Saturday, July 18, 2009

T.R. Sullivan Interview

On July 7th, I interviewed reporter and Rangers beat writer T.R. Sullivan. TR does great work covering the Rangers for and you can read his articles on He also writes one of my favorite Rangers blogs, Postcards from Elysian Fields ( TR has written a book, with Mel Didier, called ‘Podnuh, Let Me Tell You a Story’, which I’ve read and recommend. You can buy it at TR is a friend of mine and has helped me a lot over the last few years since I started writing this blog. I would like to thank TR for taking the time for this interview.

Me: When did you decide that you wanted to cover sports for a living?

TR: I went to the University of San Francisco as a business major. When I came home for the summer after my freshman year, my father and I were casually talking in the kitchen one day. He looked out the window and simply said, “With your knowledge of sports, you should be a sportswriter.” I didn’t say anything back. But I agreed with him and when I went back to school, I joined the school newspaper.

Me: How did you prepare yourself to be a journalist?

TR: I only had one journalism class in school but I worked on the school newspaper for three years. I read newspapers, mainly the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sporting News, and I studied the work of many great sportswriters. The three best were Glenn Dickey of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jimmy Cannon from New York and of course Peter Gammons. When I got to Texas, there were many good ones to study including Jim Reeves, Randy Galloway, Gil LeBreton, Blackie Sherrod and many others. My all-time journalism hero is Dan Rather of CBS. I loved his book, ‘The Camera Never Blinks’. It’s my journalism bible.

Me: What led you to working at the Fort-Worth Star Telegram?

TR: My first job was at the Denison Herald, a small town on the Red River. I loved it there but after four years, I wanted to move to a bigger paper. With my future wife Helen’s help, I sent my resume and clips to 17 papers in Texas and Oklahoma. The Star-Telegram hired me in 1985 to do high school statistics for them.

Me: What led to you leaving the newspaper business to work for

TR: It was made clear to me at the Star-Telegram that they wanted me to cover the Rangers forever. That was fine with me but I decided that if I was going to do that, I should do it for an Internet company and one that would ensure my family’s future.

Me: What are the major differences between writing for versus the newspaper?

TR: Not much, other than the deadlines are easier working for MLB.Com. In both places, there are good and bad, but I pretty much write the same way for both entities. The three things I miss about the newspaper is that many old-time baseball guys don’t read me as much, I can’t help cover other sports in the winter, and I don’t have columnists behind me. Plus I really love the city of Fort Worth.

Me: What is a typical day like in your job?

TR: Usually I am at the Ballpark at 2 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. But there are a lot of phone calls, e-mails and text messages sent all through the day, plus surfing the Internet. The clubhouse is open at 3:30 to interview players and we usually talk to Ron Washington at 4:15 or so. From 5-7 p.m. I am writing my pre-game stuff. After the game, it’s another 60-90 minutes of writing before I head home. I usually get home after midnight.

Me: What are the three most fun things about your job?

TR: 1. Watching a Major League baseball game every night. After 21 years, that never gets old.
2. Covering big events like the All-Star Game and World Series, or watching a historical event like a no-hitter. I miss covering the World Series with Jim Reeves at the Star-Telegram.
3. Hanging out with writers from other cities. I am fortunate to have a great group of colleagues at and many friends at other newspapers. Plus guys around here like Jeff Wilson, Anthony Andro and my old pal Evan Grant.

Me: What are the three toughest things about your job?

TR: 1. Standing around a Major League clubhouse waiting to talk to players. I like interviewing players but there is an awful amount of time standing around and waiting for people. I hate that worse than anything in my life. After 21 years, I am still very uncomfortable walking into a Major League clubhouse.
2. Stupid mistakes in my stories like misspellings. All writers do it but it still bothers me greatly.
3. Being away from my family, especially during Spring Training. I love the regular season – 162 is my favorite number - but I’m not a big fan of Spring Training. Much of the stuff written in Spring Training ends up being totally irrelevant once the season starts.

Me: How has the sports writing business changed since you started your career as a journalist?

TR: The internet changed everything. Now you have to rush everything onto the Internet rather than do a much more thorough job of reporting. Blogs also changed everything. Opinion, commentary and promotion have become more important than journalism. Fan blogs like you, Jamey and Eleanor are great – a huge boost for the game and fun to read - but too many “professional” journalists in all areas prefer the shrill of blogging to old-fashioned journalism.

The other thing has been the proliferation of statistics. That’s not a bad thing but what bothers me greatly is the disdain that numbers crunchers and baseball writers have for each other. It’s like both sides consider themselves far smarter and far superior to the other side instead of mutual respect.

Me: What is your best memory of being a journalist?

TR: Having the honor as BBWAA President of inducting Peter Gammons into the Hall of Fame in 2005 in Cooperstown. I remember standing in the tent behind the stage waiting for the event to begin. There were Peter, myself, a couple of Hall of Fame officials and 50 of the greatest baseball players in history. Nobody else.

Me: What is the most fun season you’ve covered and why?

TR: The 1996 season – the first division title – was far and away the best season ever.

Me: What is the most fun game you’ve covered and why?

The four division series games against the Yankees in 1996. Those were the four best games I’ve ever watched. I have never been so caught up in a baseball game as I was for those four games. I didn’t want that series to end.

Me: Which players have been the most fun to interview and why?

TR: He’s not a player but I enjoyed talking to Doug Melvin more than anybody. When the Rangers trained in Port Charlotte, I used to do my work in a work room just down the hall from Doug’s office. Late in the day, after everybody had gone home, he would come by and we’d talk baseball for an hour or so. Every day. We’d talk about what I was writing, what was going on with the Rangers and what was happening in baseball. Right now, I follow the Brewers very closely.

Me: What would be your advice to someone who wants to get into sports journalism?

TR: Read as much as possible and learn to ask good questions. You’d be surprised some of the terrible questions asked of people. Dan Rather said that good journalists should spend their time crafting good questions in their heads. I tell young reporters to always have good questions ready because you never known when you’ll have access to somebody.

Me: What do the Rangers need to do to win the division this year?

TR: Beyond maintaining what has gone well so far, I think they need a strong second half from Vicente Padilla, Hank Blalock and Josh Hamilton. They need the bullpen to hold up. They need one more starter to emerge.

Me: What do you think the Rangers need to do at the trading deadline?

TR: I’ve heard they want a right-handed bat, a right-handed reliever and another starting pitcher. If they can make one big trade, I would prefer it be for a starting pitcher.

Me: With all of the praise for the Rangers farm system, it seems like they might be poised for a long-term run of success. What’s your opinion on that and what do they need to do to turn that potential into reality?

TR: I think they have a tendency to rush players through the system and to the big leagues before they are ready. Certainly there have been players like Mark Teixeira and Ivan Rodriguez who have flourished but that still bothers me. I was once told young players should get 2,000 at-bats or 500 innings in the minors before coming to the big leagues. I think that’s a good benchmark.

Me: Who are the next players in the Rangers’ minor league system that will make an impact with the Rangers at the major league level?

TR: I’ve heard great things – who hasn’t - about Martin Perez at Class A Hickory but I don’t consider anybody a serious prospect until they succeed at the Double A level. I think Neftali Feliz and Julio Borbon are the closest. Personally I really like catcher Manuel Pina and pitcher Omar Poveda. I was impressed with Poveda in Spring Training.

Me: How will the Rangers make room for Justin Smoak when he’s ready?

TR: Hank Blalock is a free agent at the end of the season. If the Rangers don’t re-sign him, I think that will take care of that issue.

Me: Do you think Josh Hamilton should move to one of the corner outfield spots long term? If so, who’s the Rangers’ center fielder of the future?

TR: Borbon is the early favorite to be the Rangers center fielder of the future but I would still try to keep Marlon Byrd when he becomes a free agent. Yes, Hamilton should move to one of the corners.

Me: Who do you think should be the Rangers’ closer?

TR: You can’t go wrong either way but I’d say Frank Francisco because C.J. Wilson can go multiple innings earlier in the game.

Me: Which Rangers do you think should have made the All-Star team that did not make it?

TR: Kevin Millwood, although I am a great admirer of Tim Wakefield. I don’t think people realize how close Scott Feldman came to putting up the kind of numbers that would have deserved at least consideration. If he had started the season in the rotation…

Me: What was your favorite team growing up and why?

TR: The Boston Red Sox. My all-time favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski. My dad was from Massachusetts and I was eight years old when the Red Sox won the pennant in 1967. That’s when I really fell in love with baseball. Yastrzemski’s season in 1967 is the single greatest ever by a Major League player.

Me: Did you play baseball growing up? If so, for how long and at what position?

TR: I played first base and outfield into high school. I got to try out with the Cincinnati Reds and didn’t do well. I was a much better softball player than a baseball player.

I would like to thank TR again for giving me so much of his time and for the great answers.

Come back next week for a trade deadline special.

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