Big League Life: Five Questions with… Baseball Beat Reporter Susan Slusser
Opening Day for the 2021 Major League Baseball season is less than a month away and so is the release of my next book, a baseball-themed novel titled, Big League Life (available March 30 on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold). While a work of fiction, it was my intention to create an authentic world filled with characters and experiences that ring true. To do this, I relied heavily on exhaustive research and first-hand accounts from many people within the game — the people who make the “big league life” their life. One such person being the subject of today’s “Five Questions with…” post, Susan Slusser.
Slusser is a baseball lifer. She began her career covering the Texas Rangers for the Dallas Morning News in the mid-1990s before sports writing stints with the Sacramento Bee and Orlando Sentinel. A longtime Oakland Athletics beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, her beat is shifting to the San Francisco Giants heading into the 2021 season after more than two decades covering the A’s. Formerly, Slusser served as the President of the Baseball Writer’s Association and she is an accomplished author in her own right, having published two baseball-themed books in recent times. Truly, she’s the very best at what she does; be sure to follow her on Twitter at @susanslusser, read everything she writes, and if you’re in the Bay Area, support local journalism and get yourself a subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle.
As I began writing beat reporters into Big League Life, it was important to me to get the details right. Life in the press box is a life on the road; beat reporters serve as the eyes and ears of baseball fans and endure late nights, long flights, and relentless deadlines. Susan was kind enough to spend a little time with me and I’m pleased to provide a small window into the life of a baseball beat reporter.
What deadlines do you encounter whenever you’re covering a baseball game?
Everyone files one game story instantly to the internet when the game ends. After racing down to get quotes, deadlines vary enormously by outlet (internet outlets don’t really have deadlines necessarily and different newspapers have different press times), but you can assume everyone is probably trying to file a final story within 30–45 minutes of returning upstairs to the press box. 11 p.m. or around there is typical, but some nights my deadline can be as early as 10:45. Extra innings can sometimes mean that the press run has to be stopped for baseball game stories, and that’s expensive so sometimes papers opt not to run the final game story if there are extra innings. But usually you can get something in up until 11:30 or midnight, even if it’s not going to make many editions.
Pregame notebooks are filed before the game, usually by about 6 p.m., though this is almost impossible on the road, when visiting teams take batting practice second. On the road, filing a notebook at game time and missing dinner entirely is something of a norm.
You’d also file breaking internet stories during the game if someone was injured or did something extremely notable.
Can you walk me through the process of leaving the press box after a game to, eventually, heading home? What is that orchestration like — timing of managerial press conference, post-game player interviews, finalizing story, etc.?
The manager speaks, usually in an interview room, 10 minutes after the game. The clubhouse is then open, and players speak, usually [in] group interviews. If I can hit an 11 p.m. deadline, I leave then, and if not, I leave whenever I can file my story, but [I’m] usually done by midnight at the latest.
What personnel do you interact with between arrival and departure, outside of players and coaches?
It depends on the day, but [it] could be a huge range of people. Always PR people: they are in the clubhouse and the press box, as is the traveling secretary. Always security, equipment guys, clubhouse staff, grounds crews, and just team employees wandering around, could be all sorts of people around. Scoreboard guys, marketing people, front office execs. I mean, everyone works there so you’re bound to see most of them a lot of the time!
Can I assume some level of camaraderie among beat writers? Is there interaction with beat writers from visiting teams?
People are people so you like some and not others, like any other job; some are great and some are annoying, some are professional and some are unprofessional. In this case, you are also competitors, so there is not always necessarily camaraderie, and it’s an incredibly long and time consuming season, which can make for getting on each others’ nerves by the end of the season. Visiting media sit in the press box and if they’ve covered the team more than a year or two you’d know them. Especially with spring training, playoffs, winter meets, there is a great deal of friendship between beat writers of different teams, especially if they’ve done it for a long time.
Assuming you don’t travel with the team … do you travel with other writers?
In a place like the Bay Area with multiple airports, writers tend to fly out of whatever airport is near them and because we all have different carriers, there isn’t that much overlap. I often am on flights with a writer who also flies out of the same airport or carrier, but we don’t schedule things to do so. We’ll share a cab if we wind up on the same flight, but if someone prefers the first flight out and someone else likes going later then no one is going to coordinate flights.
Watch this space; The second piece in this series will post next Thursday.