Saturday, June 16, 2007

Senior Year by Dan Shaughnessy: A Book Review

(Since today is Father's Day, I am going to review Shaughnessy's book about father and sons. There is not much remarkable to comment about in today's game recap.)

I decided to pick up Shaughnessy's new book, Senior Year: A Father, A Son, and High School Baseball. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Regardless, I ended up being pleasantly surprised--and I must admit I really enjoyed reading it. Shaughnessy definitely does not come off as the cantankerous curmudgeon that he does in many of his columns.

Shaughnessy chronicles his son Sam's senior year in high school. Sam is a pretty good baseball player at Newton North and Shaughnessy discusses the ups and downs of high school athletics, high school life in general, and the relationship between father and son. Shaughnessy juxtaposes Sam's high school experiences with his own school experience from the late 60's and early 70's.

The book strikes me as a very honest one on several levels. Sam is a talented player, receiving a baseball scholarship to Boston College. Yet Shaughnessy is realistic about Sam's talents and quite readily lays out both his strengths (a good batting eye) and weaknesses (a weak arm). Shaughnessy is also very honest about Sam's personality in general...he's not the perfect kid. He has temper tantrums on the field and comes across at times as a spoiled brat. Yet, Shaughnessy is not the hyper critical parent either - it is quite evident that he is a pretty devoted father to Sam and his two daughters.

The honesty extends to his recounting of his own high school days. Shaughnessy was an athlete, albeit an average one. He was constantly rejected by the girls so much so that he asked his own daughters never to turn down anyone who asked them to a dance. He has good memories of growing up in Groton but does not wax poetic about the "good ole days". The contrast that he paints between his past and Sam's present is effective because he draws out and details many of societal changes of the past 35+ years.

Shaughnessy also refuses to paint himself as the ideal father. While he clearly is a devoted father, he seems to struggle with today's permissiveness--constantly questioning himself about whether he is too lax with Sam, thus explaining why Sam can come across at times as a self-centered brat. Shaughnessy does seem to work very had at providing a good environment for his children and a warm environment for their friends--opening their home up to any and all of the kid's friends. The racism that some would suggest to manifest itself in Shaughnessy's columns is not present here. As one example, for 12 years, the Shaughnessy family has opened their home to a young black man from the inner city who travels from the tougher parts of Boston to suburbia in the hopes of getting a better education (the Metco program). Shaughnessy does not offer this to beat his own chest but rather it's just one of the storylines that he weaves in as a matter of course.

Shaughnessy does not go into much depth about his life as a sportswriter and he only tangentially discusses the Red Sox. Of course, he couldn't refrain from taking on his favorite targets--he briefly discusses the big blowhard, Schilling; he implies Manny Ramirez has very little work ethic; and he discusses his contempt of 40 year olds who wear jerseys with the names of pro athletes sewn on the back. It is very subtle but I did definitely get the impression that Shaughnessy takes his work for granted. He complains a bit about the travel and he mentions in passing that his management worked out a favorable schedule for him to write this book but he just doesn't seem to realize that he has life pretty good. And I think it adds some credence to the constant attack in this blog that he has the tendency to mail it in more often than not when it comes to his columns in the Globe.

A little arrogance does creep up here and there. He tells one story of a controversial play in one of Sam's high school games--the game was stopped and Shaughnessy actually called a retired major league umpire (Marty Springstead I believe) from a cell phone in the middle of the game to get a ruling. I thought that was a little over the top.

At any rate, Shaughnessy has a very effective writing style. The book was a fun read - an insightful look at middle class life of the 1970s compared to upper middle class life of today. As a father myself (albeit about 12 years younger than Shaughnessy), I found myself identifying with much he had to say about parenting and parenting philosophies. As I have mentioned to a couple of my co-bloggers on this site, I find myself somewhat conflicted now - I really expected to read this book expecting to cement my general contempt for CHB but that was definitely not the case - he comes across as a likable and honest guy--a stark contrast to much of the bitterness and sarcasm that we see in many of his columns.

Pick up the book (and if you dont want to lay out the bucks for it, check for it at your local library) and you might be pleasantly surprised.


mike_b1 said...

Shop at the Borders at Chestnut Hill and you might even see Dan in the aisles, checking out his own book, like I did.

dbvader said...

Here is the excerpt from the book that appeared in Dan's employer's Sunday Magazine.

Anonymous said...

It won't be long until we see the CHB checking out his own book at Building 19....

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming there may have been some insightful comments starting on page 226. Unfortunately, the book stops at page 225.

Remind me again why we're supposed to be interested in the life of an average high school senior and that's the entire story. Fell significantly below my expectations.

Heidi said...

HI Dave,

I was wondering if you would be interested in publishing your review on the new youth baseball website BaseballNation.US? We are compiling reviews for select baseball parents and I came across your thorough review here. We have a review section for books and I was posting my own, but yours was so much better! Your review would add a lot.

Just let me know. You can reach me at heidi at baseballnation dot US.