After 24 years of reporting, SF Giants beat writer still loves the game
Henry Schulman, rookie, waited in the corner of the locker room. It was 1988, his first week as the Oakland Tribune’s new beat writer. Before him stood the San Francisco Giants, in name and reputation. He ran his questions through in his mind, assessing each word, fearful he might prompt negative reaction. But no matter what he did, he seemed to annoy someone.
“I was asking questions the wrong way because I didn’t know how to do it,” he recalled. “I didn’t have any experience, and I was just ticking off ball players right and left.”
As he waited, Giants’ leftfielder Jeffrey Leonard stalked toward him. The six-foot-two, 200-pound Leonard pointed at Schulman. The rookie beat writer’s heart pounded in his chest. Leonard yelled over to catcher Bob Brenly, “Is this the guy?” Brenly turned and stared at Schulman, saying, “Yeah, that’s the guy.” Then Leonard and Brenly turned and walked away.
Schulman thought, “What the hell did I do?”
That was nearly a quarter of a century ago. A year later both Leonard and Brenly were gone. A decade later the team left Candlestick Park, moving to a brand new Pac-Bell Park, later renamed AT&T in 2006. The players left, the stadium changed, but the beat reporter has remained the same.
When Schulman waits in the Giants’ locker room today, he is the veteran. This year will mark his 24th as a Giants’ beat writer, with three different papers. Currently, he writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, and now he knows just what questions to ask. It’s the player’s turn to feel nervous.
“The younger guys don’t know what to make of him,” said Joan Ryan, former sports columnist and currently a media consultant working with Giants players. “They are a little bit intimidated by him.”
Ryan described Schulman as “professorial.” That alone could cause distress in his interviewees, few of whom went to college.
Schulman is a professor of sorts. His lectures can be found every morning in the Chronicle sports section. He looks the part. The curly frizz of hair has receded since that encounter in 1988. The locker room lights glisten off the front half of the tanned dome. While the hair has thinned the waistline has thickened, bearing the brunt of two decades of press box pretzels and nachos. The lanyard and press pass are ever-present around his neck. And certainly, Schulman has tenure.
“It is really rare for beat writers to be on a beat that long,” former baseball writer and Chronicle sports editor Glenn Schwarz said, “especially baseball because it is such a grind. Twenty years is really unusual these days.”
That “grind” is 162 games in 180 days. It is three weeks of spring training in Arizona. It is working late into the night after a game in New York, and boarding a plane at five in the morning for a day game in St. Louis. That grind is why the veteran players get games off in June, and why most beat writers move on after a couple seasons. But not Schulman, who says, “None of the hardships of my job, nothing that I have ever gone through has ever diminished my love of baseball. Nothing.”
Schulman’s love of the game was instilled at an early age. He grew up in Los Angeles, a Dodgers fan. He remembers his first trip to Dodger Stadium with his dad.
“We bought the cheapest tickets we could get,” Schulman recalled, “Some season-ticket holder walks up to us outside the stadium and says, ‘You guys want some tickets?’ My first baseball game, and some guy hands my dad these wonderful tickets.”
He can still see the outfield in his mind, emerging from the tunnel to see the vast expanse of green. He remembers the Monday autograph sessions: “I got to shake hands with Don Sutton and Steve Garvey. Just to shake a ball player’s hand…”
Twenty years, a political science degree from Cal, and thousands of stories after those Dodger games, Schulman still cherishes getting to watch the game. “I get paid to watch baseball games,” said Schulman. “You can’t get away from that fact. I get to be around baseball every day of my life.”
Schwarz also noticed Schulman’s passion for watching the game. When Schwarz sat in the press box he saw the writers feverishly pounding out stories throughout the game, except Schulman. “With all the demands, he is able to watch more of the game than any of the other beat writers.”
But being a sports reporter is more than just spectating. Writing baseball is an art form, and getting the conflict of the sport into print is Schulman’s craft.
“He is someone who really connects well with the emotion of the game,” said Andrew Baggarly, former Giants beat writer and current Comcast Sports Net reporter. “What it’s like to be a fan. If a fan had the access that we have, what questions would they ask.”
It has taken years of experience to allow Schulman to sit back and watch. In 1987 he wrote about business worked for the Oakland Tribune. Newspaper revenues had been declining and the Tribune’s Giants’ beat writer accepted a buyout. Schulman leaped at the opportunity. But moving from business to the big leagues is like stepping into the batter’s box to face Randy Johnson when all you’ve done is hit off a tee.
Schulman learned quickly, though, and his passion for the game kept him motivated. A few years later, Schulman moved from the Tribune to the San Francisco Examiner taking a job as a copy editor. There he came into contact with Schwarz.
“He was a tremendous editor,” Schwarz said. “Nobody better on the job than Henry.”
But Schulman had other plans. He wanted another shot at writing baseball. So Schwarz moved him from the newsroom to the locker room.
“He [Schulman] made a good transition from being a business writer,” Schwarz remembers. “He just needed to open up his writing to include his sense of humor.”
Schulman uses that keen sense of humor in his articles and in the press box. “He enjoys making comments,” Baggarly said, “and enjoys being the snark or curmudgeon, but not with a dour attitude about life. He just enjoys the role of being the old newspaper guy.”
However, that “old newspaper guy” has some new tricks in his repertoire. Over the two decades since Schulman began writing for the Giants, journalism has changed. The news breaks faster, and increasingly on the Internet, and though a product of an earlier time, Schulman has more than kept up with the Internet Age. His Twitter account, @HankSchulman, boasts more than 16,000 followers. He has authored more than 13,300 tweets.
“People will come up to me,” Schulman said, “and say, ‘Oh man Henry Schulman, I love your tweets.’ Here I am pouring my heart and soul into these 2,000-word stories and people love me because I’m funny for 140 characters.”
Schulman’s humor and longevity have made him a staple of the Bay Area sports community. “I have people telling me they wouldn’t know what to do without my stories,” Schulman said. “Nobody is indispensible. But you hear that stuff from fans and you realize that they really appreciate what you do. I tell you what, that keeps you going through some of that awful travel and the 16-hour days.”
Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins has experienced those 16-hour days. He has had hundreds of articles run side by side with Schulman’s. Yet Jenkins can pick out a particular piece Schulman wrote about catcher Eli Whiteside that Jenkins said, “is a classic example of Henry’s wit, and his willingness to be daring in print.”
“The first thing you notice is his great name: Eli Whiteside should not be a Giants catcher, but a Dashiell Hammett detective in 1930s San Francisco, sharing a dank and cluttered upstairs office with Sam Spade.
She walked into the room, a long, tall drink of water. She had legs that went from here to Alcatraz, a figure that could melt the Golden Gate Bridge and a look that could knock Jack Dempsey to the mat. ‘Sam Spade here. How can I help you?’ I asked. ‘I don’t want you, Spade,’ she said. ‘I want Whiteside … Eli Whiteside.’”
The piece reveals a writer who breaks the mold. There is no inverted pyramid, no formula. “As a sports writer you tell a story,” Schulman said. “You try to move people, you try to make people laugh, and you try to make people cry, and let the reader get deep inside.”
Many who know Schulman point to his humor setting him apart from the crowd. “He has a wry sense of humor,” Ryan explained, “but very straightforward. He is a through and through baseball guy.”
It would take a “through and through baseball guy” to do what Schulman has done for so long.
But baseball takes a toll.
The sport eats away personal time and family time. Baggarly explained, “When do the people in your life have time off? Nights and weekends. When do we work? Nights and weekends.”
From February to October, baseball is life for a sports writer. “Baseball really does consume you,” Schulman said. “Baseball becomes your life, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t have personal relationships. But it consumes you.”
He continued, “Every season is like a book, that has a beginning a middle and an end. You always have your head in that book, even when you are taking a day off and going to the beach with a good-looking girl. It’s not that I’m not looking at the bikinis, but I’m also thinking about baseball all the time. That almost sounds like a negative but it’s not for me. Its not a negative because I love the game so much.”
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