Written by Patty Rasmussen Friday, November 18 2011Snapshot: Susan Slusser, vice president, Baseball Writers’ Association of America
Elected vice president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) in October, Susan Slusser is assured of going where no woman has gone before, to the presidency of the storied organization. Slusser, a beat writer covering the Oakland Athletics for the San Francisco Chronicle, will become the first woman president of the BBWAA in October 2012.
For non-baseball fans, the BBWAA, founded in 1908, is the body of writers that, among other things, votes for such things as the Cy Young Award given to the two leagues’ outstanding pitchers, the Rookie of the Year, and Most Valuable Player Awards. Members also vote on which players are inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, although some newspapers have prohibited their writers from voting citing concerns about bias or journalistic ethics. The organization also advocates on behalf its 700-plus members for proper working conditions and, importantly, access to the players and team personnel they’re covering.
Baseball has a number of female beat writers, but they’re still a pretty unique group in any sport. Having Slusser at the helm of the BBWAA will raise their profile that much higher.
Slusser also worked for the Orlando Sentinel and Dallas Morning News before she was hired at the Chronicle in 1996. She has covered the Athletics full time since 1999. She is married to Dan Brown, a sportswriter at the San Jose Mercury News.
Womenetics: Did you always want to be a sports writer?
Susan Slusser: When I was in school – elementary, high school, and college – I wanted to be a baseball radio play-by-play announcer, and I did call Stanford baseball and football games for the student station. But I also always worked at the student paper and loved it, and after interning at a San Francisco TV station, a San Francisco radio station, and the Sacramento Bee, I was offered a full-time job at the Bee – and that kind of made my decision for me.
Womenetics: Were there other women in your sports department at the time? Any other prominent women sports writers you sought out?
Slusser: When I was at the Bee, there were two women in the department, an excellent copy editor, Jane Hughes, and a baseball writer, Susan Fornoff. I didn't ever feel the need to seek out any women in the business, but I did attend the first Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) convention, which was in Oakland during my senior year of college.
Womenetics: Did you have a mentor in the business?
Slusser: I have worked with a number of truly great, wonderful people in 22 years in the business, but I would not say I consider anyone a mentor.
Womenetics: You said you didn’t run into any obstacles, but did you ever deal with players, management, or other writers who didn’t take you seriously? If so, how did you handle that?
Slusser: I had one pitching coach ask me my first day on the job in Dallas if I knew anything about baseball, and I told him that major metro papers don't hire people to cover beats if they know nothing about the sport. He became one of my favorite people with the team in a short amount of time – I think he realized that I was doing the job professionally; I was there every day and asking the right questions. I think any time any reporter, male or female, is there every single day, the players and the coaches appreciate that you're putting in the time. Anyone who isn't taken seriously at any job can change that quickly – do the job well. Be on time. Work hard. Pay attention. I don't think it's a gender issue. I've seen plenty of male reporters who aren't taken seriously because they don't do the job professionally.
Womenetics: Who was your greatest influence in life (not just your career) and why?
Slusser: This is again one where I have had too many good people in my life to single out many, although my high school history teacher, Forbes Keaton, and her mother, Carol Keaton, taught me a lot. Forbes taught me to think critically, and Carol Keaton taught me that it's OK to say what you think.
Womenetics: I’m sure you’ve covered other sports, which ones and which did you like best? Why?
Slusser: I'm definitely a baseball writer through and through and never really want to cover anything else full time. I have also covered the NBA as a beat and enjoyed it, but as a fan, hockey is my real love. I cover it occasionally, but I'd rather keep it as a passion and not a job. At least right now.
Womenetics: A baseball beat writer is gone so much. How do you balance home/work responsibilities? What is the biggest key to making your job mesh with your family life?
Slusser: My husband also has been a baseball beat writer, and he understands. We don't have children, so that's obviously not an issue. At the Chronicle, I've always had bosses who were understanding about any family issues that come up, like elderly parents' care and the like.
Womenetics: You’ve said you reluctantly embraced the “trailblazer” tag with regard to being elected vice president of the BBWAA, putting you in line for the president’s chair. What do you hope results from your role in BBWAA leadership?
Slusser: My primary goal is to ensure that the BBWAA can continue to keep the superb access baseball writers have enjoyed for decades, though it is starting to erode with every collective bargaining agreement, just as in other sports. I want to make sure our members can do their jobs properly, with adequate access and proper facilities, strong cooperation from players, teams and their PR departments, and the league. The BBWAA exists to keep baseball writers writing, and with as few obstacles as possible. No other beat writers cover as many games or spend as many hours at a stadium, and it should be as hassle free as possible. I also want to make sure that our membership reflects the times and that any online outlets that meet our membership qualifications are added to our numbers.
Womenetics: You mentioned you were seeing a drop in women/minorities covering baseball. Why do you think that’s happening, and will you use your position to advocate on behalf of women/minorities as an association, an individual?
Slusser: It's the economy and the state of newspapers and the media in general. Every media outlet has less money and fewer resources, no one can figure out the right internet business model, and when outlets shed jobs, many of them lose the more recent hires – which in sports often seems to be women and minorities. That's my guess; I'm sure it would take an actual study to determine.
Womenetics: Do you have any idea how many airline miles you’ve logged since you started as a beat writer?
Slusser: It's been 50,000-plus for 13 years with the As, two years in Texas, and one covering the Orlando Magic. Throw in playoffs here and there and a trip to Japan and another on the way, and I really have no idea.
Womenetics: There have been a bunch of changes in the way reporters get the news out to fans. No longer are you just writing a notebook and game story, maybe a sidebar, with the occasional off-day feature. Many beat writers blog and tweet (relentlessly). What’s your take on these new responsibilities – is all this information necessary? How well are writers adapting?
Slusser: I don't mind blogging or tweeting. If that's how people want to get their news, I'll do it. It's extra work, but it's not coal-mining, it's writing about the team I cover every day. If it's all within reason, part of the regular workday, whatever the newspaper wants, I'll do. I'm sure the platforms will keep changing, but the basic part for me stays the same: reporting and writing.
Womenetics: Favorite baseball moment you covered?
Slusser: That's easy: Dallas Braden's perfect game last year. Spectacular. Everything about it, but especially his moment afterward with his grandmother, who raised him – very touching. And then later that day, I asked his sweet grandma about Braden's ongoing verbal feud with Alex Rodriguez, and she responded, "Stick it, A-Rod!" Priceless.
Womenetics: What do you do to relax, during the season, and after?
Slusser: Watch hockey.
Patty Rasmussen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. She spent 12 years covering the Atlanta Braves for ChopTalk Magazine and has written for Major League Baseball publications, Georgia Trend magazine, WebMD, and Blue Ridge Country.