JACKIE MACMULLAN AND DAN SHAUGHNESSY
Jackie MacMullan and Dan Shaughnessy are two of the greatest sportswriters/correspondents who ever lived.
For better or for worse, Boston is neither New York, nor is it or LA.
Or Chicago, for that matter.
While each great city proudly hails its uniqueness and character, one common thread shared by all, is a fierce love of sports, bound by a deep and profound loyalty to the locals.
Fans of sporting events are the essence; they show up and they foot the bill.
Without fans in the stands, well, we’ve seen what that can look like.
But not everybody can go to the games, due to prohibitive costs, accessibility, and a host of other factors.
That’s where the messengers come in.
Or as “The Splendid Splinter,” disdainfully referred to them, ‘the knights of the keyboard.’
Sure it’s a different world today, with social media platforms all over the place.
Still, writers write.
Stars themselves — love ’em or hate ’em.
Back in the day, Larry Bird once said about a revered and multi-talented Boston sportswriter,
“Bob Ryan, he’s as famous as we are.”
And he made that statement to Jackie MacMullan Boyle, certainly in a class of her own on many levels.
New York boasted of Red Smith, Dick Young and Murray Chass.
Los Angeles was the home of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jim Murray.
And Chicago launched a long-running sports talk show in the mid-’80s, 15-years-worth — -way before it became popular — called, “The Sportswriters on TV,” featuring the likes of Bill Jauss, Bill Gleason, Ben Bentley (“moderator”) and the then-youthful Rick Telander.
They chewed the Windy City fat — and national sports fat — seated around a poker table littered with newspapers, amid thick, curling cigar smoke which fogged the cameras’ lenses.
Let the record show that Boston will never, ever take a back seat.
Dave Egan, Cliff Keane, Larry Claflin, Harold Kaese, Tim Horgan, Ray Fitzgerald, Kevin Mannix, Larry Whiteside, Joe Concannon, John Powers, Will McDonough, Leigh Montville, Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan, Nick Cafardo, Steve Buckley, Kevin Paul Dupont…
Those before, those presently, and surely, those to follow.
As a sports town, there is none other.
Not like Beantown.
In fact, Boston may be the greatest sports town in the world.
Not in the country, but on the planet.
Debatable, I s’pose.
As for its print media coverage of sports?
As good as it got then; as good as it could ever get.
And still good.
Jimmy Gandolfino, playing Tony Soprano, said it right.
Enter Dan Shaughnessy and Jackie MacMullan.
Not in that order, either.
Jackie Mac shattered the glass ceiling — blew it to smithereens — without ever meaning to.
She just loved basketball.
Rewind to when she was fifteen……
She went to Westwood (MA.) High School and played on a talent-laden girls’ basketball team, which, as she remembers it, hadn’t lost a league game in seventeen years.
Problem was, nobody seemed to care.
The local paper never wrote about the girls.
She wasn’t happy.
“I used to stomp around the house complaining about it.
Finally, my dad said to me one day, ‘Why don’t you stop complaining about it and do something about it?’”
She did; she called the sports editor — a gruff, cigar-chomping, old-school sort — to air her grievances, stammering away in the face of intimidation.
He explained that he didn’t have a big staff, but if she wanted to do it — even at 15 — she could.
And “if it stinks, I won’t run it.”
That’s all she needed to hear.
“I would write a story out longhand and drop it at the front office at Westwood High School, and he’d come pick it up and put it in the paper.
I still can’t believe it.
I only wrote about the girls.
I refused to write about the boys.
Even if there was a good story, I just wouldn’t do it.”
That’s how it all began.
When Jackie MacMullan joined the Boston Globe as a news department intern in 1982, the NBA was just beginning its ascent to national — and then international — popularity and prominence.
Magic and Larry had entered the league a few years earlier and CBS was still airing some playoff games on tape delay.
It was a long time ago.
MacMullan did more than witness the league’s growth; she became one of its most influential chroniclers.
She was a beat reporter, covering the Celtics in the eighties, then a writer for Sports Illustrated, a columnist for the Globe, and finally a columnist and writer for ESPN.
She’s a regular on a number of ESPN TV shows and has co-written autobiographies by Bird, Geno Auriemma, and Shaquille O’Neal as well as writing and collaborating with Bird and Magic on “When the Game Was Ours,” (HMH Books — 2010).
In 2010, the Basketball Hall of Fame honored her with the Curt Gowdy Award, presented to media members who have made significant contributions to the game.
She was the first woman to win it, and remains the only woman to have won the print award; in 2018, Doris Burke was a recipient in the electronic category.
In 2018, she co-edited with Rafe Bartholomew and Dan Klores, “Basketball: A Love Story,” an oral history of basketball based on the ESPN documentary series of the same name.
And in early 2019, Boston’s Jackie Mac became the first woman to win the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sportswriting.
“I remember Larry Bird telling me once, way down the road, ‘You always show up. They notice.’
So show up.”
And the beat goes on…
Dan Shaughnessy has often been referred to as the voice of doom, a real ‘negative Nellie,’ overly critical.
“Curly-Haired Boyfriend.” (Thank you, the one-and-only Carl Everett).
Monikers bestowed upon him by those he covered, and not always in the most complimentary contexts.
Though there may be some truth to that, he’s entitled.
He’s been around so long, and he’s still here, kicking those “tomato cans” down the road.
He’s like the whac-a-mole game, popping up relentlessly and ad nauseum.
He doesn’t die.
Ticking right along, like a Timex.
A sportswriter for the Globe since September of 1981, Shaughnessy has served as a beat writer for the Boston Celtics and the Boston Red Sox, as well as a long-time sports columnist for the paper.
He has authored or contributed to several sports-related books, most notably, “The Curse of the Bambino,” “Reversing the Curse,” and “Francona,” and he’s had his share of radio and television gigs.
Covering the Celtics in the mid-eighties (1982-’86) gave him plenty of exposure to Bird and the boys.
And as noted, it wasn’t always pretty.
There was the time when Bird, during the ’85 playoffs, had a little set-to at a Boston (Faneuil Hall) watering hole, known as Chelsea’s.
In defense of a teammate or a friend (unclear), he took a swing — righty (?) — and connected…fist to jaw of the alleged perpetrator, a former Colgate football player.
Pain and perhaps broken bones.
Wouldn’t stop Larry, because precious little did.
Tape it up.
So a day or two later at practice, Shaughnessy tried to commiserate with Bird.
It didn’t go well.
Shaughnessy, a former high school player of less than modest repute, challenged the efficacy of Bird’s split-fingered tape job.
“I could tape my whole hand up, make more shots than you,” Bird offered.
Shaughnessy says, “I don’t know.”
Bird was a pool hall kind of hustler and by every account, the most tight-fisted.
Never saw a check he’d care to pick up.
When Red Auerbach signed him to his first contract, worth $650,000 — $2.6 million in today’s dollars — Bird figured he’d snookered the iconic red-head.
After it was official, Bird volunteered behind that crooked French Lick grin, that he would have signed for nothing, as long as if he had a garage-full of beer, and every time one was taken, it was replaced — at no charge to him, of course.
So Larry and Shaughnessy got it goin’.
But enter Ray Melchiorre first.
The Hick from French Lick summoned the trainer and instructed him to tape his whole hand.
“Let’s do this, I’ll tape my whole hand. I’ll make more shots than you. We’ll take 100 free throws [Shaughnessy’s ‘specialty’], $5 a throw,” Bird said.
After making a slight adjustment in his release, Bird waxed Shaughnessy and the latter was out $160.
The next night the Celts were playing the 76ers and Bird lit ’em up — with Shaughnessy’s eight 20’s in his sneaker.
No question he was keeping the dough.
Shaughnessy admits that during his fourth and final year on the Celtics beat, things had become a little awkward with Bird and the fellas, in spite of Bird’s delighted designation of him as his perfect foil.
Kevin McHale, for example, would regularly greet him with this, highlighting Shaughnessy’s reputation for being overly critical:
“Hey Scoop, is your shoulder sore from driving all those pipes through people?”
When Shaughnessy decided to write what became a front-page story about Bird’s bar fight — which resulted in an out-of-court settlement, not to mention a Celtics loss in the ’85 Finals — Bird was none too pleased.
“I won’t be talking to you anymore,” Bird advised him.
And he meant it.
For six full months, and more than 40 regular-season games of the spectacular 1985-’86 campaign, which featured a C’s record of 40–1 at home — and culminated in a 16th championship — Bird kept his word.
Time heals all wounds.
Bird and Shaughnessy are fine now and have been for some time.
Some two decades after the ’85 bar fight brouhaha, the two were sharing postgame libations in a Garden dressing room when Bird was the Pacers GM.
Ever the inquisitor, Shaughnessy asked him how it all went down.
“Scoop, I hit that guy with my left hand!” Bird said with a chuckle.
On December 8, 2015 (one day after Bird’s 59th birthday, coincidentally) Dan Shaughnessy was named the 2016 recipient of J.G. Taylor Spink Award, presented annually by the BBWA “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”
He was presented with the award during the induction weekend at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2016.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in April 2021.]