Exclusive With Henry Schulman on General Manager’s Tempers, Michael Lewis’s Potential Stockholm Syndrome and Much More

Giants fans, of course, are familiar with Henry Schulman who I once called our knight-in-shining-armor beat writer (true story- you can read that here).  He writes the Giants beat for the San Francisco Chronicle and yesterday he very generously agreed to let me interrogate- I mean, interview- him, for this blog.  A big round of applause for people who are good sports with us bloggers!  You can read Henry’s fabulous work at www.sfgate.com and follow him on Twitter @hankschulman.  Without further ado…

So first of all, tell us the abbreviated story of your life- where you grew up, went to college and how you eventually ended up writing sports for the Chronicle.

Well, the Reader’s Digest version is: I grew up in LA, went to Fairfax High School and then I went to Northridge for a couple years and then Cal.  I kind of always wanted to be in some sort of journalism.  I actually wanted to be a radio announcer when I was a kid, but then I got caught up in Watergate when I was in high school, like a lot of kids my age, and I decided I wanted to be the next Woodward or Bernstein.  So I went to school, got a Political Science degree at Cal and actually started working as a news reporter.  I didn’t do sports initially.  I worked for a bunch of little papers in the Central Valley and here in the Bay Area and then I got hired by the Oakland Tribune in ’85 to do business- I was a financial writer.  That’s kind of where my career was heading, covering high tech, Silicon Valley sort of stuff.  Then two years later the All Star Game was in Oakland and they knew I liked baseball at the Trib, so I went out and did the fan stories for the front page.  Later that year, the Tribune had some financial troubles and eventually sold.  They had buyouts and a lot of people on the staff left.  One of them was a guy named Nick Peters, who was the Giants writer and he took a buyout and went to the Sacramento Bee.  The sports editor knew I liked ball and we got along well when we were working together during the All Star Game in Oakland that summer so I told him I’d love to come work for him and he said, “How ‘bout the Giants beat?”  I said, “I’ll give it a shot.”   So five seasons at the Oakland Tribune doing Giants baseball and then I lost my job when the Tribune got sold and went to the San Francisco Examiner for five years.  The first three years I didn’t cover baseball because no beat was open.  Then in ’96 the Giants writer left, he went up to Seattle, and my old boss, gave me the Giants job.  I was there two years and then the Chronicle job came open and I jumped ship.  I’ve been there ever since, since ’98.

So then the pressing question would be, what team were you a fan of growing up?

The Dodgers.  Yes, I was a Dodger fan.  I grew up going to games with my dad- he sold Union 76 gas and they were a Dodgers sponsor, so he would always get free tickets for really good seats.  When I was older, there was a bus I could take, just a block from my house and it went right up and down the hill from Dodger Stadium, so my friends and I would take that.

I know in one of your recent articles you said “don’t ask me this question” but I feel the need to ignore that and ask anyway… do you think we might see Brian Wilson’s beard disappear next year? 

Well, first of all, did you see on Twitter today, the pictures of him with the beard?

Yeah, I did.  (You can see the photo right here, y’all.)

I mean, I don’t think he can because he makes too much money off of it.  It’s one of those things where guys often will shave because of superstition, if things are going bad.  I’ve actually known his publicist forever and we’re good friends and I told her, “Hey, why not do a charity thing where you have an auction and then you auction off the right to snip off his beard?”  She thought it was a great idea.  But I’d say no, for now.

Probably just wishful thinking on my part.  Anyhow, on another topic… what is the best press box in the Major Leagues, judging by a criteria of view and food?

[Laughs.]  Ours, really.

Really?

Yeah.  Because we’re low, we’re very low, compared to other ones and the food that they have is very good.

What’s the best food that they have?

So every stadium has a press dining room and [at Giants stadium] they just do a good job with it.  It’s a buffet and there are – Dylan’s gonna jump all over this if he sees it! – two entrees, usually, but there’s always a healthy option, a good salad bar and soup.

I’ll just include the healthy option part.

That’s usually what I go for, but there’s fried chicken on Fridays and that’s what I go for then.  But the view is also really good.  Houston was the best, because it not only had a good view, but it had a direct stairway from the press box to the clubhouse, which ours doesn’t have.  But they moved theirs, they decided to sell luxury boxes there, so they moved the press box upstairs.

Now speaking of the Dylan you mention above- that is Dylan Hernandez, for those who don’t know-  I think we all want to know, how did the Twitter war start?  How did it all begin?

It’s a good story.  First of all, you should know that Dylan and I are really good friends and in fact, I taught him a lot about baseball writing and he would admit that if you asked him.  He worked for the Merc [San Jose Mercury News] and he was doing baseball for them up here and he asked me a lot of questions.  I talked him through a lot of stuff and he got a job at the LA Times.  Whenever that started, not last year, but the year before, I think, he had just started his Twitter account and I already had a few thousand followers.  So he just walked over to me on Opening Day in LA and he goes, “Hey, why don’t you do me a favor and insult me on Twitter?  Because if you insult me, your followers will follow me.”  So I just threw an insult at him and he came back to me later in the night and said, “Man!  I just got forty followers!  Insult me again!”  So that’s how it started.  We started insulting each other and it just sort of got a life of its own.  It’s like a boulder rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

This may be a question you get a lot, but I’m always curious to ask real journalists, how do you feel Twitter has changed the playing field?  What are the pros and the cons of the prevalence of social media?

It’s completely changed my job.  When I started in the business in the early 80s, it was really no different than how they did newspapers in the 20s and 30s.  You spent the day gathering news and if you had a scoop, you just tried to keep it as secret as you could.  You would do everything you could to make sure that nobody else found out, you’d keep it a dead secret, and then the first time anyone would hear about it would be when they picked up the paper the next morning and looked at it.  Then blogging came along and that actually started the immediacy and then came Twitter.  Nowadays, reporters judge scoops by seconds.  The national guys like Jon Heyman [CBS] and Ken Rosenthal [FOX] and Jerry Crasnick [ESPN] literally have to have it two seconds before anybody else does.  So there’s no thought that goes unwritten.  You don’t hold on to anything.  Unless you’re just one hundred, thousand percent sure that you’re the only person who knows something and then you just want to wait until you can get upstairs and write it in context.  Tweeting has gotten so pervasive that actually this year new rules are going into place in the Major Leagues to limit reporters from tweeting inside the clubhouse and during press conferences.

The pros are that it’s more of a direct way for athletes to interact with fans, because they can get their message across and it’s easier for us to get our message across.  As reporters, we get to be a little more intimate with our readers and that’s a good thing.  The bad thing is that it’s all noise, there’s so much noise out there.  Especially, and this is just one example, in player acquisitions and free agency.  There is so much crap that goes out- it’s endless.  99% of that is pure… nothingness.  It’s lies, it’s rumors, it’s innuendo.  Someone can just tweet something and all of a sudden I get a call from my boss saying, “Hey, what about this?” and I say, “There’s nothing to it.  This is how it got started.”  And the reader or the casual fan really has no idea what’s true and what’s not true.  So part of the role of the reporter is to be the sifter.  I don’t know if you bake, but you know how you sift flour?

Yeah, definitely, I bake.  [Editor’s Note: Ryan Braun-themed cupcakes, mostly.]

So all the crud stays on the top, the stuff you’re not going to use and then the real stuff comes out at the bottom.  So that’s our job, to offer perspective and I think you’ll notice, if you go back through my Twitter timeline and my blogs, that I don’t deal in rumors.  I don’t print anything unless somebody who should know tells me.

Which us fans appreciate very much, of course. 

Even I need to be more careful what I say, because I’ve gotten in trouble, more than once.

Have you?

Yeah, from the company.

Care to share examples?

Once I retweeted a tweet that had a curse word in it and my editor called to remind me that everything I tweet shows up on a feed that goes on the front of www.sfgate.com and that our corporate bosses in New York read that.  And I didn’t even use the curse word, I was just retweeting it.  So I gotta be careful.

I’m a big General Manger fan, so I have to ask you about Brian Sabean.  What is he like to deal with and overall, what can you tell us about him?

The first thing you have to understand from a reporter’s perspective is that he comes from the Yankees and the Yankees are a very paranoid organization.  The front office is just filled with paranoia.  So that’s how he kind of “grew up”.  He only trusts very few people in the organization and really, not very many reporters at all.  I’ve had a relationship with Brian that has ranged from, on one end, respectful, not friendly but respectful, and on the other end, volatile.  He has a terrible temper, he’s quick to snap and anybody who’s ever worked for him would tell you that.  He’s very loyal, however, and the people who he trusts would tell you there’s probably no better boss to work for.

But you can ask a question sometimes and you’ll think it’s a fair question but he’ll just start screaming at you.  When the Giants signed Renteria, I wrote my story and I quoted an unnamed executive in the National League that said that last year or the year before, when he played for the Braves, he looked like he was a hundred years old.  Sabean didn’t call me or talk to me, didn’t tell me anything about it, but then he didn’t talk to me at all for about four months.  He just wouldn’t return my calls.

Then last Spring Training- I don’t know if you remember this- but right early in Spring Training, Brian Wilson hurt his back and while he was rehabbing, he jetted off to LA for the weekend to be with Charlie Sheen, who was in the middle of his “Tiger Blood” and “winning” thing.  I saw Sabean upstairs in the office at Scottsdale Stadium, so I said to him, “Hey, do you have a reaction to Brian Wilson going off to Charlie Sheen?” and he just went off on me saying, “How can you f*****g ask me that?  You’re just trying to bait me and get me to say something bad about him.”  I said, “Look, this is a rehabbing player with a back injury and he’s getting on a plane and going and doing this and that.”  So you know, he screamed at me and I don’t usually scream back, but I held my own and then that was it.  We had our thing and then the next day we were fine.

Interesting stuff!  I think General Managers often come across as pretty bland in the press, so it’s fascinating to hear what Sabean is like, a little bit more.

They’re not bland people, they just come off bland because they don’t want to tip their hands a lot.

On a different topic, have you seen the Moneyball movie and if so, what were your thoughts about it?

Having read the book, my first thought was that they really did focus very narrowly on one part of the book.  I mean, I thought the best part of the book was the stuff about the draft and they couldn’t really address that in the movie, because they had to make a hero and a villain.  I know Art Howe and he’s not the idiot that they portrayed him to be.  The narcissism of Billy Beane is how he is and I know Grady Fuson, too- he’s the scout- but I wasn’t on the inside, so I don’t know if his relationship with Billy was really as disrespectful as it seemed to be at the beginning of the movie.

My thought on Moneyball the book was that Michael Lewis sort of got the Stockholm Syndrome, after being embedded with Billy Beane for a while and he drank the Kool-Aid.  I’m mixing metaphors here, but the whole, “There’s only one way to do it and this is the right way and any other way is the wrong way,” came across in the movie.

I thought the movie was very entertaining, I thought it was a good snapshot of one part of the book and a period of time in the Oakland A’s, but I don’t think it was groundbreaking by any means.

I don’t know how much you’ve worked with Billy Beane, but I’d love to hear about him as well.

Well, Billy’s a player.  There are some people who never stop being players and he also has a temper.  I don’t usually see it because I don’t interact with him on a daily basis like Susan Slusser [A’s beat writer for the Chronicle] does, for instance, but I’ve heard from Susan that he can have a temper.  A lot of the personality traits in the movie are like Billy- he’s always stuffing food in his mouth and he does like to work out in the locker room while the game is going on.

I think he’s a heck of a General Manager.  I think he’s a really funny guy, but I do think he still thinks of himself as one of the 25 guys in the locker room, more than one of the suits in the front office.

Come back tomorrow for part two of the interview, in which we discuss predictions and anti-predictions, Bud Selig (obsession of mine, yes), Fan Fest and Spring Training pro tips and much more.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Exclusive With Henry Schulman on General Manager’s Tempers, Michael Lewis’s Potential Stockholm Syndrome and Much More

  1. Great interview. Thank you for sharing.
    -Kevin

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