The Profile: Dan Shaughnessy ’75

Dan Shaughnessy ’75 won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, one of sports journalism’s greatest honors.

By Benjamin Gleisser

Dan Shaughnessy ’75 took his first step toward being a Hall of Fame sports writer when he was 6 years old. That’s when the Groton, Massachusetts, youngster watched his older brother play high school baseball and later reported on the games to his parents around the dinner table.

“I loved baseball,” he remembers. “I played second base, first base and right field in Little League and later in high school. I had the dice baseball game and read all the sports magazines. The librarian saved the baseball books for me. I knew all the players’ stats and collected baseball cards–but I never put them in my bicycle spokes.”

His baseball cards are long gone, but his passion for sports is as strong as a high fly ball headed for the bleachers. Today, Shaughnessy is a sports columnist for The Boston Globe, the author of 12 books and a frequent guest on Boston-area radio and TV shows. He’s also the recipient of the 2016 J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The award honors “meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” and his work will be part of a permanent Hall of Fame exhibit honoring broadcasters and writers.

He winsomely reflects on the journey from tow-haired kid hitting grounders on grassy schoolyard fields to respected sports scribe enshrined in the Hall of Fame, just a few rooms away from plaques celebrating boyhood idols like Red Sox great Ted Williams.

“It’s a great feeling to have my picture alongside other great writers like Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon and Red Smith,” he says. “That’s really cool.” He laughs, adding, “It’s something, knowing my grandkids will go to the Hall and find me in there.”

Shaughnessy honed his writing skills as an English major at Holy Cross, which he attended on a partial scholarship. During his four years on The Hill, he worked at The Crusader, spending three years as the sports editor, and wrote for Crossroads, the former alumni publication.

“Working on the newspaper became like a work-study program for me,” he says. “My advisers were very instructive, patient and tolerant. The Jesuits really cared about the written word, and my English professors, like Rev. Robert Healey, S.J., were very encouraging. Rev. John Brooks, S.J., my religious studies professor, and others gave me a lot of individual attention and supported independent thinking.”

After graduation, Shaughnessy bartended to help pay off student loans and was a stringer covering sporting events for several news outlets, including The Boston Globe and The Associated Press, which paid him $7 per story.

“I sent resumes to every small newspaper in New England, and everyone turned me down,” he recalls. “But there were good people at the Globe advocating for me.”

One of the people in his cheering section was legendary sports writer Peter Gammons, the Boston Red Sox beat writer who would later win the Spink Award in 2004, and who was named the National Sportswriter of the Year in 1989, 1990 and 1993 by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

In 1977, when The Baltimore Evening Sun had an opening for a writer to cover the Baltimore Orioles, “Peter called them and said, ‘You gotta hire that kid,’” Shaughnessy says.

“I’d been to Fenway Park as a stringer and felt really equipped to do the job,” he says, recalling the day he joined the team of major league sports writers.

“I was carrying all this baseball knowledge in my pocket. But it was a big thrill to cover my first away game. I travelled to Cleveland in the same airplane as the players, rode the same buses and stayed in the same hotel. I shared an elevator with (former Orioles All-Star third baseman) Brooks Robinson, and he talked to me. I mean, Robinson was one of the gods of my youth!”

He moved to The Washington Star in 1979 and reported on baseball at the national level, then joined the Globe in 1981, where he covered the Red Sox and finally met his boyhood hero.

“Ted Williams is a fabled name in Boston,” he says. “I never saw him play, but he was like the Father Christmas of baseball. I loved talking to him and hearing all those great stories from the 1930s and 1940s.”

He pauses a moment, then continues, “Over the years, I’ve interviewed many great sports figures: Carl Yastrzemski, Larry Bird, Pedro Martinez, Wade Boggs. (Boston Celtics all-star and Holy Cross alumnus) Bob Cousy ’50 was one of the greatest players I ever met. And Bobby Orr—he was the god of hockey when I was a kid.”

Reflecting back on the millions of words he’s written since first reporting his brother’s big plays at the dinner table, Shaughnessy says what fascinates him the most about sports are not the games themselves, but the people whose lives make the games.

“Good sports writing is storytelling. I’m continuing the nice old Irish attribute of storytelling. Sports stories have humor and drama, highs and lows, and they’re filled with the same universal truths that everyone experiences.

“What intrigues people about sports is the uncertainty of the outcome—in every game, you don’t know who’s going to win. It’s not like watching ‘Hamlet,’ where you always know how it’s going to end. Sports writing is something I have knowledge about and a passion for, and that’s what really makes it fun. And being a columnist, it’s fun to share my thoughts.”