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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Last Monday night at the Walpole Library, Mike Shalin and Steve Babineau spent the better part of an hour telling Red Sox, Bruins, and, to a lesser extent, New York Yankees stories to an intrigued audience that included former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan.
Babineau has spent decades photographing the Red Sox and the Bruins, but having already written a book based on his hockey photography, he connected with longtime sportswriter Mike Shalin to create “The Hometown Team: Four Decades of Boston Red Sox Photography.”
Essentially, the book combines Babineau’s photography with Shalin’s retrospective stories about the pictures, which led to Shalin having to track down a variety of former Red Sox players. Shalin was surprised how open the ex-athletes were to talk, considering the Red Sox-media relationship wasn’t always as good as it is today.
“The relationship between the Red Sox and the media wasn’t great before 2004,” he said. “There was some bitterness. When I reached out to the Bruce Hursts of the world, I was surprised how receptive they were to my call.”
Shalin spoke of the many athletes he’s covered over the years, having written the biographies of both Don Mattingly and Oil Can Boyd. To this day, he and Marty Barrett remain friends, but his Wade Boggs stories were the most entertaining, and the strangest.
While he was covering Boggs, an incident occurred in which a man had held a knife to the third baseman’s throat. When Shalin reached out to learn what happened, Boggs told him that in the perilous moment, he had willed himself invisible. Shalin made sure Boggs understood he would be writing that, which Boggs again reiterated was exactly what happened.
Babineau got his start covering the World Hockey Association for “World Hockey News” in the days when he would have to develop film and mail it to the magazine’s offices. Of the eleven retired Bruins numbers, he has photographed eight of the retirement ceremonies.
A former semi-pro baseball player whose career was halted due to a knee injury, he began photographing baseball as well, and credits his knowledge of the game with his ability to anticipate where to stand to get a unique picture.
“I did make it to the big leagues,” he joked, “just not with a bat and glove.”
He also used to work for Fleer Trading Cards and took the picture on the rookie cards of Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken, Jr., and the infamous Billy Ripken card that features an expletive written on the butt of the bat.
While he didn’t have any of the cards on hand, Babineau, whose son is also a photographer, brought along the six championships rings he has been given by the teams he photographs. A long-running joke was that Babineau had more rings than Tom Brady, but Brady’s recent Super Bowl win, coupled with the Bruins’ devastating Stanley Cup loss, means he can’t say it anymore.
As a sign of respect, when the Bruins last won the Stanley Cup, they tracked him down to hand him the Stanley Cup, something unheard of for a sports photographer.
“From Bobby Orr to Zdeno and Patrice,” he said, “I am Babs.”
While both men touched on modern baseball subjects, like the shift, a shot clock for pitchers, and the David Ortiz shooting, the vast majority of the night, like the book, was dedicated to reliving memories of over thirty years of cheering for The Boston Red Sox.
And since Babineau has shown no signs of stopping his photography, don’t be surprised if this book isn’t his last.