An Interview with Susan Slusser
“I talk to younger colleagues who aren’t dating – they’re saying it’s a problem meeting people who understand the schedule thing and working nights and weekends.”
“I know an A’s radio guy who has put a limit on himself for checking news – he said he was just getting overwhelmed. There’s some sense to that. You can drive yourself nuts reading and following up. You have to have some life outside of it at some point.”
“There are a lot of baseball lifers – like the Cleveland guys and Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News) – and there are people who do it two or three years and say “Forget it”. It takes a certain kind of person to do it a long time…I’m pretty sure I’m a lifer. I’m not sure what else I would do.”
Susan Slusser: Interviewed on December 11, 2006
Position: Oakland A’s beat reporter, San Francisco Chronicle
Born: 1965, Monterrey, Calif. (hometown)
Education: Stanford, 1988, History, English
Career: Sacramento Bee, 1988-94; Orlando Sentinel, 94-95, Dallas Morning News 95-96, SF Chronicle 96 –
Personal: married, (to Dan Brown, San Jose Mercury News)
Favorite Restaurant (home): The Slanted Door, SF (Asian cuisine) “it’s gone down hill but you are guaranteed to get one thing as good as anything you have ever eaten”
Favorite Restaurant (road): Bread Winners Café and Bakery, Dallas “best brunch place in the world”
Favorite Hotel: Marriott Renaissance Center, Detroit “completely different than other hotels we stay at – futuristic”
“Replay of an End-Zone Love Catch”, by Daniel Brown, San Jose Mercury News, April 27, 2005:
On Sept. 8, 1990, quarterback Jeff Bridewell threw for 402 yards, UC-Davis beat Santa Clara 31-19 and I made the greatest catch in the history of Buck Shaw Stadium. It happened near the corner of the end zone in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, while waiting to conduct postgame interviews. That was when I said the first words to the woman who would become my wife.
Granted, those words were, “Bridewell had a good game,” and granted, her response was to turn and walk away, but the moment remains nonetheless historic. It was the first play of what would turn out to be an all-time upset: a girl like that with a guy like me. The Miracle on Eyes.
Susan Slusser was new to the UC-Davis beat, a luminous, rising young star for the Sacramento Bee. I was a UCD student working for the campus paper and had all the wisdom of an empty notebook. Without proper consideration for our professional gap, I attempted chitchat. The woman who would become my wife looked at me half-startled, as if I had just offered to set myself on fire, and walked away. Love at first slight!
It got better. In the weeks that followed, against St. Mary’s, Chico State and Humboldt State, the Aggies won big, and so did I. By San Francisco State, we were both close to clinching. By Hayward State, it was all wrapped up. Years later, when it was time to propose, I figured that the ideal plan was to return to what was apparently the most romantic place on earth. Getting her back to the end zone at Buck Shaw Stadium was tricky, since A. the football team disappeared after 1992 and B. there was no reason to stand in an empty field at sunset. But thanks to a combination of lies and misdirection, the foundation of any good marriage, I persuaded her to walk to the spot that used to be the end zone at Buck Shaw Stadium.
I got down on one knee, as if downing a kickoff. “Will you marry me?” She looked half-startled again. Only this time, she didn’t walk away. “Well, will you?” “Of course.” It remains the best interview I’ve ever done.
Q. Is your husband’s account of your first meeting accurate?
A. Yes. I totally big-leagued him.
Q. How many two-sportswriter couples are there?
A. There’s got to be quite a few – there’s Jen Floyd and Mac Engel (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram). A few years ago there were four couples at the Chronicle – Nancy Gay (SF Chronicle) and Mike Martinez (San Jose Mercury News) – he’s in travel now. Michelle Smith (SF Chronicle) and Jerry McDonald (Oakland Tribune). Brian Murphy (KNBR radio) and Candace Putnam Murphy (Oakland Tribune). Janie McCauley and Josh Dubow are at AP. I’m sure tons of others are just slipping my mind.
Q. Does it help a marriage?
A. Absolutely. I talk to younger colleagues who aren’t dating – they’re saying it’s a problem meeting people who understand the schedule thing and working nights and weekends. Then there’s all the travel – the travel seems to wear on people who don’t accept it as part of the job. So, yes, it helps.
Q. How long have you been married?
A. Seven years, but we’ve been together for 16 years.
Q. Do you talk shop with your husband?
A. We do, but we work at different papers in the same area, so it can be difficult – I wouldn’t want to work at the same paper. I have to be careful if I’m working on something I wouldn’t want the Mercury News to know about. It can be tricky if something is going on where we’re both involved – although there haven’t been too many instances where we covered the same thing. Once he called me from the office and I said, “Stay there” – I gave him a heads up something was coming down the pipeline – I didn’t want us both putting out calls from the same phone.
It gets strange. An assistant GM called me and said “You husband is leaving calls on my office phone – can’t you give him my cell phone?” I said no. Dan is the national football writer and national baseball writer – they’re a little football heavy at the Merc-News – 70-30 or 60-40 – so he’s not around baseball as much. But he does do a weekly baseball column.
Q. How many women are on the baseball beat?
A. Kathleen O’Brien (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram) covers the Rangers. A couple more if you throw in mlb.com.
Q. Why so few?
A. In terms of travel and schedule baseball is probably the most rigorous job in sports. It’s tough to do it with a family. We don’t have kids but I don’t know how male writers with kids do it – I’d be crazy. Other sports have a saner schedule. Football has more women – maybe they’re smart. But I really like the baseball schedule and travel.
Q. Does the culture of baseball have anything to do with it?
A. I don’t think so. I haven’t found it unwelcoming in terms of gender – I’m sure that’s changed in the last 30 years. A lot of sportswriters consider baseball to be more difficult from a media standpoint – baseball players have a reputation of being tough to deal with. But I’ve been lucky with the teams I’ve covered – I’ve been in some good clubhouses. I hear horror stories about the Raiders and 49ers – they’re difficult in terms of media access and personalities.
It’s probably the schedule more than anything. I don’t know if this sounds sexist, but I think more women are interested in football than baseball. The women writers I’m friendly with are more interested in football.
A. I don’t know – I really don’t. Obviously I’m not.
Q. Did your interest in baseball precede your job?
A. Yes. I’ve been a massive fan from the age of five or six. We lived in Alameda (Ca.) near the Coliseum after we moved back from Guam – I was the only child in a military family. On Guam the Super Bowl was the only thing they made a big deal about. When the A’s got in their first World Series in ’72 my Dad sat me down and explained it to me and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I’ve continued liking baseball since then.
Q. Is baseball a good writing sport?
A. It is and it isn’t. Just the sheer numbers of stories – the sheer output – makes it impossible for the quality to be top-notch every day. I knew this year was busy but I didn’t know how busy until I did a byline count – it came to 427 or 428 – which is just ridiculous. As a sport there are so many different things going on and so many personalities – there’s always something great to write about. If your stories aren’t primo every day it’s not a horrible thing. Every baseball game lends itself to a great story if you have the time – which we don’t – so that’s frustrating. The ironic thing is that as technology gets better and better our deadlines get earlier – my first one is 9:15 (p.m.) on the west coast. Obviously they don’t get a completed game story for that edition. I’ll send them running – I always send them 18 inches of something.
Q. Do you enjoy the time cushion when you’re in the east?
A. It’s beautiful. I feel sorry for the eastern writers. It can work in reverse too – I wasn’t at the recent winter meetings in Florida – but our writers have so much extra time they can keep filing until 3 a.m. They’re up until 4 a.m. and then they have to be back in the lobby first thing in the morning.
Q. Does it bother you to miss the winter meetings?
A. No – we sent our national writer and Giants writer because of the Bonds crap. I covered it from here and did all of the Piazza stuff by phone. It’s not a fun event to cover due to the sheer amount of hours standing in a lobby – you’re always wondering who’s that agent over there – and who is Scott Boras talking to – and who is my competitor talking to. There are bad rumors flying around, and the G.M.s tend to be on the surly side because they’re getting hammered from all directions. There’s a lot of coffee and paranoia – it’s not fun. I was happy to let John Shea have the bulk of that although he’s making noises about me going next year.
Q. After Ken Macha was fired as A’s manager in October you had the only quotes from several players – Mark Kotsay, Jason Kendall and Barry Zito – critical of Macha. How did you manage that?
A. Without betraying a confidence, I had been hearing things for some time – I was aware that something was coming down. Obviously nobody will say things on the record during the season especially with the team heading for the post-season. I was certain a move would be made when the season ended – it seemed almost unavoidable given the state of the clubhouse. Certainly they (Kotsay, Kendall and Zito) weren’t the only ones saying those things.
Q. Did any other outlets have those comments?
A. Not that I’m aware of.
Q. Is that a feather in your cap?
A. I guess. Maybe it was a matter of timing – I had been willing to wait for a certain amount of time and I would hope there was some trust built up. This was the ninth year I’ve covered the team.
Q. Sounds like a balancing act.
A. Especially when you’re on a beat. Columnists can come in and maybe take a chance – I won’t say betray a confidence – but he can write something his source wouldn’t be thrilled with at the time because he might not be back for awhile. On a daily beat you have to be careful – if somebody tells you something off the record you don’t want to burn them from a personal standpoint. You have to be persuasive and you have to wait for the time to be right to say something controversial or against the grain.
Q. How do you maintain a civil relationship with the people you cover?
A. You don’t. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had very good clubhouses to work with great personalities. That said, you’re going to write something, if you’re honest and objective, that ticks somebody off. I have a player still not talking to me for a story I did last year. He insists he was upset at the headline, and he realizes I didn’t write the headline, but he’s still not talking to me. Things happen. Not everybody is going to like you. The team doctor is irate at me for a story I did on Bobby Crosby being unhappy with his medical care. What can you do?
Q. Are there certain people you can’t afford to alienate?
A. You can’t look at it that way and do your job. If somebody looked at my job they’d say you have to stay on (GM) Billy Beane’s good side. That’s true, but at times I haven’t been. Fortunately, he understands our job. When he’s been mad at me or our columnists he says what’s on his mind and gets over it, which is great.
Q. Your take on mlb.com?
A. It seems to depend on the city – it’s uneven. It’s got some really great people like T.R. Sullivan in Dallas – he’s a good friend but I also respect the job he does as a reporter. Then there are some relatively inexperienced people in other places. I’m not sure mlb.com knows what it is at all times. I’m not 100 percent sure how to classify it. It does some things very well and provides fans a service.
Q. Is MLB really reporting on itself?
A. That’s what gives me pause about it. It’s not strictly news – it’s got a p.r. element to it. They are the league and they are covering themselves. I had this discussion with the mlb.com A’s reporter, who is a friend and someone I respect. He claims that the baseball writers don’t respect mlb.com writers, but I think it’s probably a case-by-case basis, as it would be for any newspaper writer. As I told him, “Your paychecks are signed by Bud Selig and that’s a little problematic”.
Q. Does mlb.com have an advantage on breaking news?
A. I hope not. I hope the people getting the breaks are the best reporters on the beat, or the hardest-working reporters. People will always wonder about them but I’ve never had that feeling on my beat.
Q. How do you stay informed?
A. I read a massive array of stuff – there are so many links you can link. Buster Olney (espn.com) is a must read and I try to watch Baseball Tonight and to a lesser extent SportsCenter. I read the other beat writers – not every one every day – but I really try to stay up on my division. I definitely check the headlines around the league. I’m not sure everybody does this but I check the fan sites occasionally to get a perspective on what the fans are talking about. I can get so caught up in the day to day stuff that I may miss something. I’ll look at Athletics Nation and some other good ones. The problem I have is that the good ones get too popular and then there are so many voices the level of discourse dips a little. Rabid fans tend to be very good at picking up on news, but there are a lot of bad rumors, too.
Q. Have the fan sites changed baseball writing?
A. Maybe the reporting a little bit. They can be rumor mills. When I was in Orlando people were really starting to pick up on sports on the Internet – the Magic were the only game in town and I spent a lot of time chasing Internet rumors. Everybody sees everything at once.
It’s a 24-hour job now. Ron Bergman, who covered baseball for the Oakland Tribune and Merc-News in the early 70s, laughs at how much harder our job is today. It’s a 24-365 job. When he worked, off-seasons were completely off – he wasn’t spending all day checking to see what everybody across the country had written. I know an A’s radio guy who has put a limit on himself for checking news – he said he was just getting overwhelmed. There’s some sense to that. You can drive yourself nuts reading and following up. You have to have some life outside of it at some point.
Q. How do you get away from it?
A. (laughing) I don’t know. That’s a very good question. I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I probably do obsess about work. I’ve got my husband and my friends outside of work – I enjoy traveling to see my friends – and I read (non-sports fiction) and watch movies. I’m not totally crazy but I probably should cut back on my amount of work.
Q. Is burnout a concern?
A. I don’t know – it seems to go in extremes. There are a lot of baseball lifers – like the Cleveland guys and Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News) – and there are people who do it two or three years and say “Forget it”. It takes a certain kind of person to do it a long time. I like all the lifers – I guess I now consider myself one. I’m pretty sure I’m a lifer. I’m not sure what else I would do.
Q. Sounds like you really like your job.
A. I do. But talk to me in August in Kansas City. I might sound differently.
(SMG thanks Susan Slusser for her cooperation)
Why did kotsay, kendall and zito open up to the chronicle about macha?
But Thomas opened up to the Oakland tribune:
Why did ken macha open up to the chronicle about his firing?
DISCONNECTED / GM again cuts ties with Macha
Chronicle Staff Writer
17 October 2006
© 2006 Hearst Communications Inc., Hearst Newspapers Division. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.
Two days after the A’s were eliminated from the postseason, Ken Macha was fired as the team’s manager, because of what general manager Billy Beane described as “a disconnect on several levels.”
Though Beane was careful not to spell out that disconnect, emphasizing during a news conference Monday that he alone was responsible for Macha’s ouster, the primary reason the team parted ways with a man with the second-highest winning percentage in Oakland history was that a growing number of players had issues with Macha.
“There were things that transpired over the course of the year that the players were unhappy about,” A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay said. “There’s no question there were things throughout the year, but the fact of the matter is that that by the end of the year, the players didn’t have the same feeling about the manager as they did at the start of the year — and that was at a point you’d think everybody would be happy, with a six-game lead. … I believe there was friction.”
Third baseman Eric Chavez, the longest-tenured member of the team, said several times in a phone interview Monday evening that he likes Macha and got along with him well personally, but Chavez had seen enough happening around him to realize there were problems.
“The whole thing was a weird situation for me because ever since he came here, we had a pretty good relationship, but over the last couple years, I could see things unfold, and I kept hearing things,” Chavez said. “He’s always been very open and communicative with me, and with some other players, that wasn’t true. I heard some things that were kind of disturbing. I think there are going to be a lot of guys who are happy about this.”
Many of the players thought that the tone set by Macha was gloomy, even when the club was playing well.
“The atmosphere wasn’t positive, for some reason,” Chavez said. “That was hard for us to deal with — here we are, winning the division, we’re banged up but we’re still doing what we should be doing, and every time he spoke to us, he’d say how much he appreciated the effort, but then you’d read things where he was always smashing people. … This negative cloud was just eating at everybody.”
Some of the players had the impression that Macha was miserable in his job. Starter Barry Zito, who is a big believer in the power of positive thinking, said that Macha dwelled too much on what might go wrong and that that was detrimental.
“The fact is, when you have someone leading people, you want them to be a visionary, to forge ahead and be on the front lines,” Zito said. “We felt like we were on the front lines, and he might have been with us, but he didn’t have the same conviction or faith. I think it was a fear of failure. He was a little more focused on the pessimistic stuff than on success.”
Zito was among those who felt as if Macha had not done enough to back him sometimes, especially in his final start against Anaheim in 2004, when he left after seven innings and 115 pitches. The A’s lost the lead after Zito departed, and Macha told reporters afterward that Zito had taken himself out of the game.
“I felt like he didn’t protect me,” Zito said. “I know a lot of managers do — (White Sox first baseman) Paul Konerko told me that Ozzie Guillen would take a bullet for his players. I was upset but Macha was fighting his own battle and he probably couldn’t process that kind of pressure, so, OK, I’ll wear it.”
The protection issue arose numerous times Monday.
“I know that the one thing any player wants from his manager is to be protected,” catcher Jason Kendall said. “If there’s a bang- bang play at first, even if you’re out, if you’re arguing, you want someone there behind you. If you argue a pitch, even if you’re wrong, you want someone joining in. And I’m not sure Macha did that.”
Macha’s seeming impatience with injuries also upset players. Kotsay, whose availability was uncertain at times because of a bad back, was furious when Macha said it was “puzzling” that Kotsay couldn’t play in a road game against Tampa Bay when the team had been off the day before. Two days earlier, Kotsay had described himself as having to use duct-tape simply to drag himself onto the field.
“When I got injured, I felt disrespected,” Kotsay said. “The ‘puzzling’ comment really threw me. My manager didn’t have my back, and every manager’s first business is to protect his players. That totally lost my trust in that relationship, between us as player and manager.”
Now, the A’s would like to have Beane’s back, worried that he’ll get criticized for firing a manager who just took the team to the American League Championship Series.
“I don’t want Billy to take heat for this because this is what needed to happen,” Kendall said. “If Billy is comfortable with it, we’re behind Billy. Maybe Billy saw the same thing the players saw. If Billy gets blasted in the media, it’s ridiculous. Billy’s going to get a lashing, and he shouldn’t.”
“I heard Steve Phillips on ESPN saying, ‘I don’t understand this move because those guys were playing (well) for Macha,’ ” Kotsay said. “Well, we didn’t play for him. This collective group wanted to win together, we felt we have a chance to win together, and we provided the leadership. The core guys who went out and played every day were the leaders of the team and carried us through the uncertainty. If there were problems, they were dealt with among the 25 guys.”
There were concerns from a strictly managerial standpoint, too.
“Everyone thought it was weird Kotsay didn’t hit against left- handers the last two months of the season, he’s so great defensively,” starter Dan Haren said. “And it was unfair to sit him two months against lefties and then all of a sudden throw him in there in the playoffs against tough lefties like (Johan) Santana and Kenny Rogers. I don’t think Macha handled that correctly.
“Then there were issues with the bullpen, guys being possibly overused, a lot of different issues.”
Haren noted that it probably was stressful managing under Beane, and he said, like Chavez, that he’d had a decent relationship with Macha. And when Macha was re-hired last fall, many of the players were supportive of the move.
“Deep down inside, I think he cared about the players, he just didn’t have a good way of communicating,” Chavez said. “He was always asking me about guys, he wanted to know if they were OK, but I was always the one he talked to in his office and I was probably the one who least needed to be in there.”
Macha will be paid the remaining $2.025 million remaining on his contract. The A’s will interview two internal candidates, third- base coach Ron Washington (who will interview for the Rangers’ managerial job today) and bench coach Bob Geren, for the managerial spot. Others on Beane’s list last year when Macha briefly left the team during a contract stalemate were former Phillies manager Larry Bowa, former Texas pitching coach Orel Hershiser and Colorado coach Jamie Quirk. A strong possibility for an interview this time: Angels pitching coach Bud Black. —————————————— —————