Dan Shaughnessy has been a fixture in Boston sports for over 30 years. From coining “The Curse of the Bambino” in 1990, to contributing to numerous radio shows in the city, to his widely read column in the Globe, Shaughnessy is one of the Hub’s greatest authorities on Baseball, and he once again entered the spotlight with the release of his book Francona: the Red Sox Years last month. The book, co authored with Terry Francona, is a revealing insight into the world of an MLB manager, which is often as tumultuous as it is fun. The book made headlines all over the northeast when a segment from it was published in Sports Illustrated, detailing a highly controversial meeting between Francona and Red Sox brass regarding marketing research conducted in order to bring higher ratings to NESN.
Shaughnessy, who is currently in Ft. Myers for spring training, recently spoke with us about his new book and the upcoming Red Sox campaign.
When did Terry first approach you about writing the book?
I approached him, actually. It took a lot of convincing because it's not his favorite, and he was careful about protecting the players and the clubhouse culture. He had free time on his hands and the more he thought about it, he started to get more comfortable with telling the story, and when you see the book, it's a lot more positive than some of the portrayals are. It's a funny, thorough look at the eight years and a lot of good things happened. A lot of people focus on this firebomb thing because of the owners and the excerpts and all that but that’s really not what the whole book is.
Were there any stories that took you by surprise when writing the book with Terry Francona?
There was one game back in 2008 down in Yankee Stadium with Manny Ramirez. He was supposed to have the day off but he ended up pinch hitting against Mariano Rivera in the ninth. He took three down the pipe, never moved the bat, and walked back to the dugout — and it was taken as demonstration that he was quitting. Terry said that he was engaged, he was warming up and it was not him quitting, it was not one of those times. Rivera just happened to hit his spot and Manny knew he couldn’t handle that spot and that was it. People took it as a demonstration that he was quitting, and that Manny was really flipping the bird to the team. [Terry] disputes that. He said that he was engaged, and he warmed up, he was not quitting. Rivera just happened to hit the same spot, and Manny knew that he couldn’t hit that spot. That shows just how hard that job is in Boston, to have all of these different opinions from ownership and the people you work for; it’s a lot of balls to juggle at one time.
When you first heard the story from Terry about the marketing study, the one that was featured in Sports Illustrated, what was your first reaction?
The one where Tom Werner said “we need to win in more exciting fashion”, I just thought it was hilarious because I know Tom and I can just picture him saying it. The focus group stuff with NESN and the ratings […] Terry didn’t know about a lot of that. Theo Epstein was the one roped into that, and he kept him away from it. Terry says it in the book […] he didn’t like it when the ratings were brought up in meetings because he was very busy and he didn’t want to deal with that. I did the research on all of the focus group documents and all of the goofy things that they asked Theo to do.
Alright, turning to this season, it seems like the club doesn’t have a lot of faith in Jared Saltalamacchia. Is there a large difference between him and Varitek on the defensive side of the ball?
Yes, I think there is, it’s a fair question and a correct analysis. He needs a little more help with the game calling. Jason was so prepared and knew the hitters so well, it really helped the staff. Nothing against Salty. He just doesn’t have the same skill set that Varitek had in terms of recall and preperation; I think it’s a little bit much for him. We know he hits home runs. He’s a switch hitter, and a good guy, and he’s improving, but I think it’s been a pretty good sample now and he doesn’t appear to be the future for them as a catcher, so it’s a very fluid situation.
What about Iglesias? How much patience does the club have with him?
Well I think they have to have a lot. He still doesn’t have a lot of at bats in professional baseball. Obviously with Xander Bogaerts coming up, it changes everything a little bit. Boy he’s fun to watch, but if you’re going to carry a guy hitting .210 or .220, then you better have it everywhere else in the lineup and right now they don’t. With Stephen Drew, it’s obvious that Iglesias is not the shortstop this year. You don’t bring in a guy for one year making seven or eight million and then have Iglesias playing ahead of him He may end up playing every day in Pawtucket, which seems to be the solution for him. I don’t see any other role for him the way things are right now.
While you’ve been down at spring training, have any of the prospects really stuck out to you as potential big contributors in the Minors and maybe a call up at some point this year?
Well everybody thinks Jackie Bradley Jr. is the real deal. He’s young, but he hit .370 in AA and .270 in AAA, so it’s all ahead of him. With Ellsbury’s situation, this really bears watching. I think it’s possible that they could trade Jacoby and throw the kid in there. It’d be rushing him, but he’s the one that they are expecting to replace Ellsbury. I’m sure they wish they had another year to let him come on organically but they may not be able to do that.
You've said that you’d shave your head if Jacoby was on the team next year…
Yeah I’m not too worried about that. It’d be an ugly scene for everybody but I’m pretty confident. It’s hard to write a Jacoby thing and it’s hard to talk to him because everything is just so standard so I felt like I had to be a little more bombastic and just lay it out there, He didn’t say anything to make me worry.
Who do you see as the team to beat in the American League heading into the season?
Boy, this year it’s so stocked. I love the Tigers, I wish they did a little better in the series last year. I think the west is pretty great. I love the Angels. With Texas, maybe their window has close a little bit, so I’d say the Angels out of the gate.
When you see Pedro and Varitek down in spring training, where do you see them contributing the most?
It’s really more of a ceremonial thing than anything else. They’re not going to be a daily presence, they are not going to do the work or put in the time to be an everyday presence like a real hitting/catching/pitching coach. They made their money and they have young families to worry about.
I hate to do this, but I have to bring up the “sellout” streak. Now that it’s coming to an end, where do you see the Sox heading in terms of attendance? Do you think it’ll remain steady?
The streak’s probably going to end the second home game of the year, and that’s good, that’s confronting the reality, and people needed to see them do that. I think that it’s going to stall a little bit. Demand is not what it was and that’s to be expected but the ballpark is still a big star and they’ll have to start winning to generate nonstop demand and sellouts, which they haven’t had in a while. They’ll still be near the very top of the MLB for attendance.
Of all the new acquisitions this year (Dempster, Victorino, Hanrahan, Drew, Napoli), who do you think will make the most immediate impact on the Sox?
I’m going to say Stephen Drew. He looks like a guy in his prime. He’s in his walk year, he looks a lot more ready for it than the others.
The Red Sox Years is available online and in bookstores across the country.