A profile I wrote on Mr. Shaughnessy for a class during the Fall semester
Dan Shaughnessy buys seven newspapers at a nearby 7-Eleven and jogs a mile every morning before getting to work as Boston’s most-revered sports reporter.
Shaughnessy welcomes me into his Newton home on Sunday, November 21. The foyer boasts a parquet floor, an iconic staple of the Boston Celtics, a team he’s covered for nearly four decades.
On this Sunday, the Shaughnessy house is busy with guests, dogs, grandkids and football on TV. As we watch the Indianapolis Colts annihilate the Buffalo Bills, Shaughnessy and I discuss how a Buffalo loss will cede control of the AFC East to the New England Patriots. (We all know how that turned out this year, though).
Two of Shaughnessy’s grandsons, Nico, 4, and Jack, 2, are in the living room with us. Jack checks his grandfather’s pulse with a toy stethoscope while Nico jumps up and down on the couch, reporting every tackle. Nico’s sister Lucy, 2, joins us for a few minutes before a nap.
During the pandemic, the Shaughnessy house hosted eleven people—including five children ages four and under—and three dogs. “Everything broke,” Shaughnessy says of the 1900s-era house. “The fridge. The hot water heater.”
On Nov. 16, Shaughnessy, 68, released his latest book, Wish It Lasted Forever, about his journey covering the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, when they won three championships and competed in two others. The book doesn’t include anything directly from Celtics legend Larry Bird, because, according to Shaughnessy, no one in the Boston media can get in touch with him.
“We don’t need him,” Shaughnessy says, adding that the book includes the story of Bird hustling $160 from him and details why Bird hasn’t spoken to him in decades.
When Larry Bird mysteriously injured his shooting hand during the Celtics’ 1985 NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, the Boston rumor mill pointed to a bar fight. Shaughnessy, always suspicious, lurked in bars around Faneuil Hall and found the man Bird had fought. When Shaughnessy ran the story, Bird stopped speaking to him. “With the fight, he affected the product the fans were buying, and that had to be reported.”
That logic is the essence of Shaughnessy’s nature as a reporter. If he knows it, he prints it. “With Larry, deep down I know he really likes me. We had a lot of fun.”
His time covering the Celtics made him the Dan Shaughnessy we know today, but he found his calling long before that. While at Groton High School, working for the Public Spirit out of Ayer, Mass., he covered the school basketball team under a pseudonym, because he also played for the team. “I once ripped myself for missing two free throws.”
At the College of the Holy Cross, he worked as the campus sports reporter for The Boston Globe, a common practice for the newspaper then. He also covered youth sporting events around Boston and “got to know the city on Globe time and in Globe cars.” Shaughnessy wrote some 400 stories for the Globe between the ages of 19 and 23.
“They wouldn’t hire me full time, and I didn’t stomp my feet.” He notes the effort to bring more women into the profession at the time. After freelancing for two years after college, colleague Peter Gammons found him an opening at the Baltimore Evening Sun, where he was put on the Orioles beat in 1977. Later, he moved to the Washington Star baseball beat. When the Star folded in 1981, Shaughnessy finally made it to the Globe, where he’s been ever since.
“I wanted to come back, and I did.”
Despite his reputation as a take-no-prisoners sports columnist, the man himself is pleasantly approachable and even mild-mannered in person. However, he feels personally responsible to get answers to any urgent questions about Boston sports, especially when no other reporters are willing to press the point.
After Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s mysterious benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII, Shaughnessy showed up to the first workout of the next year to ask Belichick the question on everyone’s mind.
“‘What was that about?’ And he wouldn’t go there,” Shaughnessy says. “He said, ‘I’m only here to talk about this year, this season.’ Well maybe guys on your team this season want to know why that happened last February when they didn’t get rings… But I just thought we had to close the books on it, give it one more shot.”
With the Bills-Colts game at halftime, Shaughnessy takes me upstairs to his office, a sports lover’s paradise. On the TV, he’s been watching a DVD of Celtics-Lakers game 4 from the 1984 NBA Finals for the new book. At this point, he’s done 58 book-talk interviews for the book, with many more remaining.
Above a packed bookshelf is a collage from his childhood bedroom with various cutouts of athletes and other sports-related images. “It went all the way around my bedroom, and that [the part he currently has in his office] was the piece I was able to salvage. Scotch tape holds for 50 years. It’s amazing.”
Against the wall sits a knee-high stack of pandemic-era newspaper sports sections, a sports Rolodex for these unusual times. A sign taped to the back of the door reads, “Zooming, please keep out,” for when he’s on a call.
Shaughnessy discusses the current virtual nature of his job due to the pandemic and how reporters aren’t going to as many games as usual. He explains that the readers don’t notice if the reporter watches the game on TV then Zooms into a press conference. He argues, though, that young reporters need to attend the games.
“I’m not a fan of people who are 22, who have never been anywhere or done anything, it’s just that you’re not covering it by watching TV.”
Shaughnessy also has no problem admitting inconvenient truths, including how his boss, Globe owner John W. Henry, also owns the baseball team he covers. “Let’s call it what it is, and that’s a conflict of interest.”
Shaughnessy and Henry haven’t spoken since 2009, when Shaughnessy wrote about Red Sox star David Ortiz testing positive for steroids. “I admire [Henry] for the fact that I’m still employed,” although he adds, “I can’t carry the water of the guy who owns the team.”
The Ortiz story is one that still puzzles Shaughnessy. “I talked to him with the tape recorder going,” he says. “I don’t know what he thought I was going to do.” Alas, Big Papi hasn’t spoken to Shaughnessy since.
Shaughnessy, a baseball writer first and foremost, doesn’t go easy on steroid users. He never casts his baseball Hall of Fame vote for someone known to have used steroids. He admits to long being suspicious about the sheer dominance of Ortiz’s play and confesses the two of them were never close. “He’s a great guy, but I’m still suspicious.”
Ask him if he cares that David Ortiz hates him, and he’ll tell you he was just doing his job. He doesn’t care if his writing ticks you off. “I’m not here to protect people.”
He cares about getting to the truth on behalf of the fans. He’s impartial to the outcome but ferocious for the passionate Boston fans and always conscious of his reputation and responsibility. His words have indeed ignited fires, such as the website that supposedly exists to “embarrass and critique” him. Perhaps one would be frightened by such a threat. Shaughnessy, however, is rather unfazed.
“You want to give the reader something they can’t get anywhere else. So it helps to have people know who the hell you are,” he says, adding that, “Whatever’s best for me is what I’m rooting for. I like the story.”
In the end, his priorities are straight. “As long as family and friends like you, that’ll have to do.”