Arguably the biggest unsung heroes of a major league baseball team aren’t even employed by the team. They are the journalists who travel with the team everyday to bring fans the inside coverage of every game. Susan Slusser, who covers the Oakland A’s for the SF Chronicle, is one of the best beat writers in the business. Susan answers a few of our questions about her background in journalism, the 2006 outlook for the A’s and A’s baseball without the great Bill King behind the mic.
OC: How did you get interested in sports journalism?
Slusser: From the age of 9, I wanted to be a baseball play-by-play announcer, so I did both radio and newspaper sports through high school and college and after graduating, the best job offer I had was at the Sacramento Bee, so I went the newspaper-route full time.
OC: Were you always interested in baseball or did you cover other sports?
Slusser: There's no way to be in mainstream sports media without doing everything, so I have. In terms of full-time beats, I've done college football and basketball and the NBA (the Kings and Magic), as well as baseball (Rangers and A's).
OC: Where did you work before you came to the Chronicle?
Slusser: Sacramento, Orlando, Dallas
OC: How did you come about working for the Chronicle?
Slusser: When I got a job in Dallas, my then-boyfriend, now husband, was also offered a job there, but the San Jose Mercury News made him a better offer and, at that point, we decided I'd come back to the Bay Area after the Rangers' season was over. I made a bunch of calls and wound up at the Chronicle.
OC: Do you have any writers who you particularly admire or that you try to emulate?
Slusser: Roger Angell, Scott Ostler and Tim Keown are my favorites, but there's no way to emulate them, that's just pure genius.
OC: How long have you been covering the Oakland A's?
Slusser: I'm coming up on my eighth consecutive season. I also did a lot of back-up A's and Giants work when I was in Sacramento.
OC: Do you have a favorite player to interview?
Slusser: So many, my all-time favorites in baseball are Darryl Hamilton and A.J. Hinch, but Eric Chavez and Johnny Damon aren't far behind.
OC: Did you have a favorite team growing up?
Slusser: I was an A's fan when I was very little but switched over to the Red Sox during the 1975 World Series because it was so exciting and it was latest I'd ever been allowed to stay up. Since I've been a sportswriter, the allegiances go out the window completely, as they should.
OC: What was the most exciting game you've ever covered?
Slusser: Having covering the last two ALCS's, pretty much any of those - the Aaron Boone game, the Pedro/Zimmer game, any of those when Boston came back after being down 0-3. The 1995 division series finale between the Yankees and Mariners was spectacular, too.
OC: How has the A's clubhouse personality changed from the Jason Giambi-era to the teams of 2004 and 2005?
Slusser: It's a little quieter without Giambi, Isringhausen and Damon, but it's still loose and a very good clubhouse. Just not as raucous.
OC: What was weirder to cover: Billy Beane leaving and coming back, or Ken Macha leaving and coming back?
Slusser: Macha. I wasn't that surprised by Beane, because he seemed sort of ambivalent throughout. After the Macha talks ended, both sides sounded like it was done, done, done. Very surprising.
OC: How do you think the team looks going into 2006?
Slusser: Terrific. One right-handed power hitter away from a pennant, and even without one, an excellent team that should be right there all year.
OC: What do you do during the off-season? Do you have a set schedule or does it depend on whether or not the A's make a move?
Slusser: I'm supposed to take a lot of time off, but I've never been able to take as much as I'm scheduled to, because the A's do too much. Billy Beane is too creative and too active to give the beat writers much of a breather. Some A's beat writers in past years have left the country for months just to make sure they couldn't be tracked down when Beane was wheeling and dealing. If I'm in the Bay Area, I'd rather just cover it myself, but it does make for a lot of work.
OC: What does the loss of Bill King mean to you and the team reporting on the A's?
Slusser: I'm not sure I can quantify it, but it's enormous. Bill was just an
unbelievable resource on everything: the team, the sport, history, art, restaurants, museums - if he didn't know everything, he was certainly working on it. And as you all know, just a treasure on the air. I love Ken Korach, but those first few broadcasts without Bill are going to be tough to listen to. It will never be the same. The Bay Area has been so lucky to have so much tremendous broadcasting talent, and Bill was No. 1.
OaklandClubhouse.com thanks Susan Slusser for taking the time to answer our questions. Her coverage of the Oakland A’s can be found on the San Francisco Chronicle website at www.sfgate.com.