He claimed he doesn’t care if players freeze him out. (“I covered the Celtics with Larry Bird not talking to me for a year. He’d been in a barroom fight; I found the guy. . . . What was I supposed to do?”) And he pegged the ongoing feud between the Globe and sports-radio behemoth WEEI, where he used to be a host, as another factor (“pretty much 24-7, they pound the Globe and me and others here”).
The most telling part of the conversation, though, came when I asked Shaughnessy about complaints that he’s indifferent or downright hostile to Boston teams. “I root for the story,” he replied. “I don’t think people covering the 2004 presidential campaign should be rooting for John Kerry; I don’t want to read a post-election story where a guy’s disappointed that John Kerry didn’t win. That’s not what that guy’s hired to do.
“I don’t think sports should be treated as different,” he added. “I’m a fan of the story. The Red Sox winning or losing, the Patriots winning or losing, does not impact me emotionally. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to have that; it’s like betting on the games or something. . . . When I got into the business, I was trained that you kind of do take off your fan hat. You’re a fan of the sport. But a rooting interest in the people you’re covering? Not good.”
It would be too facile — and too generous — to blame this attitude for all anti-Shaughnessy animus. Flash back to that 38 Pitches column he’s so proud of: it could be the handiwork of an adolescent wise-ass trying out for his college paper. Most journalists learn, at some point, that the best way to shut up an adversary is to let him or her have the last word. Shaughnessy seems to have missed this.
Then again, why don’t more people admire Shaughnessy’s willingness to tangle with Schilling, or Ramirez, or Patriots owner Bob Kraft, or other eminences from the Boston sports scene? (Credit him, too, for acknowledging that the New York Times Company’s ownership of the Globe and ownership stake in the Sox is problematic.) The New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica is nicknamed “The Lip” for his similarly combative approach; it’s meant as a compliment.