A Conversation With Baggs, Part I

Available on Amazon. Box of tissues not included.

It's darn near impossible to be a regular reader of McCovey Chronicles and not be familiar with Andrew Baggarly.  The beat writer covering the Giants for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times is the primary source of Giants-related news and insights for many of us.  His Extra Baggs blog and tweets are closely followed and his news posts are often shared here within minutes.

His eagerly-anticipated book chronicling the 2010 Giants, A Band of Misfits, is nearing publication.  It's available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

Andy was nice enough to spend time discussing  his job as a beat writer, the new book and share the insights of someone who's spent countless hours following the Giants up close.  

Yikes! This is the first time I've interviewed someone and I'm interviewing someone who interviews people for a living.  How am I doing so far?

Well, I'm still talking to you, so ... fine?

Since a lot of the McCoven have an interest in writing and the media, let's start with your background and your job.  Where did you grow up and who did you grow up rooting for?

I was born in Naperville, Ill., just outside of Chicago, but my family moved to Southern California (near the Claremont Colleges, 40 miles east of L.A.) when I was 3. I had three older brothers, though, so I pretty much grew up a fan of all the Chicago teams except the White Sox, because we didn't talk about the bad people.

It was so much different to be an out-of-market fan back then. I'd stay up late to watch Stu Nahan read the scores on the 10 p.m. news on Channel 5 to find out if the Cubs won. I often went to bed disappointed. (Note from Goofus: TWSS!)

What got you interested in writing about baseball?

Originally I wanted to go into broadcasting. My oldest sister was a radio and then a TV reporter and anchor for the NBC affiliate in Omaha, Nebraska. She definitely got me interested in journalism and it wasn't until I got to Northwestern University that I started thinking about newspaper writing. I was fortunate to have some great mentors early in my career.

 

How did you end up in your current role?

I interned for and later was hired by the San Bernardino County Sun, where I got my first exposure to covering all the various pro and major college sports on a general assignment basis. One summer, before my senior year of college, the two main reporters were going to Atlanta to staff the 1996 Olympics. They didn't have anyone to cover the Dodgers or Angels that summer so I pretty much worked as a stringer and staffed six games a week. It was awesome. That's when I knew I wanted to be a beat reporter.

In 2000, I landed a full-time beat covering the Angels, and for the first time, I was traveling on all the road trips. After the '01 season, I was offered the chance to move to the Dodgers beat, which was a no-brainer. The Angels were mediocre, the stories always ran on the inside pages and nobody cared about them! Well you know what happened in 2002.

I covered the Dodgers full-time for two seasons before coming north to take a job on the Giants beat for the Oakland Tribune. The company that had bought the Trib eventually bought the Contra Costa Times and the Merc, and eventually the beats were consolidated. I was fortunate to be selected to cover the Giants for the Bay Area News Group in 2006, and here we are.

You write for a newspaper, but a lot of your presence as a writer is on the internet.  Compare the two and how do you feel when people talk about print journalism dying?

I don't know if print journalism is dying, but it's a challenging business because no one is sure how to monetize content on the Internet.  For example, classified ads used to be a cash cow for newspapers, but that's changed with Craigslist, etc. I do think people are craving and consuming more news than ever, so the market exists. It's just finding a new business model, and that's for people a lot smarter than me to figure out. Obviously, I hope they do - and soon.

To answer the rest of your question, my blogging style is very different from how I write for the paper.  When blogging, I can make jokes and pop culture references, and if only three people get them, it doesn't really matter. I still take the most pride in a well-crafted, big-event game story, but I probably have more fun writing for the blog. It's more conversational, so it's easier to write it quickly.

There are other differences, too. The newspaper is written for the broader audience while readers of the blog are diehards much more likely to demand details about things like, oh, I don't know ... Travis Denker's removal from the 40 man roster. I don't have nearly enough space in the paper to squeeze everything in, so now that I have the blog, I don't have to try. I can hit all the main points for the paper and go to town on all the other stuff in the blog. Plus I can write about Dave Flemming forgetting to pack underwear on a road trip, if I feel like it.

What's the coolest part of being a big-league beat writer?

It's cool to feel like I can write authoritatively on a subject. Very few people are in a position to get to know the team, the players and what's going on with them home and away. My job and access allow me to do all those things, and write in a way that allows the reader to be there experiencing it, too. I do enjoy traveling and seeing museums or other sights in places like DC or New York, visiting out-of-town friends or going to different well-known restaurants.  The best part, though, is having a ballpark for my office. For a lot of people, visiting all the various parks is a dream vacation. I get to do it every year.

What's the worst thing?

Although the travel can be great, it's also tough.  Sometimes I'll wake up in a standard Marriott hotel room and it'll take me a full minute to remember what city I'm in.  Much of the time, your sleep and diet are not under your control. Extra innings, rain delays ... they can screw up your travel plans. If a game ends late and I'm rushing to catch a flight, I'll sometimes get heat from readers for not writing a post-game blog, but people don't always know what you're up against.

Also, a consequence of the travel is that you're away from your friends and family way too much, and even when you're home, you're not on their social schedule. When they're enjoying nights or weekends off, I'm at the ballpark working. And some things that are cool, like postgame fireworks, actually become an annoyance to me. Because of the nature of the job, sometimes you have to work hard not to become too cynical.

Who are hotter, Baseball Annies or Baseball-writer Annies?

I'll have to go with the former because I'm not aware of the latter even existing. I know Schulman enjoys Little Debbies, though.

As someone who experiences the rigors of all that travel, do you think it plays a big role in players' performances on the road?

Is this a follow-up to the Baseball Annies question?

Do players, coaches and managers read what you write?

Like any other workplace environment, you get all kinds of personalities in a major league clubhouse. The only difference is that accountants don't walk around in Rally Thongs. Some players read everything you write and will talk to you about it.  Others read what you write, but don't want you to know they care so they never say anything. Others just tune everything out and don't read any of it. But even those guys hear comments from their wives, or friends or family. I don't write for their approval, per se, so it's not something that I really worry about.

How much do you censor yourself?  What would be an example of something you wouldn't report on?

I really don't censor myself much.  I just try to be fair and accurate.  Sure, you hear extracurricular stuff from time to time, but if it has no affect at all on their performance, I won't write about a player's personal or social life. 

Was the heat Henry Schulman took for writing about Wilson's tweets fair?

That's not really my place to judge.  I will say that I think the Giants should consider themselves lucky to have three beat writers who are square dealers, and while we don't shy away from controversy, we don't walk into the clubhouse looking to create it. A lot of other teams can't say that.

Does being critical of the team you're covering run the risk of getting you frozen out of access to players and management?   How do you balance the two? 

Well, sure. Sometimes you'll tick people off with what you write, but I think that if that doesn't happen occasionally, you're probably doing something wrong. There's a pretty simple standard I use. I think you have to be able look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you've been fair and accurate. Major league players are well compensated professionals and they're public figures.

There's nothing wrong with criticism if it's warranted, as long as you're not taking cheap shots or taking delight in someone's failures. The guys who "get it" understand that I have a job to do, and they're respectful of it. By the same token, I respect that I'm allowed access to their work place and it's not always easy for them to answer questions, especially after they failed in front of 40,000 people. A little understanding and respect goes a long way, on both sides.

You were pretty outspoken in your criticism of Jose Guillen.  Any thoughts about the trouble he got into or his being left off the post-season roster?

The Giants say he would've been off the roster anyway because of his neck issues. I'm not sure I believe that. It's been reported the Giants were made aware his legal situation by MLB before rosters were set. But regardless, it was one more little twist of fate in their World Series run. Can you imagine if Guillen, not Cody Ross, was the starting right fielder in the playoffs?

Let's talk about your upcoming book.  This is your first book, right?

Yes. It's a "Choose Your Own Adventure" format, and I .... no, I'm kidding. I know better than to mess with the master on that one.

I've always had "writing a book" on my bucket list, and with the Giants winning the World Series, there probably wasn't going to be a better time. The schedule was very rushed to get it published by Opening Day, and in fact, it's going to the printer this week.  I only had three weeks to write a 95,000-word manuscript, which undoubtedly means there are some things I left out or the writing is less lively than it otherwise could be in places. Luckily, I had everything I'd written during the season, as well as all the notes I'd taken, as a base from which to work. But I wanted to include other material as well. There's some context from previous seasons, such as the Bonds years or the decision to draft Lincecum or Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter.

Even if you looked at the game stories and the blog every single day last year, there's some other behind-the-scenes stuff in the book you haven't heard before. I really hope people enjoy it and read it whenever they want to remember all the individual moments, memories and characters from such an incredible season.

Assume I'm sitting in my mom's basement and spend way too much time on my computer.  Describe the book in a way that would make me want to tear myself away from this exciting lifestyle long enough to actually buy it and read it?

C'mon, I know not all of you are in your moms' basements.  Some of you are living comfortably in converted garages.

I think the book provides a good account of the season, as well as a lot of context that led up to it. But mostly, it's a book about the cast of characters that populated the Giants roster. I break away from the games and the action to tell their stories. Those parts were the most fun for me to write, whether it's delving into the evolution of Brian Wilson's persona or the first wearing of the Rally Thong or just marveling at the stoicism of Matt Cain, and how much he deserved something great to happen to him after graciously dealing with so many unfair losses over his career. I hope there are parts that will make you laugh and parts that will give you goose bumps.

I'll be sure to update the blog with signings, appearances, etc., once they're scheduled. I look forward to meeting a lot of readers in person over the next few weeks and months. That should be a lot of fun, too.

Any juicy tidbits in the book?  

Yes. The book starts out with a good one in the introduction.

I'm a little hurt that I wasn't asked to write the forward for your book.  Can I at least play Huff when the movie version comes out?

Are you comfortable with nudity?

Stay tuned for Part II, where Baggs answers questions about Sabean, Bochy, Magowan and some of the players.

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