Out of the Ballpark
What are top athletes really like? Ask sportswriter Jackie MacMullan '82

Jackie MacMullan '82 was there when it happened. A moment so devastating that Red Sox fans still wince at the mere mention of it. 1986. Shea Stadium. Game 6. Bottom of the 10th. Twice the Sox came within a single strike of winning their first World Series in 75 years, but they had already squandered their lead when Mets left fielder Mookie Wilson hit a weak ground ball. It bounced beneath the mitt of first baseman Bill Buckner, scooted between his legs, and dribbled away. The Red Sox had lost the game, and Shea Stadium erupted.

Up in the press box, MacMulllan got her orders: Wait on Buckner. The 26-year-old reporter wasn't the most seasoned of the 10 Boston Globe sportswriters at the game. But she was fast, and the paper's 1 a.m. deadline loomed, less than an hour away. Down in the Red Sox clubhouse, she watched as cartloads of champagne and T-shirts were hastily wheeled out. Then a grim calm settled on the room; Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd sobbed in the corner. A full 45 minutes passed before Buckner emerged from the showers to face a phalanx of TV cameras. Speaking so softly that MacMullan had to strain to catch his words, he described the ground ball as if in slow motion: "It was bouncing, bouncing, bouncing . . . then it went under."

MacMullan raced back up to the press box to patch together her quotes as best she could. Adrenaline threatened to curdle into panic as her boss, sports editor Vince Doria, hovered at her shoulder. "You've gotta get it in," he kept saying. "You've gotta get it in."

"It was the saddest story in Boston sports history," she says, "and I had nine minutes to write it." But write it she did, and the next morning her story gave Globe readers a glimpse of Buckner quietly trying to explain himself in the glare of television lights.

Since then MacMullan has interviewed many a famous athlete for the Globe, Sports Illustrated or one of her three books. Stars like Tedy Bruschi, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley don't just talk games and stats with her, however. They have all given her compelling stories they wouldn't share with any other writer. "I write about sports," she says. "But I write about people in sports."

Before MacMullan began to write about athletes, she was an athlete herself. At five feet 11 inches, she stood out in the corridors of Westwood (Mass.) High School, and girls' basketball coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, who suspected MacMullan could become a great low-post player, invited her to try out. "She'd make fun of herself because she's one of those tall, lanky girls," says Delaney-Smith, now head coach of the women's varsity basketball team at Harvard. "You wouldn't look at the way she played and think she was that good." But that didn't matter to the coach, as long as she kept scoring.

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