You will love Shaughnessy's book ... even if you hate Red Sox

Dan Shaughnessy wrote a column once about the insular lives of today's athletes, in his words, "how they are shielded by publicists, agents, and lawyers" and how "interview access is parsed out like a high school hall pass."

Shaughnessy's larger point: Writers no longer have much access to their subject matter, denying them the ability to tell the best stories and truly inform their readers.

Which is what makes Shaughnessy's new book, "Francona: The Red Sox Years," such a fun, fascinating read. There are no publicists, agents and lawyers in the way. This is Shaughnessy, the columnist and the conscience of the Boston Globe sports section, raining a kaleidoscope of vignettes, zingers and the humanity of Francona and the Francona Red Sox, only the most celebrated era in the team's history.

Straight up: You don't even have to like the Red Sox to like this book.

"The Globe was very understanding," Shaughnessy said recently in a telephone conversation of the Francona endeavor, which debuted in late January. "They let me do a lot of baseball last year. Plus, I lived it for eight years. It was a real advantage."

Shaughnessy said David Black, the literary agent who brokered Tom Verducci's book on Joe Torre, was the impetus for the Francona book. Shaughnessy, who said Francona was available "any time I wanted," said he met with Francona "probably 20 times" and even drove to New York with him.

The book is so much more than its original portrayal. Sports Illustrated published excerpts in January that focused on how Boston owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino made the team's image a priority, rather than winning.

Maybe this is the way it goes now in the media, this pursuit of simpler answers instead of allowing the concepts of time and space to educate and inform.

"It's a fun book," Shaughnessy said. "It's baseball life from the inside, not quite the firebomb excerpt."

Francona remains one of the tragically underappreciated figures in Boston sports. Not necessarily in the media, but by the fandom, which always sounded on sports radio as though the Sox won in spite of him. (While the Patriots won because of Bill Belichick).

The book, however, has a subtle way of revealing what is the single most significant attribute in the manager of the Boston Red Sox: The ability to put out fires, not start them. Francona was a master at diplomacy, assuaging egos and taking bullets for his players.

It's probably that way in New York, too.

But it would make you wonder if ownership truly paid attention to how Francona's greatest strengths were so paramount to the team's success. If Francona was a master at extinguishing fires, Bobby Valentine was an arsonist.

"That's a concise way of putting it," Shaughnessy said.

The book spends as much time on the vagaries of the 2004 season as it does the ensuing parade, when Larry Lucchino had a hissy fit over the failure of sweatshirts to arrive on time.

Shaughnessy, essentially, made good on a lament from the aforementioned column about how nobody really gets on the inside anymore.

"I'm pretty sure Greg Kite never had a publicist. I know this because Kite was my neighbor when I covered the Celtics and we used to share rides to Logan. We both knew that Monday was trash day in West Newton," Shaughnessy wrote in that column. "We were able to tell you a lot about those Celtics because we traveled with them. On commercial aircraft. On buses. In hotel lobbies and hotel bars.

"We knew that Scott Wedman carried a half-gallon jug of spring water at all times (love to see him get that through security now) and that Rick Carlisle could play classical piano without sheet music. KC Jones could never remember Carlisle's first name, or his nickname, so he just called him 'Carlisle.'"

"We knew that Cedric Maxwell would always have Dolph Schayes paged over the terminal intercom when the Celtics were waiting for baggage. Anywhere in America. Every trip. For years. One day in Salt Lake City, Dolph Schayes just happened to be at the airport and appeared at the carousel asking who was looking for him. Max loved that one."

The Francona book is a walk through eight years with the Red Sox on what feels like the same "commercial aircraft, buses, hotel lobbies and hotel bars" to which Shaughnessy alluded. You'll love it. Sox fan or not.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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