Saturday, August 13, 2016


Dear readers, I wrote this for the Oakland Tribune in August, 1991, 25 years ago this month.
You are 9 years old and it is August, and you understand nothing about dog days and stretch drives and pennant fever. You only know that come Sunday, for the first time in your life, you will see baseball played in three dimensions, not behind a flat, black-and-white screen.
You ride shotgun in your father's '59 Chevy Bel Air, the one with the tail fins that look like Catwoman's eyes. The tickets sit in an envelope that won't leave your hands. Stuck there. As the signs for the ballpark appear, you crane your neck every which way to steal your first glance of a major-league baseball stadium
Your dad makes the final turn and it appears before your eyes in one bold stroke. Your brain can't process the image fast enough. They showed you pictures of the Taj Mahal in the third grade, but the Indian palace is nothing more than a Lego project compared to the ballpark, its perfectly rounded frame, the flags stationed beyond center field, the thousands of cars that surround it like moths around a porch light.
Once inside your senses are simply overpowered by grass as green as green should be, a diamond as perfect as anything your mother has shown you through a jewelry-store window, the smell of hotdogs being grilled, vendors tossing double bags of roasted peanuts to patrons 20 years away and the patrons chucking quarters back, the fat lady next to you scratching her pencil across a scorebook you don't understand while taking up both armrests, your first view of a real fly ball and how it seems to hang in the air eternally, the sound of 30,000 people cheering as one.
Your dad is sitting next to you. Your team loses 3-2, but it's hard to be disappointed. It's a day you'll never forget, your first major-league baseball game.
You celebrate August.
You are 14 years old and you do understand dog days and stretch drives and pennant fever. You are at the stadium with your dad, this time chauffeured in a 1970 Impala . . . no tail fins, just a lot of car. The stadium looks smaller but the hot dogs smell s juicy as ever. You think less about your father next to you and more about your little sister at home, and revel in the knowledge that you're here and she's not.
The final score means more because you know your team is fighting for a pennant. A win, and you feel good on the ride home; a loss, and you sulk. Later in the evening you and your father argue about whether you can have money for this or permission to do that, and you go to bed angry.
You are 23 years old and you love 400 miles from home. Baseball is more than a pastime, it's an obsession. You visit a different ballpark than the one from your youth and you go with friends. You use your own money and your own car. The stadium is just a building, the hot dogs just an expense. You don't think much about your father; you hardly talk to him. Your new team stinks, but you go every week because it is late summer and it is where you should be.
You celebrate August and you celebrate the game, because it is bigger than you or your father or your friends or your team.
You are 28 years old and you write about baseball for a living. You still live 400 miles from your youth, but you talk to your dad more. Old bad feelings are wisely forgotten as youth matures into adulthood. It is November and you are back home, and you use your connections to score two 50-yard-line seats to the NFL team that you watched with your father when the leaves turneded brown. Because of your job, you can't spend August afternoons together anymore.
You pull into the stadium in your car, a little Honda, two of which could have fit into your dad's Impala. You sit and watch the game, and the enjoyment on his face as he watched the game, knowing full well his spark is not drawn from the field, but from you, and the fact that your are there.
You are 31 years old and it is August. You are sitting in the baseball press box covering a game and the phone rungs. It's your father, from 400 miles away, and he's watching the game on cable. He wants to know about a certain play, why the umpire ruled the way he did. He wants to know why his favorite team, the one you watched together in days gone by, has started to stumble.
You are struck by a warm feeling that things are good, even if you are not close. You look out your press box window and see fathers and sons.
You see the game unfold before them, and you celebrate August.

Postscript: The father and the son had 40 more years together after that first ballgame before the father passed away, beloved, after a long and interesting life.

Ella, Henry and Ben Schulman, 2008. Two months later, Ben left us.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Giants make major cuts, pick their backup catcher

Andrew Susac, gone.
Hunter Strickland, gone.
Juan Perez, gone.
All three members of the Giants 2014 World Series team were optioned to Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday morning, as the front office all but set the 25-man roster.
Hector Sanchez appears to be the backup catcher, winning a job he wondered if he ever would do again after a series of concussions last year.
Nonroster invitee Justin Maxwell apparently will make the team as a backup outfielder, although neither he nor Sanchez has been told they are on the team.
Strickland's chances of making the team were dim from the beginning of spring training because there really was one bullpen job up for grabs, and two candidates, Jean Machi and George Kontos, are out of major-league options.
That decision remains, as well as a backup infield slot for either Ehire Adrianza or Matt Duffy. Duffy has minor-league options. Adrianza does not.
Susac clearly was caught off guard by the decision to start the year in Triple-A.
"It's bittersweet, I guess," he said. "It's frustrating. I"m not happy about it, but I'm not going to let it get me down. That's not my personality. I can see the reasons behind it. It will be nice to get consistent at-bats when I come up, if I come up."
Susac was an integral part of the World Series championship team. He hit .273 in 95 plate appearances as Buster Posey's backup and caught well, but the 25-year-old had less than 1,000 plate appearances in the minors and no doubt want him to get more game-calling experience.
Sanchez entered camp as a long shot. After concussions shut him down last season, he went to winter ball in Venezuela and was asked by the Giants not to catch, just hit. He admitted Sunday morning that when he got to camp he was fatigued just catching bullpen sessions.
But now, he said, his body feels good.
Asked if he thought he might not catch again after last year, he said, "Yes, absolutely. In my mind, I can't play anymore baseball. I was just trying to be focused  in the offseason, just to get ready an do what I have to do to be a catcher. I just want to do what I love."
The Giants made other moves that were expected.
They optioned Adam Duvall and Gary Brown to Sacrament. They also reassigned to minor-league camp nonroster catcher, infielder Guillermo Quiroz, infielder Brandon Hicks, and pitchers Juan Gutierrez and Brett Bochy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When it's bird versus cop, the feathers will fly

Yeah, the San Francisco Ball Scribe blog is back after a mere three-year hiatus. Sorry it took so long. I had a cold.

Actually, I had more than a cold. I had a lot of things happen in my life that made it hard for me to be funny. I lost my passion for a lot of things, including this little modest attempt at humor and insight into the life of a major-league beat writer.

I have felt a lot better lately and wondered how I could reintroduce this blog, which ended so abruptly. I was kind of stuck...until the pelican came into my life.

This pelican:

Or whatever the hell bird this is supposed to be.

First off, I apologize for the fuzziness of the picture. I was laughing my head off when I took it Sunday.

Here's the scene: I and my fellow scribes are inside the tunnel at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg waiting to be let into the clubhouse for our postgame chat with Bruce Bochy. Usually we wait about 10 minutes after the final out before we are let inside.

Later that day, a college baseball game was to be played in the stadium and this bird apparently is a mascot for one of the teams.

The Pelican and his "handler," the guy in the rainbow shirt, were just moseying inside the tunnel when this security guard intercepted them. The bird apparently failed to produce the proper credentials to be inside that tunnel.

I'm not exactly sure what that credential would look like, but I sure as hell would like to be there when they shoot the photo for it. I imagine the bird flapping its wings and running in circles and the photographer yelling, "Stand still, dammit."

The best part about this was the way the pelican was pacing back and forth with its arms folded as his handler got on the phone trying to reach the proper authorities, and I love the expression on the bird's face -- the perfect indignation for this entire episode.

I really wanted to walk over and say, "Hey, buddy, don't lay an egg!" But this wasn't my fight.

I also have to love the vigor and determination with which the security guard was doing her job. I seriously doubt she thought that this was the start of a great Al Qaeda plot, but she had rules to follow and no blob of feathers was going to sneak past her. The ever-increasing anger of Rainbow Guy the longer this went on made it even funnier.

So, we writers are watching all this and busting a gut. That's a problem, because the Giants lost a one-run game, and anytime the team you cover loses you are expected to show decorum when you walk into the manager's office for the postgame interview. We call it the "game face."

We didn't have our game faces on, and the longer this bird-versus-cop standoff went on the harder it became to make an effort of solemnity.

Finally, a woman who works for the Rays strode along the tunnel and told the security guard the bird and rainbow guy were OK. The guard protested about the lack of credential but finally gave in.

We thought we would have a few moments to gather ourselves, but this then this fellow below, completely unrelated to the Pelican, happened by, and now we writers are peeing our pants laughing.

The best part about the photo is the security guard at the clubhouse door, watching this scene as if he were a funeral director during a memorial service.

No smiles, no laughs, as if he sees this creature a hundred times a day.

I'm a pretty jolly fellow, and I have a tough time keeping a straight face when I get into a laughing fit. I really thought for a moment I'd have to stay outside before going into Bochy's office.

But I lucked out. General manager Brian Sabean was on the trip and he apparently went into Bochy's office after the loss for a talk with the manager. We were kept out of Bochy's office for a good 15 minutes, maybe more.

Usually we'd be angry about that. Not on this day. We were grateful.

Now, I'm just trying to imagine pelican going home after the game, sitting on the couch, pulling his head off (or leaving it on, if that's how he rolls), popping open a cold one and telling his significant other, "Man, you wouldn't believe this hard-ass security guard I had to deal with."

It's enough to make a good bird molt.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rain delay contest entries

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The best e-mail I've received in a long time

Some time ago, I blogged about buying my 78-year-old mother a device called the Mailbug, whose only purpose is to send and receive text-only e-mails. It's popular with seniors who don't have computers because it's easy to use.

She used it to send me an e-mail after tonight's games. a 6-3 Giants win over Arizona and the Padres' 2-1 victory against Los Angeles. I will share it in its entirety. You should know that she has never been to a professional baseball game, will not watch one on TV, and could not explain a single rule about the sport, which is what made this so precious.

Here it is:

To: Henry Schulman

From: Ella Schulman

Subject: Dodgers

"It looks like they can't hit a side of a barn from one foot away. It is up to the Giants to keep winning, like they are doing.


I should introduce her to Lasorda.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Celebrating life on the road not taken

My first real time away from home was my junior year at college. I went to Cal, where campus cops looked the other way at marijuana, dorm-room fridges were stocked with cheap beer and there was a 50-50 chance that any mushroom you consumed was not the kind you could procure at Berkeley Bowl.

So I had to laugh the following summer when I returned home to Los Angeles, my dad offered me a shot of whiskey and my mom said, "Ben, don't teach him to drink." Parents are the bomb, aren't they?

I think of that every time I visit my mom in Los Angeles, as I did this week. Though alone now, she still rattles around the same rent-controlled, three-bedroom apartment to which we moved during my senior year of high school. It's a nice place that I actually discovered because I was a fat little boy.

My folks were looking to move to a bigger place. One Sunday morning I grabbed the keys so I could drive five blocks (shaddup!) to Winchell's donuts, even though I needed to stuff more fried sugar cakes into my maw as much as people in Barrow, Alaska, need sunscreen. I had to turn right onto Havenhurst Drive, and being a good little motorist I looked to my left for traffic and saw the for-rent sign.

My folks were not drinkers. Both of their fathers were a little too enamored with the drop and neither wanted to follow the same path. So I found it funny that after I moved away for good my parents bought one of those standalone bars with two stools and storage shelves behind for all the bottles they received as gifts and never opened. They stuck it right in my old room. I'm pretty sure there used to be a "Dogs Playing Poker" painting behind the bar. Maybe my mom sent it to Sotheby's for appraisal.

Visiting my old room reminds me of how close I came to moving back home after college. I had a political science degree, which oddly enough opened few doors to $100,000-a-year jobs. I had no job lined up aside from the few dollars I earned covering Berkeley City Hall for the Daily Cal. Days before I was to load my worldly possessions into my orange Datsun B-210 for the drive down I-5, I got a tip that the Chronicle needed a Berkeley stringer. I phoned the editor in charge and he hired me over the phone. I'd get a $200 monthly retainer plus a few bucks for each story that got published, and let me tell you, when you get paid by the piece you become a real noodnik ("Hey, editor, two garbage cans near Wheeler Hall went up in flames. You want 500 words?"). Good thing there was no caller ID back then or he'd have blackballed my number.

So I stayed in Berkeley, renting a place with my buddies Steve and Gene above a Chinese restaurant on San Pablo Avenue. For half a year, I subsisted on Daily Cal and Chronicle stringer money and even managed to save a few bucks. I used those clips to get a sort of internship in Sacramento, which helped me land a job at a weekly paper in the Central Valley and so on and so on to my current gig covering the Giants at the Chronicle.

The decision I made that June day in 1981, to stay in Northern California despite the fear of being broke and no mom-and-dad cushion (and nobody to teach me to drink), proved to be an even bigger cornerstone in my life than I would have imagined. Because I managed to keep myself clothed and swimming in glazed donuts, I learned that it's OK to take risks.

How different my life would have been had I returned to Los Angeles. Dad would have turned me into a full-fledged alkie and the 'rents would have persuaded me to give up this ridiculous notion of writing for a living.

Being Jewish in Los Angeles is akin to being in the Mafia in New York. Whenever I needed something -- a suit, a bike -- my dad would say, "Don't go to the store. I know a guy..." I'm sure one of those "guys" would have employed me in a respectable trade. At this moment, I could be the top-selling wall-to-wall carpet salesman in the West San Fernando Valley territory.

Nothing wrong with that. You can't cut a mean rug on the dance floor without the rug. And I'll bet I'd be happy, too, because I'd be so close to family and not even realize how much of a dump Los Angeles really is.

The moral: Don't be afraid of the dark. Take a chance. Follow Robert Frost's advice and choose the road not taken.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go teach a couple of baseball writers to drink.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My name is Henry Schulman and I am a newspaperman

God I love that word, "newspaperman." Yeah, it's sexist. It harkens and era when newsrooms were full of men aside from the writers for the "women's pages" and the rare trailblazing woman who didn't gave a rat's backside about fitting into the old boy's network and went to work for newspapers because she loved the thought of it. We are lucky indeed that so many great women now work as journalists.

Yeah, I'm a reporter, and a sportswriter, and a scribe, and a hack, and a baseball writer, and I love being all of them. But a newspaperman is different. He is someone who might have worked with Hildy Johnson in "The Front Page," who smoke and drank and reveled in the camaraderie and actually garnered respect from the public, which saw newspapers as an important watchdog that fought corruption and toiled for the little guy.

I knew newspapermen. The teacher for my first college news writing class was a man named Maynard Hicks. He must have been a 80 then, and that was more than 30 years ago, and he told stories about working in newsrooms of the 20s and 30s, an era when the Internet and even television would have been laughed off as science fiction, when newspapers were king, when big cities like San Francisco had a half-dozen of them and all were important.

I first got the bug in high school, when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down President Nixon. God, that was a heady time for the business. Two guys holding 50-cent pens and two-dollar notebooks asked the right questions and brought down a corrupt president. Who wouldn't want to be Woodward and Bernstein

As a high school journalist I toured the Los Angeles Times in the old Times-Mirror building in downtown Los Angeles. The first sensation was the smell of the ink as soon as you walked into the lobby. The presses were in the building. It was like liquor to me. Writing for the Fairfax High Gazette, I listed the winners of the recent swim meet and editorialized about the need for new band uniforms. Not exactly Watergate, but my name appeared atop it and it felt so good.

Fast forward to age 25, when I got hired at the Oakland Tribune. The Trib Tower in Oakland was the LA Times all over again, an old building, presses downstairs, the smell of ink and, best of all, working with older cats who back in the day were real newspapermen. My desk mate was old-timey guy who smoked cigars in the newsroom. I didn't care. I loved the scent. Then, smoking was banned in the newsroom. he bought cases of grape Bubble Yum to ease the withdrawal and told me I could grab as much as I wanted. One morning, I walked into the newsroom and learned that he died the night before. He had just gotten married. Another newspaperman gone.

A great story from the Trib. There was a newspaperman there who liked the sauce. In his later years, he did rewrite. Reporters who covered accidents, murders, government meetings, etc. phoned in and dictate stories. One reporter was covering a meeting in Berkeley at which activists were complaining about stronghand tactics by immigration officials. The reporter phoned in a quote that went something like, "We're tired of the INS coming in here and disrupting our town." In the paper the next day, the rewrite man had written, "We're tired of the iron ass coming in here and disrupting our town." Got by all the editors, too.

Another great story from the Trib, from before I got there. It used to be an afternoon paper. One Saturday morning, word came into the sports department that a former Cal athletic coach, Nibs Price, had passed away. With time short, the editor ordered one reporter to write a quick obit, another to fish for a photo from the library and a third to write the headline. It all got slapped together in a hurry, and an real old-time news guy who still employed colorful language of yore wrote a headline that read, "Death Calls Nibs Price." It ran over a photo of Price on the telephone.

As my old friend and editor John Simmonds used to say when telling this story, "No, Nibs, don't answer it!"

In 1992, the Trib died. Actually, it got sold to a cost-slashing company named Media News, which was worse than death. I wound up at the San Francisco Examiner, once the flagship of the Newspaperman of Newspapermen, William Randolph Hearst. but times were changing. We typed our stories on video-display terminals. Drinking was discouraged. Old newspapermen were pushed out in favor of hotshot kids with master's degrees in journalism. Some were fantastic. Others couldn't find a good story in a Shakespeare library, but by gum, they had that diploma.

There was a time a reporter earned his "master's degree" by working in the cop shop, when veterans would test the mettle of the neophyte by showing him gory crime-scene photos.

This is not just me channeling Herb Caen. There is a fundamental shift in this business I love. Instant opinion is welcomed, even encouraged, fact-checking be damned. I can live with the end of the printed newspaper. After all, I drive a motor vehicle, not a horse and buggy. But I cannot countenance the demise of newspapermen -- and women. With athletes, they say the name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back. It was the same in newspapers. The name on the masthead meant more than the byline. Yeah, there were stars, but really, it was all about telling a story, righting a wrong. Not selling a personality.

I have been blessed to write about baseball for the last 22 years. I am proud of my work and my vocation.

But, please, if you happen to blog or Tweet my obituary someday, please do me one last honor and call me a newspaperman.