Friday, April 30, 2010

How a beat writer wins

I'm often asked how I get along with my two primary competitors on the Giants beat, Andy Baggarly of the Media News Empire (San Jose, Contra Costa, Jupiter, Atlantis, etc...) and Chris Haft of I like them both, even if Haft is a convicted arsonist. Ha ha, I'm just kidding. He pled down to "incitement to riot."

We get along well because we respect each others' work and the boundaries. There are unwritten rules on a sports beat. If you are interviewing a player before the game for a note or a feature, and that player is not newsworthy in a way that requires everyone to interview him, the other writers are not supposed to horn in. There are many rules like that, and I won't bore you with them. But we all abide.

The beat was not always populated by such mensches. I want to tell you about one beat writer who was a real pain. I won't mention his name or paper out of respect for the dude, who still resides in the Bay Area.

He was a very good reporter and a fair writer, but he took the competition among beat writers too far. He was paranoid about what stories we had and we were paranoid about his paranoia. There was an unhealthy tension in the clubhouse with this guy, and I am not speaking out of school when I say the beat became a more fun place once he left. (If you're reading this fella, I hope your life is going well, but as the players say, it is what it is.)

He was the king of the "knockdown note," which is when you write something and your competitor the next day knocks it down by saying it's not true. I always joked that this reporter had a macro on his laptop so he could press one key and produce the words, "Contrary to yesterday's Chronicle..."

As I said, he was a good reporter and had his share of scoops. So did I, and two were sweeter than most (with the understanding that the first one regarded the poor health of a player I greatly admired, and I never wish someone ill for the sake of a news story.)

That one happened in the 2002 World Series, when a source told me and another confirmed that closer Robb Nen had shoulder troubles. I wrote a story before Game 4 in San Francisco that said Nen was having trouble getting loose in the bullpen and manager Dusty Baker would have to use him carefully. I had only a fraction of the story, of course. Nen's shoulder was linguini and his career was four games from being over.

That night, Nen saved the victory that tied the Series 2-2. Afterward, we talked to Nen. Our hero, the competing reporter, started the questioning by saying, "So, Rob, would you say today's story in the Chronicle was much ado about nothing?" Nen chuckled and said, "Yeah, much ado about nothing." Good to know I was surrounded by so many Shakespeare fans.

(As an aside, Nen wanted his arm pain kept a secret and wanted to kill me. We're pals now.)

Fast-forward to the day after the Giants' Game 7 defeat. We were in the clubhouse for the annual postmortem, which includes a review by the head trainer of all injuries previously hidden or not that will be addressed in the days ahead by surgery or rehab or whatever. First on Stan Conte's list was Nen. Conte informed us Nen was going to have shoulder surgery.

Again, I felt for Nen, but I couldn't help myself. This time I asked the first question of the trainer, with my evil competitor aside me, and I said, "So, Stan, what you're telling us is, this is not much ado about nothing?"

The other story happened a few months earlier. Catcher Benito Santiago was having a fine year and was up for an All-Star selection. He wasn't elected on the fan ballot, so it came down to the reserve selection. On the morning the names were to be announced, I reported that Santiago was going to be selected for the National League team. Our hero reported Santiago was off the team. One of us had a good source. One of us had a false prophet. Rarely do competing papers actually report diametrically opposed stories.

I was off that day and watched the game on TV. Duane Kuiper even mentioned the dueling stories. Later in the afternoon, I learned Santiago's fate like everyone else. I watched the selection show on ESPN.

When they announced that Santiago was picked for the All-Star team, I actually did a victory dance in my living room, which the missus found ghastly yet entertaining. I do believe my right knee has not been the same since.

There's nothing like having a good scoop.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ten more items for my bucket list

Before I die, I want to:

1. Carry a jumbo can of spray paint into a parking garage and tag the word "COMPACT" across every SUV parked in a spot marked "COMPACT."

2. See what kind of fun I could have in a Hummer equipped with a front-end cow catcher at one of those Friday rush-hour rallies when bicyclists block the streets in downtown San Francisco. What do they call those? Critical Mass? Tour de A-hole?

3. Walk into a restaurant wearing dark glasses, tapping a cane and holding a harness in the other hand attached to a cat.

4. Write a book.

5. Read a book.

6. Stand in the center of the Sistine Chapel for an hour taking 1,000 photos of the floor, then looking at the other tourists like they're crazy.

7. Work ONE series in Florida without a rain delay. Just ONE.

8. Buy a funeral home and wait for an airline executive to come in to pre-plan a funeral, so I can say, "Well, your best bet is to die on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. The coffin will cost $2,000 if you die two weeks in advance. It is nonrefundable, but you can change the date of your funeral for a $500 fee. And by the way, every artifact you put into the casket to take to the afterlife is $50.

9. Watch a married couple and their lawyers finalize a divorce on a stadium Jumbotron.

10. Enjoy one delicious hot dog without some A-hole riding to Critical Mass saying, "You don't want to know what's in that."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What baseball is

Baseball is the perfection of a 9o-foot baseline, the 60 1/2-foot distance between rubber and plate and the symmetry of a diamond, all mocking the imperfection of those who attempt to conquer the geometry.

It is the wonderful, delicious overdose of green that intoxicates our eyes and soothes our life-worn souls upon entering the stadium; the unmistakable and riveting crack of bat on ball; the smell of a leather glove; the peaceful sensation of summer sun beating on your forehead as you lean back in your seat during the anticipatory quarter-hour between the reading of lineups and the first pitch.

Baseball is America's metaphor for existence, from our birth in spring to our workaday struggles in summer to our demise in fall; and, if you roll that way, the promise of resurrection in spring.

It is the seabirds hovering over an emptying stadium in the late-afternoon chill, waiting to pounce on the game's carrion before the cleaning crew sweeps every memory of that day's existence into oblivion.

Baseball is numbers -- the absolute need to have them and the absolute need to ignore them.

It is a card game of "casino" in the Latin quarter of the clubhouse; the wonderful and nauseating uncertainty of a one-run lead in the ninth; the balletic beauty of a diving catch; the endearing optimism of a child with glove in hand waiting for a foul ball; the eight-dollar beer you cannot do without.

It is the debate and the commentary and the game story and the box score and the announcer's call. Good lord, how Buck and Greenwald and Scully have made us weep.

Baseball is the stifle of August at Busch and the numbness of Wrigley in April; the can't-miss prospect in the minors who almost always misses; the joy of those tickets resting on the dining room table awaiting tomorrow; the three seconds of orgasmic joy or paralytic panic, depending on your hometown, as the home run ball soars toward its final destination.

Most of all, baseball is a friend whose loss we could not abide.

Just as you suspected, I stunk as a ballplayer

I'm sitting in the press box three hours before today's game and I see about 3,000 Pony Leaguers in the stands listening to Tim Flannery talk about signs and Eli Whiteside talking about catching and Duane Kuiper going on and on about that one home run he hit. OK, one of those three things is a lie. Anyway, it made me hark to my own Little League days, which can be described in one word:


I would have been known today as Moneyball player because I had a .500 on-base percentage to go with my .000 batting average. I walked a lot, because I was afraid to swing the bat, and I led the Poinsettia Park Little League in getting hit by the pitch. I had a lot of, um, padding on my body, and my coaches knew a good thing when they saw it.

"Put yer fat ass in front of one," they said in crucial situations. Fortunately, the pitchers stunk as much as I did and it was easy to oblige.

I was a catcher my first year. You hear about how the fat kid is always the catcher, but somehow league officials never get the word when they order the equipment. My mask was too small, my chest guard was too small and, most important, my shin guards were too small. They covered only half the knee, which meant many timeouts in anguish when I took a foul tip, or more likely just whiffed on catching a pitch. My glasses wouldn't fit under the mask. Also, my family was too poor to buy me a cup, so I'm fortunate I never took one "there."

OK, we had enough money for a cup. I just couldn't figure a way to broach the topic with my mom, who was our family's purchaser. Yeah, I would have preferred a baseball in the cojones to actually describing to my mom how I needed a device to project them. Boys just are that way. Many moms anticipate that particular need, but my mom, being an immigrant from a non-baseball-speaking country, was not in the loop. Where she came from, bruises in that region ordinarily meant the police were just doing their jobs.

The kids who listened to this morning's pregame lecture at the ballpark got to watch Brad Penny of the Cardinals pitch. Penny was a Giant for a month last year and the first player in many years to drop the old "you never played this game" on me when chafed at something I wrote. I stood my ground, and I will not accept that from a player because I've watched enough baseball and talked to enough baseball people to know what I'm talking about most of the time. I've never flown a plane, but if I see two pilots head from the bar to the jetway, I believe I have the expertise to call them on it.

One funny thing in a clubhouse is watching a writer tell an athlete, "Yeah, one time in a high school game I . . . " Memo to all sportswriters: Players don't give a rat's backside what you did in high school and do not respect you for playing at that level. College maybe, but even then. . . I do respect Haft because he played high school ball in the South Bay, but as he told me the other day in an attempt at self-deprecation, "Oh, we weren't that good. You could have made that team."

I seriously doubt that, though I played a mean first trombone and could have owned the band.

In fact, this one time in band camp . . .

Friday, April 23, 2010

Coming soon: More accuracy in this blog

Former Examiner editor Phil Bronstein doesn't know this, but 12 years ago he insulted me.

After two years of covering the Giants for the Examiner I decided to jump ship to the Chronicle. I always worked for smaller "underdog" papers and I wanted a shot at "the big paper" while I was still young enough to get hired for something other than WalMart greeter. There was a real "us versus them" vibe at the Examiner. Whenever a reporter left the Ex to go to the Chron, Phil would hunt down the person, start screaming and demand that he or she empty the desk and leave immediately.

Me? He just said so long. Did I suck that much, Phil? No rant? No snide remark? Not even a sarcastic "good luck?"

I gave the Examiner a month's notice because it was right before spring training and didn't want my editor to force someone on short notice to go to Arizona for six weeks. It sounds like a plum assignment, but a lot of our reporters had kids and couldn't have done that. So in 1998, I spent three weeks covering spring training for the Examiner. I packed my stuff, moved from the Examiner's condo to the Chronicle's condo down the street, then started covering for the Chron the next day. Meanwhile, the Ex hired Shea and he moved into my old condo.

Once I got back to San Francisco I had a head shot taken for the Chronicle's files and my company ID card. If memory serves, the photo that accompanies this blog, the Splash blog on and my Twitter account is that head shot. If so, I'm a big fat liar. It is not intellectually honest to present a 12-year-old photo for public consumption. I got a haircut today, and as soon as I can get an updated head shot I will post it.

This is not a vanity issue. I have no great longing for 1998. I think that was the year I got a cease-and-desist letter from Jimmy Buffett when I wrote a song called, "Wasting Away Again in Mullet-ville (see 1998 photo). I don't long for my younger days so I can party like it's 1998. Even when I was in my 20s and single I partied like it was 1898. If I got to see a woman's ankles, I considered it "action."

No, just simple laziness at work here. We all take thousands of photos now with digital cameras and phones, but rarely do we take a nice head shot. I just haven't done it yet and I thank God I'm not a columnist at the Chronicle, which now runs full-color, high-def mugs that really do no columnist a favor except for Ratto. In his case, even an awful reproduction is less scary than the real thing.

Many of you have seen me on TV or at the ballpark. You know my current head shot is a lie. With all the frontal hair loss my head looks like a bowling ball adorned with half a toupee. Oh, and I rarely smile anymore. If nothing else I strive for accuracy. This will be fixed.

And by the way, Phil Bronstein works for Hearst now. Anytime he wants to pop by and yell at me for leaving the Examiner 12 years ago, I'll listen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Internet monsters

A recent study by the University of Virginia found that the typical comment poster underneath a newspaper story on the Internet is a 24-year-old high school dropout who shoots cats with BB guns, does not live in his mother's basement because she kicked him out for setting fires and does not realize that stories in "The Onion" are satirical.

OK, there was no such study, but if the University of Virginia chooses to promote one, I'll help finance it.

I picked that particular school because it was started by Thomas Jefferson, a founding father who promoted free speech but doubtlessly would say "holy shite" if he could rise from the dead and see what people write on the Internet.

I rarely look at comments underneath stories on the Chronicle's website anymore because I am depressed enough by my creeping old age and the thought of sharing the road with all the crappy drivers we have now that schools can't afford driver training. I'm not even talking about those who rip me. I have almost 30 years in the news business, my bosses like my stuff, I get lots of wonderful feedback on personal emails and I could give a shit what 19-year-old buttboy342 thinks about my game stories.

I'm talking about the wretched garbage put forth under news stories. How rare is it to see a good intellectual debate in these comments? It amazes me how 12 comments into a thread under a story about increasing garbage rates you can read something like, "Yeah, they ought to put bullets in the head of any doctor that does abortions," or, "Obama is a fascist who might not have been born on the planet Earth."

I'm speaking for myself, of course, and not my employer. The Chronicle promotes comments. In fact, we're revamping ours to make them bigger and better. We like lots of hits and page views because advertisers like them, and we like advertisers.

I'm just a cog in the wheel -- OK, a cog that might be a little smaller if I didn't eat Denny's fried pancake poppers at midnight on the road -- and nobody at The Chronicle really cares what I think about such things, but I want to go on record and say we should take the bold step and require every comment to be signed, with the author's real name, as we require with printed letters to the editor.

How are we advancing any debate when we allow megatroll_pigboy to spew his vile underneath a story. To me that stifles a conversation more than promotes it. Who really wants to proffer a rational opinion knowing he or she is going to be flamed?

You might not like what I write about the Giants, but you know who wrote it because my byline sits atop each story. I don't understand why people who absolutely ravage me, and more significant the players and team officials about him I write, can do so behind a veil. This isn't a police state. You are not going to be taken away in the middle of the night by the secret police if you sign your name to a comment that says, "The Giants wasted $18 million on Edgar Rent-a-Wreck." Show your face.

I admit the comments from the worst Internet monsters used to bother me until colleagues reminded me that most readers respect what we do even if they don't agree with every word; that there really is a silent majority of people who don't feel the need to pick a screen name like San_Leandro_Vulcan and denigrate everything on the planet.

I'm reminded of a onetime Cubs manager named Lee Elia who got into a load of trouble when, in a rant about Wrigley Field fans who were abusing the Chicago players, said, "Eighty-five percent of the f-- world is working. The other 15 percent come here."Elia said that in 1983. Now, he might amend that to say, "The other 15 percent come here. Then they go home and spend hours anonymously bitching on the Internet."

Please don't infer from my screed that I believe all who partake in Internet debates are bums. Many are earnest and intelligent, but I fear they are drowned out by the screeching rabble.

As I said, I rarely read comments anymore and I never let them bother me. But I checked in on the crowd who regularly read my Splash blog on the Gate (thanks for your loyalty, guys), and one statement did bug me. It came from a regular poster who professes to be a college student back east. When another poster joked that she was starting to sound like me, she responded, "I am a female Henry! Subtract 40 years though!"

Hey now, dearie, I'm not that old. If I were, I'd log into the comments section under the screen name baseball_Adonis and tell myself to get my ancient ass out of the press box and let somebody who actually can chew hard food take a crack at covering the Giants.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On the Lincecums, father and son, and a reporter's objectivity

Chris Lincecum is a wisp of a man, even smaller than his son Tim, and he's a smack-talker. I don't mean that in the talk-radio sense. I mean he smacks you during a conversation to emphasize a point. I've talked to Tim about this. Chris has always been that way. Won't change either. I like the guy, though. He amuses me.

Shea and I were in the Italian Grotto during spring training when Chris walked in for a nightcap. The three of us shot the breeze for a half-hour, and whenever the topic of Tim's Cy Young award from last year arose Chris made a snide comment about me voting for Chris Carpenter instead of his son. Then he'd smack me in the chest and say, "You know I'm joking." By the fourth time I started thinking how expensive a new sternum would be.

I tell that story as a long-winded intro to a point I've wanted to make about the job of a newspaper beat writer. I have to say I was stunned by how many fans tore into me for that Cy vote because they felt I had to be "loyal" to a Giant and vote for "my guy." I was equally surprised by the reaction on Twitter when I said I grew up a Dodger fan in Los Angeles (though I haven't rooted for the Dodgers since Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey manned their infield).

It's not just fans, either. My mom will call me after a Giants win and say, "You guys got 'em today."

I really did not think I would have to explain this, but as a beat reporter I cannot be a fan of any team. I have to think and write straight down the middle or I lose valuable credibility.

I fancy myself a writer (shaddup!), but a beat writer has to be a reporter first. My currency is information, and that comes from many sources inside and outside the Giants' clubhouse, manager's office and executive suite. The Giants front office is so secretive, I have to get much of my information and tips from agents, scouts and executives from other teams and garbage bins that I root through for documents. OK, that I don't do.

Anyhow, when I get on the horn and talk to sources, they have to trust they are talking to an objective reporter with no axes to grind and no team loyalties; and I have none, even if Giants bullpen coach Mark Gardner thinks I'm on the McCourt payroll because I sometimes wear blue shirts (very slimming, you know).

Do I want Giants players to do well? Sure. I get to know these guys and spend oodles of time with them over a season. But you should not be able to discern that by reading my stories. If I praise a player, the reader has to know I did so because I, as a fly on the wall, observed what he did and approved. Similarly, if I criticize a player, the reader and other players need to know I have nothing against the guy. During the 12 years I covered Barry Bonds, nobody could read my prose (shaddup!) and accuse me of running a vendetta, even though Bonds treated me like merde, as the French would say.

I have an easy objectivity gauge. It comes in my email and on fan bulletin boards and Twitter and from what I hear. I get ripped in many quarters for being a Brian Sabean toady, yet there are many times Sabean won't talk to me because he's angry about something I've written. Right now, I'm getting lots of "Schulman, you're such a homer" and lots of "You still bleed Dodger blue."


The minute the praise-scorn needle starts tilting in one direction or the other, I'll know I have to reassess my writing.

I expected to be ripped for bypassing Lincecum in my Cy Young vote by people who thought he had a better year than Carpenter. That's worthy of debate. I did not expect so many emails suggesting I stick my head where the sun don't shine (or in the alternative remove it from that very place) because I should have voted for "our" guy. Nor did I expect so much negative reaction to having grown up a Dodger fan long before many of these haters were born. OK, that I should have expected. This rivalry runs deep.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to Costco and see if I can buy a 12-pack of chest shields. Chris Lincecum has retired from Boeing and plans to travel more to watch Tim pitch, and I expect to knock more than a few back with the smack-talking old man.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ten more things I think about when I can't sleep

1. Have you seen those ads for a new depression medicine called Abilify? That sounds like a word George W. Bush would have invented, as in, "We need to raise test scores in our schools to abilify our children for the challenges they face as adults."

2. How do fast-food cashiers keep a straight face when a customer says, "Gimme a No. 2 and super-size it?

3. In an era when I can go to Google Earth and see a satellite picture of myself putting baby powder on my toochus, shouldn't those castaways on "Lost" have been found after like one episode?

4. I might write a book about my life covering baseball in Israel and call it, "The Oys of Summer."

5. Why the iFart is not one of the 10 bestselling apps of all time is beyond me.

6. I wouldn't want to be a highway patrolman in 2060 when all of today's 20-somethings are in their 70s and texting while they drive.

7. I really need to do a Lexis/Nexis search and find out how many letters to the editor have been published in U.S. newspapers signed by Heywood Jablome.

8. There is really no way a person my age can explain the premise of "Mr. Ed" to a youngster today and not sound like a complete moron when defending why I watched it.

9. If all the vultures of the world formed their own nation, wouldn't the national anthem have to be "Carrion My Wayward Son" by Kansas?

10. I apologize for No. 9.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Travel advice that I'm going to scream into your ear

Dear readers, I want to thank the three of you who are still with me after my last blog, for which I will not apologize. Glenn Schwarz, who was the best sports editor in the country and made me the writer I am, for better or worse, always told me to take chances. Better to fly too close to the sun and get your wings burned than stare up safely and longingly; and anyway, my high school buddy Mike liked it, so there.

Today, I would like to write a travel advice blog as we near the summer vacation season, which we road warriors sometimes call "amateur season" and always call it, "Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!

I often see columns such as this in Dear Abby or the travel section or what not, but nobody pays attention to those because the authors are too nice. We know better, don't we. In these days of self-absorption and Tea Party-ism, you really have to yell at people and insult them to grab their interest, like the woman who rolled down her window this morning and hollered at me to "stop combing your hair while you Tweet and stay in your goddman lane!" I appreciated her candor and said, "You're right, Sister Anne, and I'm sorry my check to the orphanage bounced."

On to the advice:

1. When they say get to the airport 1 1/2 hours before your flight, they mean it. No, you don't have time to stop at 7-Eleven to buy Cheetos for the plane. The $6 bag you can buy inside the airport is just as tasty. If you ever try to rush to the front of the TSA line with the argument that "I didn't know I was supposed to be here this early," I will spray you with whatever 3-ounce liquid thing I am about to run through the X-ray machine.

2. I say this one in all seriousness: The security lines that you hate will go much faster if you stuff everything metal inside your carry-on before you queue up and make sure your laptop and your quart bag of liquids and gels are easily accessible. I really don't think I can reach those people who have lived in Ted Kazynski's cabin the last 10 years and don't realize that yes, you have to remove your laptop; yes, you have to remove your shoes; and yes, that little round thing of lip gel has to go inside your quart bag.

3. I assume the people who stand in line at the counter for 20 minutes and then fish for their drivers licenses are the same folks who wait until the checker scans all of their groceries then look for their ATM cards, which should have been swiped when the first can of split-pea soup went across the scanner. Remember the Boy Scout motto (no, not that one, Chester the Molester): "Be prepared."

4. Always assume there will be long delays. They are inevitable. I once endured a 10-hour delay at LaGuardia first because of weather and then because the plane broke, and I watched a woman berate the flight attendant because the woman had not brought enough food for her little girl who had some sort of sugar deficiency and needed to eat every hour or whatever. Had I been the flight attendant I would have said, "You're absolutely right, ma'am. I'll tell the pilot we really should take off and we really don't need that li'l ol' rudder."

5. For parents (yes, this is going to be a long one):

a: United and a few other airlines do not preboard kids anymore. Those that do usually allow it for parents with SMALL children, not your 12-year-old soccer champ. I was ready to board a flight in Newark last year when a father with his wife and kids (I'd say 12 and 10) bolted to the front of the line and said, "I've got kids here!" I wish I could have blocked his path and truthfully said, "I've got Nunchucks here." Why, yes, he did have a New York accent. How did you know?

b: It's not for me to tell parents where to go and how to get there. But one thing sticks in my craw: tiny infants howling during the descent because their ears are exploding. Babies often get congested. Congestion worsens the pressure on your ears during a change in altitude. As a grown man I have had blood vessels burst in my ear during a landing. So why would parents put their children with their teensy ear canals through that excruciating pain? Wait till the kids are a little bigger to stick them on an airplane for a trip to grandma's.

c: You'll see no screed about howling infants here. Not their fault. But I do believe that some parents take their babies to fancy restaurants and have them scream just to get them in training for the airplane. I also believe there is a baby boot camp, too, where former Marine drill sergeants stand in front of a class of crying babies yelling, "I can't HEEEAR you. I can't HEEEAR you. What're you doing, ya little girl, looking at the clouds out the window? Howl it! Howl it! Howl it!"

d: Parents, I highly recommend Baby Valium. I've seen it next to the Huggies at Walgreens.

e: To those parents who attempt to hold their babies on their laps for a transcontinental flight when they can afford to buy an extra seat, remember the Nunchucks from 5 (a)? You just can't do that to fellow travelers, and while we're talking, why would you refuse to back out of your driveway at 5 mph unless your child was strapped into his baby seat yet hold the same child while the aluminum tube you're riding in is plunging from the sky and hitting a runway at 120 mph upon landing?

6. When you board an aircraft, and you carry a bag over your shoulder, and you turn to tell the person behind you that Jay-Z's newest album isn't all that good, and you nearly decapitate the person sitting in the aisle seat below you, you deserve the Nunchucks, too. Stop it.

7. Finally, more of a question. If you leave your car in long-term parking, then ride to the terminal on a big, long bus that says "Long-term parking lot" on the side, WHY WOULD YOU TAKE 10 MINUTES TO BOARD YOUR FAMILY'S 15 BAGS ON A SMALL SHUTTLE THAT SAYS "SKYPARK" ON THE SIDE AND THEN SAY, "THIS BUS GOES TO THE LONG-TERM PARKING LOT, RIGHT?"

You know the drill. Nunchucks, and this time with studs on them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why me?

Don't you hate it when you wake in the middle of the night and feel nature's call? You're so comfy-cozy in your blankies you don't want to get up so you ignore it. You drift off and suddenly realize you've had an accident, and you yell, "Damn, I just pissed myself."

The upstairs neighbors hear you through the vent and call some 24-hour social-services hotline because they think you're neglecting an elderly person and 10 minutes later two goody two-shoes show up at your door and demand to inspect your house. You tell 'em to get the flip out and start educating them about how they'll fit in perfectly when Obamacare takes over and Stalin's granddaughter is hired to run all the death panels and Medicare will be administered by illegals.

The goody two-shoes get all "scared" and call 911, so five minutes later two cops arrive and you say, "Goddammit, how many flippin' PAL pancake breakfast tickets do I have to buy to keep you bastards out of my house?" And they say "Calm down, sir" and start to look around and you tell them to take Goody Two-Shoes One and Goody Two-Shoes Two get the flip out so you can clean up and go to sleep.

The cops get all "defensive" and zap you with Tasers. You start flailing and twitching and one of your arms knocks over the pitcher of margaritas you made last night while you were sitting at your laptop writing letters to the editor about the Second Amendment and how Thomas Jefferson would have blown the head off of anybody who tried to take away his musket, and some of margarita drippings fly into the laptop and it explodes and all of sudden you have Windows 7 Flambe.

The sparks light up all the pizza boxes and newspapers and restraining orders on your dinner table, so the cops call the fire department and 10 minutes later your 15-year-old daughter is exchanging Twitter addresses with this big old hippie firefighter whose tats tell you he's on prison release.

You demand the firefighters get the flip out of your house, but then the cops cuff you and take you to the jail ward at County, and while they're booking you for arson and resisting arrest and all that b.s. you start screaming at the nurse to get a lawyer in here before it's time for the death panel. Then some big dude walks in with a stack of rubber gloves and starts doing full cavity searches and gives you some b.s. about "standard procedure."

Dude does you a favor and finds that baggie of crank you "misplaced" last time the cops came to the door, but he takes the baggie and two weeks later you're in a courtroom and some DA says something about taxes that weren't paid and a letter you wrote to Pelosi telling her to go back to Italy, and then they send you away, and when you realize you now have two "strikes" you piss yourself again.

I know I hate it when that happens.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When white supremacy meets a charcoal grill

The memories from Ceres are flooding back. How could I forget the Klan barbecue?

Toward the end of my year in Ceres, I heard that a local Klan "leader" named Billy Albers was planning a Klan rally and cross burning in town. Now, I want to say straight out the people of Ceres were wonderful. They generally were not racist and very welcoming. But for reasons I can't recall the Klan built a bridgehead there and held a huge rally there in 1981 that was featured in a KQED documentary called "Bad Moon Rising," produced by Stephen Talbot.

Anyway, Albers lived in a trailer north of town and decided to have another rally in 1983. I drove out to the trailer and got the poop and a lecture on why America needs to be rid of anybody who wasn't white. Just to poke the cage I said, "So Jews are OK?" He said, "No, I said WHITE."

I wrote the article saying the Klan was planning another rally, and Mayor Brian Carlin was livid. He was the town plumber and had a shop two doors down from the Courier. He stormed into my office still wearing his work shirt with "Brian" sewn onto a patch and read me the riot act for giving pub to the Klan in his town.

But I explained it was news and had to cover it, just as I had to cover the big rally on March 5 at Whitmore Park.

The day came and it was wet. Now, here I must interject how when you are 22 years old you do not understand irony. The story I wrote for the March 9 Courier was one of the funniest I ever created -- and I had no idea.

Turns out nine hooded Klansmen showed up. They put out a spread of chicken and potato salad and such, and it looked like any other Saturday picnic except that it was raining and all the picnickers were wearing sheets and hoods. I remember snapping some photos when one of the supremacists approached me and said, "Do you have permission to take pictures?"

"I don't need permission," I responded. "This is a public park."

He looked me over for a moment then said, "All right, then," and returned to his chicken.

Here are some of the excerpts from my story. Again, remember. I was writing with solemn sincerity.

After eating a barbecue chicken lunch and spending about 90 quiet minutes in the park, the Klan members left...

...Albers blamed several weekends of rain for the (earlier) postponements, and said poor weather kept Saturday's rally small.

"Our guys from Clear Lake got muddied in and the guys from Washington didn't show up," Albers said.

Albers added the low attendance was one reason for canceling the cross burning. Another, he said, was the possible legal implications.

The picture was the best part. I don't know what possessed me to keep this, but here, without any comment needed, is the photo I shot of the big nasty Ku Klux Klan in Whitmore Park, Ceres, California, on March 5, 1983, along with the story:

Pass the mustard and some hate, OK?

Weeks later, I moved to the San Ramon Valley Herald, and Ceres became a memory.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Last night, I went to bed in Houston as a vigorous man in his 40s. This morning, I woke up a doddering idiot in my 50s. Well, maybe I was doddering because I had only 3 1/2 hours of sleep.

Anyway, when you hit a life milestone such as this, you sometimes search for some eloquent and profound thoughts to guide you, perhaps in song or in literature. Mine were provided by a thoughtful reader.

When I rose and checked my e-mail, the following stood out in my inbox. I reprint it here in its entirety, so none of its nuances are lost:

TITLE: "Can you be any more negative?"

TEXT: "Hey Schulman, is it a pre-requisite for your job to be a negative jackass ALL THE TIME? I'm a Giants fan, so I am forced to read your pathetic dribble daily unless I choose to read the San Jose Mercury, which hurts even worse. Are you a born pessimist or are you supposed to rain on everyone's parade daily? Ever thought about saying anything positive? Oh yeah, I forgot you grew up in LA. I got an idea for you...go back to LA you Dodger loving moron!

"It is painful to read your negative bullshit every day. I usually like reading the sports page because the rest of the news is usually depressing and sports is supposed to give us hope in a world where it is hard to find just that. Congratulations, you have finally driven me to chose (sic) another source for my sports information. I can't take your Dodger loving ass anymore. I don't need any of your negative and pathetic stories. How did you ever get a job as a sports reporter anyway? You belong on the obituary desk!

"A disappointed and no longer Chronicle reader."

I'll leave his name off. I wouldn't want his mother to run downstairs to her basement, where he lives, to scold him for his flavorful language.

And Happy b-day to my fellow April 8thers, Larry Baer, Gary Carter and Roland DeWolk, two of whom I really like.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Things I think about when I can't sleep

1. Eugene H. Krabs is a crab who owns a restaurant whose specialty is a crab-patty sandwich. Why would a children's cartoon like "Sponge Bob Square Pants" promote cannibalism?

2. I'm happy Starbucks allows customers to carry concealed weapons. I plan to walk into one, whip out a snub-nosed .45 and demand the clerk immediately change the coffee sizes to "small, medium and large."

3. Why do I like Taylor Swift's music? I haven't been a 14-year-old girl in 35 years.

4. Is there any way, against all odds, that the same person who coined the word "pisser" for a urinal also devised "shitter" for a commode? Or was it two people working in concert, like scientists from two universities across the Atlantic who share a Nobel Prize?

5. Hey, look! A guy is proposing to his girlfriend on a stadium Jumbotron. Has that ever been done before?

6. How big a policy must I buy to have a shot with the Esurance girl?

7. If I start to live a good life, be nice to people and give lots of money to charity, can I ask God to smite teams that have 6-year-olds announce the hitters in the third inning?

8. I really gotta find that pony my daddy took me to ride when I was a fat little kid and apologize.

9. Background: Whenever a player hurts an arm or a leg, our first question is whether it was the left one or right one? I need to give Eli Whiteside one Hall of Fame vote someday because of one moment this spring. Whiteside took a foul tip in the worst possible spot during a minor-league camp game in which Tim Lincecum was pitching. When I walked past his locker later he said, without prompting, "It was the right one."

10. Why does Hertz keep giving me Camrys. Do they want me dead?

A Ceres addendum

I meant to tell you a story about my days in Ceres that taught me that you should always know who you are writing about.

One day I get a call in February from an older woman telling me that all of her roses had bloomed two months before they ever did before (!) Now, that might not sound like a big deal to you, but in Ceres, California, in 1983 this was big news. In hindsight, I now realize that I could have scooped the world on global warming had I asked the right questions, but that's neither here nor there. Al Gore had not yet invented global warming or the Internet to research it.

(Save yer political comments. I was just kidding. I love Al Gore. We wear the same size pants now.)

Anyway, I do a big spread in the paper with this woman in her garden and her early-blooming roses. Praise all around from the garden clubs in town -- until the next day. I get an anonymous call from a woman who says, "How can you write such nice things about that family. Her husband is a child molester, you know."

Ohhh kay. I talked to my editor, who was barely more experienced than I, and asked what to do. She suggested I go to the courthouse in Modesto and check it out. Sure enough, the man was awaiting trial for child molesting.

I didn't really know what to do at that point. You can't really write a correction that reads, "Wednesday's photo spread on Mrs. Jones' roses should not have run because her husband is a pervert who should rot in jail. The Courier regrets the error."

I just let my editor handle it. She was the cops reporter and I think she wrote a blurb about the man's upcoming trial.

I wish I had the Internet then. I would have just Googled "Smith roses February molester" and saved myself a lot of embarrassment.

As a postscript, I so seriously hope this man's victims are doing OK.

My strange road to becoming a baseball writer

I did not get here the usual way. Most writers on pro sports beats walk a well-worn path to get there. They start as prep writers, covering high school football and basketball, then wait until a writer on a beat ahead of them gets demoted or fired for excessive drinking or downloading porn on company laptops. They then move up to colleges, then as backups on pro beats, then as the main pro beat reporters. It's the cycle of life in newspaper sports departments. It's beautiful.

I didn't do it this way. Like most teens in the '70s who were interested in journalism, I was enthralled by Watergate and how two journalists could take down a corrupt president. I wanted to be Woodward or Bernstein (and yes, I know I have to be Bernstein, and I know why, so shut up, Ratto).

I went to Cal and got a political science degree and covered Berkeley City Hall for the Daily Cal. I worked a sort of internship covering the State Capitol in Sacramento then got my first newspaper job for the Ceres Courier, a 14,000-circulation weekly in what then was a agricultural town just south of Modesto. I was half of a two-person reporter/editor team and did everything -- high school sports, city hall, business, etc... I took my own pictures and even folded papers sometimes before they were delivered.

The headline on my first story at the Courier was "Broken Sprinkler Irks Neighbor." I proudly showed the paper to Vickey, my girlfriend at the time, and she laughed so hard her spleen nearly shot out of her body.

My first daily job was the San Ramon Valley Herald in Danville, working for one of those crusty, booze-fueled editors you've seen in 1940s films. He was a hoot who conducted much of his business at Elliot's bar and could not be a boss in today's politically correct world. He sat in an office with a glass window that looked out to the newsroom, and from outside we could watch job interviews in progress. As it was an entry-level paper, there were many attractive just-out-of-college women who walked into that office seeking employment. Once, the editor interrupted the interview, walked into the newsroom, sidled up to us boys and said, "You're not going to believe this. She just said she would be honored to work on my staff."

That said, this editor groomed a lot of fine journalists -- men and women -- who learned more about news writing in a short time from him than in years anywhere else.

I then went to the Fremont Argus to cover NUMMI. As the first joint venture between American and Japanese carmakers it was a big deal. I also covered technology when people oohed and ahhed the Intel 286 chip. I became a business writer and moved to the Oakland Tribune in 1985, where I finally became a baseball writer three years later.

I owe it all to Nick Peters, who just got honored in the writers' section of the Hall of Fame last year. Nick was the Giants beat writer for the Trib until he took a buyout and went to the Sacramento Bee. I had gotten to know the Trib's sports editor, Bob Valli, while writing fan stories about the 1987 All-Star Game in Oakland and asked him if there was any way I could cover sports. He gave me the Giants beat, a bold move that was ridiculed by everyone in the building and derided by the sportswriting community.

Nick Peters. What a character. I once watched him eat a $50 filet at a ritzy New York steakhouse and get it taken off the bill when he complained it was too tough. Nick used to have a marvelous talent for ripping someone standing 5 feet away with an under-the-breath comment that only could be heard by someone right next to him. You would laugh and the target would have no idea he was just filleted.

Nick still does it, but the problem now is that at 71 his hearing has declined a bit and his "under-the-breath" comments can be heard by everyone. At a restaurant in Scottsdale last month a baby at the next table was howling endlessly. The mother and father took the baby outside for a bit then returned. The kid was screaming louder than ever when Nick said, in a voice that could be heard throughout the dining room, "I thought you were going to leave that baby in the car."

I thank Bob Valli for giving me the chance to write baseball. I believe his decision was vindicated.

From the Tribune I went to the Examiner and then the Chronicle, where I am honored to carry a torch that the great Bob Stevens first lit in 1958 when the Giants came west. Next to Bob, I have the most years of any Giants beat writer at the Chronicle, which I ascribe to great fortune and wonderful people who believe in me. I can't adequately describe how much pride I have in that accomplishment.

I have a goal -- well, more of a dream -- to cover the team another seven or eight years or so to catch Bob, who was so encouraging to me I get choked up knowing he is gone and I cannot talk to him anymore.

By then, this blog should really start to take off.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My bucket list

I will never jump out of an airplane, unless I see smoke shooting out of an engine or William Shatner at the window talking to a gremlin on the wing. I doubt I'll climb Kilimanjaro, or even to the top of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Hang gliding? Ziplining? I'd rather be water-boarded.

My bucket list is far tamer. To wit, before I die I want to:

1. Be the first person off an airplane. As soon as I exit the jetway I will kneel and kiss the ground in front of all the passengers waiting to board the same plane for its next flight, then yell, "Oh, sweet mother of Jesus. Thank God! Thank God! Never again will I fly! Never again!"

2. Be a cop for one day so I can ticket every A-hole who drives 50 mph in the fast lane then gives me a nasty look when I pass him.

3. Go to Fogo de Chao, or another Brazilian churrascaria, and eat so much for $50 that the manager comes by and offers me a full refund if I leave immediately.

4. Take a random photograph of a beautiful young woman and see how much I can extort from professional athletes by showing them the picture and saying, "I know all about this, and you better pay up if you don't want to see the story on TMZ."

5. Hit one drive onto the fairway (that passes the ladies' tee), one approach shot onto the green and one 50-foot putt. And just to show off for the foursome behind me, I will take an old club I do not use anymore, start swearing like a sailor, bust the club over my knee and helicopter both pieces into a water hazard. Wait a minute. I have done that. That's half an item I can cross off the list.

6. Go to a 4-H demonstration at a county fair when the little kids are showing off their prized pigs, sit in the front row and pull out a full slab of babyback ribs that I proceed to eat.

7. Just once visit my mom without her asking me if I've gained weight.

8. Ask the sommelier at a snooty restaurant for a bottle of Manischewitz Concord Grape wine then get loud and indignant when he insists they don't stock it. (If you don't get this one, ask one of your Jewish friends.)

9. Go to a restaurant in France and, in my sorry attempt at speaking French, tell another patron that "my husband is in the bathroom." Wait. I did that one already, too. The woman looked at me as if she was thinking, "Hey, I'm glad to see you're out."

10. Get seated next to Tiger Woods on a transcontinental flight (first class, of course) and constantly make comments about how hot our flight attendant is.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why I want to make you laugh

Last year, Giants radio broadcaster Dave Flemming looked at me earnestly and said, “You know what? You’re a very funny guy. It just doesn’t come across in your writing.” He was busting my chops, and I have to say that was a fairly clever dig coming from a garden-variety humorless Stanford drone. I forgive Dave. It must be hard wear the colors while your most famous contemporary alumnus is bopping in and out of a sex addiction clinic like you and I go to a 7-Eleven for milk.

I do think my writing can be funny at times, even if I’m the only one who thinks so, but it’s hard to impart humor in a 700-word newspaper article that has to include all the facts and analysis required of my job.

I’ve always wanted some non-newspaper outlet for my writing. Then, recently, a friend told me about the Internet, where people write all sorts of stuff. Who knew? From my cursory glance, the primary themes are: President Obama was not born in the United States, people who do not believe in gun rights should be shot and oh, there so many places where I can stick my tinkle

I have decided to take the plunge and start a personal blog. Notwithstanding the title of this blog, there will be no nuts-and-bolts baseball talk here, aside from some funny stories from my life that I might tell. If you want to discuss Brian Sabean’s IQ or why the Universal Zone Rating should have been in the New Testament, that’s what the Splash Blog is for. You can find the link for that above. Work-wise, I also am on Twitter @hankschulman.

No, this is where I would like to vent and amuse, and I beg your indulgence to let me try. I will try not to be Seinfeld, tossing out a single wry observation and milking it for 30 minutes, minus eight minutes for commercials.

But while we are on the topic, do you women realize that the supermarket cashier legally can provide coin change? Seriously. If your groceries total $42.67, you really can give him $43.00 and get 33 cents back. You do not have to search endlessly for two quarters, a dime, a nickel and two pennies as if you will be called before Congress, a la Bush with the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, and explain why you could not find them. Just thought you should know.

God that would have been funnier had Larry David written it.

I thought I was being funny the other day when I wrote on Facebook, “The local radio anchor just teased a story saying, ‘A new look at schizophrenia.’ I wish she had then said, ‘We’ll have two views.’”

Then, I got he earnest letter from a Facebook friend whom I don't know that said schizophrenia is a serious disease and it wracks the 1 percent of the population that gets it and you shouldn't make fun of it, et cetera.

Look, schizophrenia is not funny, but schizophrenia jokes are. Jokes about the Holocaust can be funny. My dad was a camp survivor in Poland. He lost his mother and several siblings in the war. Yet he would allow my sister and I to comb his slick-black hair diagonally over half of his forehead. When we held the end of the comb under his nose, he looked like Hitler. He would then start screaming in make-believe German ("Ich nein geshmaltz fehr eine Panzer Reichstag das fehrkahkte schlimming roitzen!") and my sister and I would howl.

Sadly, my dad relived his time in the camp in a bad way during the last year of his life, as his brain slowly was dying, but for more than 60 years after his liberation he could laugh about Nazis. That's how I knew he was OK.

This blog won't always be funny because, as my close friends and relatives know, the last three years of my life have not always been fun. If you'll indulge me some serious time, I would appreciate it.

If you've gotten this far, thank you for listening, and I'll leave you with one of my favorite baseball stories.

There used to be a nasty pitcher named Stan Williams, one of the meanest guys alive. He'd just as soon throw at your head than say hello. For all the talk of how much a headhunter Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale were, Williams was worse.

One day, a Dodger teammate walked into the clubhouse and saw Williams sitting at his locker and repeatedly firing a baseball at a photo of Hank Aaron taped to the back of his locker. When the teammate asked Williams what he was doing, he said, "Practicing."