Dan Shaughnessy is a sportswriting bad ass. He’s one of the country’s best columnists, opining fearlessly in the bosom of a readership base that is one part religious, one part romantic, one part provincial and one part lunatic. That is a dangerous mix that could get a hard-line commentator killed — I once called Dan for advice in that regard after some Chicago death threats — but Shaughnessy has carried on boldly with his coverage of the Boston Red Sox, taking on the beloved David Ortiz earlier this season by asking Big Papi if he also is a Big PEDer.
I’m afraid he’s about to be silenced.
Seems the principal owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, just bought Shaughnessy’s newspaper, the Boston Globe, in a paltry $70-million package — paltry in that the Globe was purchased 20 years ago for $1.1 billion. The newspaper business is dying, if you haven’t heard, but it still shows sparks in news-and-sports ravenous markets like Boston. I’d like to think Henry won’t turn the Globe into a public-relations sheet that shields the Red Sox from negative news, but I’m not stupid. I was at the rival Chicago Sun-Times when the Tribune Co. owned the Cubs, and as much as the newspaper’s sports department vowed to cover the team aggressively, Cubs management tried to meddle at times. Feisty beat writer Paul Sullivan once criticized bosses Andy MacPhail and Ed Lynch on the Tribune’s flagship TV station, WGN, during a Wrigley Field rain delay because, well, it wasn’t raining. The next year, for that specific reason or otherwise, Sullivan was switched to the White Sox beat.
Says Globe editor Brian McGrory: “We have no plans whatsoever to change our Red Sox coverage specifically, or our sports coverage in general, nor will we be asked.”
Closer to the point, Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan said, “It wlll be there, hanging in the air.” His quote appeared in the New York Times, which happens to be the company that sold the Globe to Henry.
Even in a glorious era when the Red Sox, previously cursed and hapless, have won two World Series titles, Henry sometimes has seethed about the Globe’s coverage. After the team crashed and missed the playoffs in 2011, the paper broke the story that three starting pitchers (none in optimum physical shape) were drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games in the clubhouse, while also reporting that manager Terry Francona was using painkillers and dealing with marital problems.
“It’s reprehensible that it was written about in the first place,” Henry grumbled in a radio interview, per the Times.
What are the odds of such a story appearing in the Globe from this point on? And what happens when Shaughnessy goes on one of his periodic rampages about Henry and Red Sox ownership? Suddenly, his every column about Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner becomes big news in Boston — that is, if the columns are published. I’m almost rooting for the Red Sox to collapse again, just to see how the Globe writers and Henry collide.
The purchase means Henry and his group control the Globe (the traditional leading site of Red Sox newspaper coverage) and 80 percent of the New England Sports Network (the primary TV source of Red Sox coverage). There are other sports media in the New England region, and I hope they’ll be breaking hard news and doing investigative reporting about the Sox. My guess is, Henry’s operations will be as hard-hitting as the official scorecard at Fenway. For that matter, don’t be ripping on Celtics arch-rival LeBron James in the pages of the Globe, for guess who owns a small piece of Henry’s group?
God help this industry.