Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, March 10, 2013

An Interview with Sports Illustrated's Steve Rushin

Nationally known sportswriters can become voices of generations if they ply their craft with enough skill and passion. Grantland Rice, Red Smith and Bob Ryan represent just a few of the scribes who captivated readers during their careers.  Even though shifting media trends have driven writers to be more versatile and knowledgeable on a variety of topics, their impact on how their readership understands and appreciates sports remains. One of the leading active writers at the forefront of this new world of sports journalism is Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin.

Rushin was born and raised in Minnesota to a family with a number of members having played organized and professional sports, including baseball, football and hockey. He grew up rooting for the Twins, and upon becoming a teenage, actually working for the team. Of course, he also loved writing, which led him to his eventual career.

He was hired by S.I. within two weeks of graduating from Marquette University in 1988. Two years later, at the age of 25, he became the youngest senior writer on their staff. He left S.I. in 2007, but returned in 2010 as a contributor.

During his lengthy career with S.I. he has written about a variety of sports, including baseball. He’s known for tackling off-the-cuff topics that often eludes his peers. His carefully thought out articles show a different side of sports that the reader often hasn’t seen, making him one of the more unique writers in sports.

In addition to his columns for S.I. and articles for other publications, Rushin has also authored several books.

He is married to former UConn and WNBA basketball star Rebecca Lobo, who now works as a game announcer for ESPN. The couple has four children together.

I recently had the great pleasure of being able to pose some questions to Rushin, and find out a little more about one of the best working sportswriters in the country. It was a real treat discovering more about his career and love of baseball, as he has influenced fans and writers like myself for more than a generation.

Steve Rushin Interview:

How did you first become interested in writing?: By becoming interested in reading. I suppose if I'd been interested in cars I'd want to know how they were put together. But I was interested in books--my mom was a teacher who shooed me off to our local library--and I eventually became interested in how sentences were put together. From as early as I can remember, I loved to read the side panels of cereal boxes, so my first literary influences were the copywriters at Kellogg's and General Mills. Also, my dad traveled a lot for work in the days before the internet, and he'd bring home three-day-old newspapers from wherever he went and I'd devour those, particularly the columns: Jim Murray in the LA Times, Red Smith in the New York Times, Mike Royko in the Chicago Tribune. I was a strange kid.

How did you come to write for Sports Illustrated?: We had a neighbor in the town I grew up in--Bloomington, Minnesota--who had a basketball half court in his backyard. He was a young junior college basketball coach named Flip Saunders, the same Flip Saunders who went on to coach the Timberwolves, Pistons and Wizards. We staged a 3-on-3 tournament on his hoop that I called the Saunders Hoop Invitational Tournament. You can work out the acronym on your own. I was in high school at the time. Around then, SI ran a long feature on the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament held in Michigan. I wrote a letter to the magazine about our tournament and by some great stroke of fortune the author of the story, Alex Wolff, wrote me back. We became friends. I'd send him my journalism-class stories when I was in college. SI eventually bought one of them and published it as I was graduating. That got me a three-month internship as a fact-checker, which eventually led to a permanent job as a fact-checker. From there, I worked my way up to writer.

Can you talk a little bit about your connection to baseball- specifically how/if you were influenced by several relatives who were major league players?: Well, I grew up in Bloomington, where the Twins played at Metropolitan Stadium. My two older brothers worked at the Met, and when I turned 13, I did too. We made the food that the vendors sold in the stands. But we also got to hang around the ballpark, pretend we were big leaguers and occasionally even pull the tarp in a rain delay. For a kid who loved baseball, it was a dream job, a baseball version of Willy Wonka's factory--broken bats, batting-practice baseballs, pallets of hot dogs and Frosty Malts and Grain Belt beer: This was my work environment at 13.

And as you say, my grandfather, a catcher named Jimmy Boyle, played in the big leagues, for John McGraw's Giants in 1926. He was with the team for two months that summer, but only saw one half inning of action, catching the top of the ninth on a Sunday afternoon at the Polo Grounds against the Pirates. His brother--my great uncle, Buzz Boyle--played a couple seasons for the Boston Braves and then three more for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1930s. He was a very good player. And then their two uncles--Jack Boyle and Ed Boyle--played in the big leagues in the 1880s and 1890s. Jack was a catcher for the St. Louis Browns, Phillies and Giants. He was a great player. His brother Ed had a cup of coffee as a catcher with the Pirates.

All of these relatives are on my mother's side. It's less confusing to put it this way: My great grandfather was a firefighter named Jim Boyle: He had two brothers who played in the big leagues and two sons who played in the big leagues. I always found that pretty amazing.

How much of a baseball fan are you now? What is your current involvement with the game?: I'm still a big baseball fan. I'd rather attend a baseball game than any other sport, though I've grown to love European and particularly English Premier League soccer over the years, too. I live in Connecticut, almost equidistant between Boston and New York, and there are few places in the country that maintain this level of passion for baseball, much to the nausea of the rest of America, which gets sick of hearing about the Yankees and Red Sox. I still follow the Twins, too. My dad, who still lives in the Twin Cities, gives me play-by-play over the phone every night in the summer. In baseball, the Twins were my first love (and my first employer) and that never really goes away completely.

With constantly shifting media, particularly to more online venues, where do you see the future of writing heading?
: I have no idea and if I knew I wouldn't tell you. I'd be finding venture capitalists to help build the next media phenomenon. But I have almost no interest in, and even less aptitude for, business of any kind. It's one of the reasons I'm a writer. As I see it, writing is writing, however it's delivered. I used to throw the Minneapolis Tribune onto people's doorsteps. Now I read the paper on my phone. But that has more to do with reading than writing. The writing is the same. I'm not worried that people will suddenly stop reading, or wanting to hear stories or be informed or entertained. The economics of that is another story, and I haven't a clue how that story ends.

What is the one thing you have written that you are most proud of, and why?: I've been ridiculously lucky to cover just about everything, on all seven continents--I was in Antarctica in December for SI--but one story that was personally meaningful is still the 1991 World Series between the Twins and Braves. As a kid, I would write stories on my mom's typewriter, in the basement, while watching games on TV. In October of '91, I was 25, and living in New York but I stayed in the house I grew up in Bloomington when the Series was in Minnesota. So after Jack Morris and the Twins won Game 7 in ten innings late on a Sunday night, I drove my rental car from the Metrodome back to my childhood home and stayed up all night writing the story for SI in the same basement--in front of the same TV--where I used to write stories while watching the Twins as an eighth-grader. It was surreal, how neatly that dream came true.

What topic would you like to write about but haven't done so yet?: Well, I've covered most major events but a lot of minor ones too. Weird stuff, like playing ice golf in Greenland, badminton in Indonesia and most recently exploring Antarctica with a swimsuit model. But the beauty of journalism is that every week brings something different and there are still all kinds of new people and places and things to write about. I was in Chicago this past weekend, and as I drove into the city from O'Hare, and passed the Addison exit for Wrigley Field, I thought: I'd love to live long enough to see a World Series there.


You can follow me on Facebook by going to or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

No comments:

Post a Comment