To understand the tortured tango that binds Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and his detractors, consider his March 25 item about Red Sox ace Curt Schilling’s personal blog, 38 Pitches. The conceit was simple: Shaughnessy, who’s also a Globe associate editor, fabricated an exchange between Schilling and six pathetic, ass-kissing bloggers. (“Loser38”: “I used to go to Star Trek conventions and comic-book trade shows. No more. Now this blog is my life.”) Schilling didn’t fare much better: in Shaughnessy’s rendering, the Sox ace was an egotistical, self-pitying hypocrite. Near the end — just in case the gist wasn’t clear — a Shaughnessy surrogate materialized and asked “Schilling”: “What do you say to those media morons who contend that you are a self-important blowhard with an ill-informed opinion about everything and an insatiable need to be worshiped by sheep-like fans and late-night blog boys who live in Ma’s basement?”
A RECENT SHAUGHNESSY SAMPLER
MAY 13, 2007 “The SS Red Sox keeps rolling on a (Charles) river. With any luck the Sox soon will overtake the Milwaukee Brewers juggernaut and own the best record in baseball. To use a time-tested analogy, the Sox are making the American League East look like Secretariat in the Belmont.”
APRIL 22, 2007 “Evil Empire Falls? Revenge of the Jed-I Hoyer? Sweep Surrender? Sure, it’s April, and we know that through the years the springs and summers have often belonged to Boston, only to have autumns owned by New York. But there’s smug satisfaction here in the Hub this morning.”
APRIL 6, 2007 “Dice-K was Ice K. He was also 10 K. And Special K. Maybe even a Japanese Pedro. Or a Pocket Rocket.”
APRIL 3, 2007 “Worse than Ellen DeGeneres’s first night hosting the Oscars. Worse than Arsenio Hall’s first shot at late-night television. Worse than Patriots coach Clive Rush’s first press conference, when he was nearly electrocuted. The much-anticipated Red Sox baseball season of 2007 kicked off yesterday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, and Curt Schilling and the Boston Nine were thrashed, 7-1, by the Kansas City Royals.”
Since Shaughnessy’s alleged crimes include relying on clichés and hating the Red Sox, this column had a little something special for all his detractors. “It makes me wonder what might be spewed forth from his whiney [sic], bitchy little mind in the near future,” read one comment at Dan Shaughnessy Watch, a blog devoted to Shaughnessy deconstruction. A BarstoolSports.com reader offered this: “Saying all bloggers live at home with Mom and Dad . . . is like saying every newspaper writer is a self-absorbed, sensitive, out-of-touch-with-the-times piece of garbage like [Shaughnessy].” And a member of Sons of Sam Horn, the invite-only Red Sox site, made the following suggestion: “If you see him, punch him in the face and keep on walking.”
Whatever you may think of Shaughnessy — as a journalist or as a human being — that’s pretty nasty stuff. But when I asked him about this particular piece, he couldn’t stifle a smirk. “I thought the column was hilarious,” he said. “I was very happy with it.”
All of which raises two questions: why, exactly, do Shaughnessy’s critics loathe him as much as they do? And why does the man in the fright wig seem to enjoy egging them on?
Seven things they hate about you
Ask an avowed Shaughnessy hater to explain his or her feelings, and you won’t get a succinct, dispassionate response. Instead, you’ll receive a lengthy catalogue of distinct but complementary grievances, poured forth with a speed and intensity that suggest they’ve been causing acute distress for years.
In any given conversation, these tidal waves of bile can be hard to process. Talk to enough people, though, and a few central themes surface time and again. The main charges against Shaughnessy — a/k/a “Shank,” “Shaughnasty,” and the “Curly-Haired Boyfriend” or “CHB” (see “CHB vs. Jurassic Carl”) — run as follows:
1) HE’S A HACK If you’ve read one Shaughnessy column, critics charge, you’ve read pretty much all of them, given his reliance on clichés, stock phrases, and tired rhetorical devices. Earlier this year, Barstool Sports writer Jerry Thornton offered an eight-step guide to writing your own Shaughnessy column, including 1) “Always Begin with a Cliché”; 3) “Stereotype (‘All Midwesterners are decent, corn-fed, salt-of-the-Earth types. All Californians are laid back’)”; and 5) “Talk About Pop Culture (but not about anything that happened after 1984).” This past year, meanwhile, Dan Shaughnessy Watch catalogued its favorite phrases/references: standouts included “Young Theo” (16 times in four years) and “Grey Poupon” (13 times in 14 years). The problem isn’t Shaughnessy’s native talent, say most Shaughnessy haters; instead, it’s his reliance on a formulaic template.
2) HE’S A MACHIAVELLIAN MANIPULATOR According to the haters, Shaughnessy isn’t content to chronicle the local sports scene; instead, he wants to be a player in that scene, on par with the athletes and owners. The classic example here is Shaughnessy’s role in the Theo Epstein saga of 2005. On October 30, the Globe published a Shaughnessy column that analyzed tensions between Epstein, who was poised to sign a new contract, and Sox president Larry Lucchino. The next day, Epstein announced he was leaving the team, then snuck out of Fenway in a gorilla suit. Shaughnessy haters subsequently accused their nemesis of doing Lucchino’s dirty work and helping drive Epstein out the door. (“Young Theo” rejoined the team in January 2006.) See also: Shaughnessy’s ongoing spat with Schilling, which predated and postdates the aforementioned column; and Shaughnessy’s close friendship with Ted Williams and family, which led an official at Manhattan’s Cornell Medical Center to direct reporters’ calls to Shaughnessy when Williams underwent heart surgery there in 2001.