MIKE SHALIN enjoyed bringing sports news to you.
He relished the daily grind of recording wins and losses, identifying heroes and villains, and then writing about them. Mike consistently delivered those tales for the better part of 40 years, the final four of his life to a largely unfamiliar readership here in New Hampshire.
We’ll miss Mike Shalin, who died last week at age 66. He had battled brain cancer.
“Excitement” doesn’t really do the moment justice when we took him on as a regular columnist, by happenstance, in June of 2016. He was excited to have a regular column again and we were excited to have someone who built a solid reputation over the decades working in the biggest, baddest sports markets, New York and Boston. For tabloids, of course. Taking no guff from anyone.
Some terrific writers have graced the Union Leader sports pages over the years, but none with the regional, even national, clout of Mike Shalin. His hiring here came in the late innings of his career. In retrospect, it was like 1986: We were the Red Sox and he was Hall of Famer Tom Seaver (his boyhood idol) coming here to lend some veteran presence.
Mike had covered everything and everyone in sports, especially in the baseball world. Championships. Heartbreaks. All the best moments. And he had seen it all while having beers — and battles — with those legends he wrote about.
Yes, he was a traditionalist. “Ink-stained wretch,” his friend, Jerry Crasnick, endearingly described him the other day. For sure, his first writing experiences came during a time when a newspaper story was the first account of a game, before every event was on TV and long before every movement on a field was subject to a tweet or a blog post. Accuracy mattered.
Mike suggested we name his column “Working Press,” a term that evokes memories of a simpler, almost romantic journalism period of fedoras and trench coats. The column name fit well. Anyone who ever read him knows he put loads of effort into every column. In fact, not many columns arrived here without addendums — an extra note or two about some developing story that he wanted inserted somewhere in the column. I can vouch that Mike was accurate, but he really prided himself on being all-encompassing when it came to the Sox, Celts, Pats and Bruins.
Through it all, Mike stayed creative. He wrote about subjects that fans cared about because he was a fan, too. “A big, overgrown kid when it comes to his love of baseball,” Crasnick recalled.
When speculating, Mike didn’t always hit the target — Tom Brady would stay in New England, he kept insisting earlier this year — but it was fun, train-of-thought banter with some depth.
Then there were times he drilled the target: After Brady became a Buc, the Pats would not tank, he predicted. “Let’s see how creative (Bill) Belichick gets in his quest to show the world something good can happen with Brady gone,” wrote our columnist.
Always, there were strong opinions on the steroid era and who belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mike was a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and a proud Hall of Fame voter. He took his vote very seriously.
During the four years Mike wrote for us, I met with him twice. Once came at a book signing at the Barnes & Noble on South Willow Street in Manchester. He supplied the words and his friend, photographer Steve Babineau, supplied 40 years worth of Red Sox photos for a book called “The Hometown Team.” It’s on my coffee table. The three of us chatted briefly about sports and life.
The second time came when my wife and I attended a Sox game and Mike invited us to come up to the Fenway Park press box to see him. The press box was his office, really. Between writing and being the official scorer for games, he was a fixture there, kind of like Cheers for Norm Peterson. Everyone knew “Shales.” Photos were taken with the gracious host and we made some more small talk. It was a nice visit.
We extend our condolences to Mike’s partner, Mary, his three sons and his family and friends. Our sports pages will be a much lesser place without him.