My first installment is going to be on my old friend, Paul Sullivan, the Cubs beat writer for the Chicago Tribune.
I talked to Sullivan the other day from the lobby of his hotel in Washington. He was in the middle of what only can be described as the road trip from hell: A 10-game trek to Washington, Pittsburgh and Houston in September.
“I’ve been dreading this trip all season,” Sullivan said.
I know exactly how Sullivan feels. I covered a series of bad White Sox teams in the late 80s for the Tribune. There’s nothing worse than being on a long road trip in September to cover meaningless games for a team going nowhere.
Unfortunately for Sullivan, he has experienced this drill before. He’s been on the baseball beat for 19 years, most of them with the Cubs. The last time they were somewhat relevant was in 2009, following back-to-back division titles in 2007-08.
However, despite three straight beyond-bleak years, and the prospect for several more with a rebuilding team, Sullivan said his enthusiasm for the beat hasn’t dimmed. “I love writing, and I love baseball,” he said.
And he wants to remain on the Cubs beat, if for no other reason than out of fear of leaving.
“I know the minute I come off they are going to start winning like crazy,” he said.
Here’s my Q/A with Sullivan on what it is like to cover a bad team in September:
So what is like at this point in the season? It has to feel like a death march.
I can’t lie. I’m looking forward to October. I’m seeing some bad baseball. It’s not pleasant to write negative things about people you like and respect. There are no players on the team I don’t like.
You look around for players to talk to after the game. After going to the rookie pitcher, who else are you going to talk to? When the team is winning, it’s easy to go from one guy to the next.
It makes you appreciate the veterans like Carlos Pena and Mark Grace, who were the go-to guys. This team is so young, they don’t have any real go-to guys.
Your stories now are often features with a smattering of game detail. When was the last time you wrote a true game story?
Probably the end of April. You have to find different stories, but I never have a hard time doing it.
The hardest part is that (manager Dale Sveum) isn’t the most quote-worthy managers. I spent eight years with Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. That was like the golden age. I like Sveum, but he isn’t the most quote-worthy guy.
What is it like to cover the new front office regime of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer?
It’s different. I had good relationships with Jim Hendry and Kenny Williams and Ron Schueler (from when he covered the Sox).
These guys are insulated. You don’t know if you’re going to hear back every time you reach out to them. A lot of time, they do it by Email.
They’re never around. They’re never in the clubhouse or hanging around the batting cage. They don’t want to chat with the writers.
I don’t know (Epstein) enough to like him. I don’t dislike him, and I agree with his game plan. But I have no relationship with him.
19 years is a long time on the beat. Do the long seasons, especially losing seasons, ever get you thinking about doing something else?
The travel is tough. I’m going to be gone for 12 days on this trip, and I’m already running out of clothes.
But it’s still baseball and it’s still writing. I love baseball and I love writing. I still enjoy what I do.