Simply Baseball Notebook: Cover Stories

Q&A with Jim Souhan

February 2003 


Jim Souhan is feature writer/general assignment reporter for the sports department of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Much of Souhan's work is centered around baseball, particularly the Minnesota Twins. He acts as the "Baseball Insider" for Fox Sports Net's Twins baseball broadcasts and assists on the teams' beat for the Star Tribune. The well respected journalist took some time to answer a few questions for us.


sbn: Share a little about your background: where you are from, college, other writing jobs, hobbies, interests and anything else you think is interesting.

JS: I got into sports writing when I was a mediocre runner at Vianney High in St. Louis and the school paper didn't cover our meets. (Of course, now I know why - there was nobody in the stands, reflecting the interest of the student body in geeky track guys.)

I quickly became sports editor of the paper, meaning I won an intense battle between one or two people, then attended the University of Missouri at Columbia because of the journalism school - and in-state tuition.

Following graduation, I worked very briefly at the Columbus Republic in Indiana, then took a copy aide job at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where, trying to impress the bosses, I churned out some of the worst prose in the history of the written word.

Somehow, I wound up at the Dallas Morning News as a part-time high school writer. From there, I became the lead high school writer, then covered the Cowboys in 1989. They went 1-15, but having great access to wonderful characters like Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson made it a fascinating exercise.

I then took a job with the Star Tribune covering the Vikings. After three seasons, I switched to the Twins. After five years on the beat, I became a feature writer/general assignment reporter, but that job has become more like Twins features/general baseball now that the Twins are worth following closely.

sbn: You covered the World Series, although the Angels won, Barry Bonds dominated the conversion. What was he like to cover; any interesting observations? Where do you rank him among the all time greats?

JS: Covering Barry Bonds at the World Series was something I'll never forget. Yes, sports writers tend to obsess over the accessibility of a subject, and Bonds is one of the most difficult, arrogant people I've been around in sports. But to be in the same stadium when he steps to the plate...I'm not sure I've ever experienced anything quite like it.

Nobody's mere presence dominates a game the way his does. (Other than a pitcher who can only be the dominant figure in a game once every five days.) I believe he's on his way to becoming one of the three best players of all time, behind Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. And who knows? If he can surge past Aaron and continue to amass incredible numbers in the categories of on-base percentage and slugging percentage, maybe we'll have to review that in five years.

sbn: This is not a huge free agent year, but there are big names like Jim Thome, Jeff Kent, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux available - do you have any insight on the teams that could make a splash in the market?

JS: I didn't expect much out of this winter in terms of free agency. I think many more teams will adopt the Twins' approach. Instead of overbidding for mediocrity, they'll wait and see whether a useful player becomes affordable late in the game.

Of course, Jim Thome and Tom Glavine are different. But even they aren't enjoying the wide-open marketplace they would have found three years ago. Three factors are limiting spending:

-It's become obvious that simply spending isn't enough to win, that team chemistry and a team's approach (like the Angels' hitters or the A's pitchers) has far more to do with winning a team game than individual talent.
-Teams have come to realize that lucrative, long-term contracts can actual hurt a team's ability to compete.
-The labor agreement will serve as an impediment, although not a barrier, to spending ridiculous amounts of money.

It is interesting that the Phillies are the most aggressive team on the market. But they do play in one of the biggest cities in the country, have a good amount of talent in place, and are preparing to open a new stadium that should yield more revenue. It makes sense for them to try to win now, and Thome and David Bell are first-class gentlemen who will fit well into any clubhouse.

sbn: You covered the Twins extensively this season. It was a great year for the franchise, do you think they are capable of taking it to the next level in 2003? What needs to be done?

JS: Yes, I think the Twins can get better. Frankly, they never played as well in 2002 as they did early in the 2001 season, largely because of injuries and, I think, largely because of all the distractions the team faced in the winter of 2001.

This is the way I see it: Torii Hunter can get even better. Jacque Jones can get better. The Twins can get more out of rightfield. Michael Cuddyer and Matthew LeCroy can punish lefthanded pitching, which gave the Twins fits last year.

Corey Koskie is a better hitter than he showed in 2002, and I suspect he was playing with injuries he never made public. Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas should both have better offensive seasons. Doug Mientkiewicz should have a much better offensive season. And A.J. Pierzynski has a lot of untapped power potential. And it's unlikely that their three most important starters - Joe Mays, Brad Radke and Eric Milton - will all get hurt.

I think they will remain one of the best-fielding teams in baseball. I think they will come to spring training confident, relaxed and hungry. I think they have plenty of talent in the wings (like Johan Santana) or on the way (like Justin Morneau.) And I simply think they can play better. I think they'll dominate the Central again, and probably play better against the other

sbn: Many think pitcher Rick Reed will be dealt before the 2003 season, do you see that happening? Are there any other major personnel moves that could be made?

JS: I don't think they'll trade Rick Reed. Not now, at least. I don't think Twins general manager Terry Ryan feels he can delve into the free-agent market, so he'll try to keep the roster intact, knowing he can always trade Reed later for a specific need or to make up for a key injury. And if the roster looks good and Reed pitches well, there will be no need to make a deal. After all, the Twins don't believe in using a pitcher on three-days rest in the playoffs, so they'll need four good starters. Kyle Lohse and Johan Santana could change their plans by pitching well, which would make Reed expendable. But he pitched very well for them last year.

sbn: Being around the Twins as much as you have, I'm sure you've run into Kirby Puckett quite a bit, how surprised have you been by the events of the last few months?

JS: As for Kirby Puckett, I don't know how the Twins will handle his recent troubles. The first order of business is seeing what happens in the trial.

sbn: Tom Kelly surprised a lot of people when he retired following the 2001 season, his name has been raised in relation to a few of the managerial vacancies over the past year - will we see him in the dugout again?

JS: I don't think Tom Kelly will manage again. I don't think he's necessarily averse to it, I just think it would take the perfect situation for him to want to come back - a chance to win yet not overwhelming pressure, a low-key, team oriented clubhouse, lots of money, and an easy media market. In other words, if he wanted to manage, he should have stayed with the Twins.

sbn: Finally, do you have any advice for the young, aspiring sportswriters out there?

JS: Advice for aspiring sportswriters? Write a lot, and read even more. Find writers you like to read, and figure out what works for them. Discard anything that reeks of cliche or routine; read writers who grab your attention for the right reasons.

When I want inspiration, I read everyone from Elmore Leonard to P.J. O'Rourke to Tom Verducci. And when you get into the business, become an expert at something. There are lots of people who can write a nice feature; there are few who can tell the reader something he or she doesn't know, or provide the kind of context that makes a story meaningful. Find a way to become both a good writer and a good reporter, then you'll be able to take your career in a lot of different directions.




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