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What Happens When Your Sports (Writing) Rival Is Also Your Spouse?

This article is more than 4 years old.

This story originally aired on June 23, 2018. This week it appears again ahead of Valentine's Day. 

On Jan. 8, 2001, news broke that the Oakland A's were trading for outfielder Johnny Damon.

"Which obviously was big news," says Dan Brown, a longtime Bay Area sportswriter who was working for The San Jose Mercury News back in '01. "I mean, they were bringing in a big-name guy. It was a high-profile trade. So I had to dive in and kind of give it my best shot."

(Courtesy Dan Brown)
(Courtesy Dan Brown)

Dan’s goal was to get a quote from Damon. But Dan knew that other reporters would be on the story — especially Susan Slusser, the A’s beat writer from the rival San Francisco Chronicle.

Dan went into his study and started making phone calls.

"It did not go well," he says. "I couldn’t get anybody. So my story, very high up, said, 'Damon, who could not be reached for comment, ... ' "

The next morning, Dan picked up the San Francisco Chronicle and read Susan Slusser’s story.

"Had these flowing quotes from Johnny Damon, that she'd somehow reached while he was on vacation in Hawaii, talking about how excited he was," Dan says. "You do your best. And sometimes that happens.

"But because other writers, especially, know we're married, people will spend a lot of time pointing it out for the next week or so, like, 'Oh, couldn't be reached for comment, huh?' "

Yes, Dan and Susan are married.

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    While Dan was in the study getting nowhere, Susan was in the dining room talking with her sources about the breaking trade.

    "I actually heard about it quite some time before it was ever announced, so I was already working on it," Susan says.

    "So what was it like at breakfast the next morning when you could see these two stories side by side?" I ask.

    "Um ..." Dan begins. "Breakfast was salty."

    Years later, Dan would get his payback — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    The story of the marriage between two of the Bay Area’s top sportswriters — and the various challenges that come with the union — begins in 1990.

    A Rocky Start

    Back then, Dan was an undergrad at UC Davis covering the football team for the student newspaper.

    Toward the end of the season opener, as Dan was waiting beside the field for postgame interviews, he noticed the Sacramento Bee’s new beat writer.

    "So I made some kind of lame comment about the game, expecting to get a lame comment back, 'cause that's how chit-chat goes," he says. "And I guess mine was so uninteresting that she turned around and literally walked away without saying a word."

    "I’m guessing I was maybe either focused on the game or just couldn’t be bothered," Susan says. "So that was our first meeting, such as it was."

    And at the next few games, things didn’t go much better for Dan. Susan spent most of her time chatting with another young reporter named Howard Beck.

    "He’s sort of a non-stop talker, so I didn’t talk to Dan for the next several games, or practices, or wherever we were," Susan says. "But Howie finally had to miss some game. And I had no option except to talk to Dan at that time. And I guess I thought, 'Oh, OK. I guess he's not that bad, this kid from the student paper.' "

    Soon, Dan and Susan started dating.

    And, a few years later, Dan concocted an elaborate plan to get Susan to return with him to that spot by the edge of the field where they’d almost had their first conversation.

    "And I got down on one knee, and I said, 'Will you marry me?' " Dan recalls. "And she didn't walk away — although that thought crossed my mind."

    This time Susan responded. She said "Yes".

    Newlywed Challenges

    (Courtesy Dan Brown)
    (Courtesy Dan Brown)

    At first, the newlyweds didn’t think they’d have to go head-to-head for stories.

    Susan was covering the A’s for the San Francisco Chronicle. And Dan soon started covering the Giants for The Mercury News.

    Nevertheless, the setup presented problems.

    "Because the teams alternate which team is home and which team is on the road," Dan says. "So if Susan was home, I was on the road and vice versa. And I think one year we counted during a baseball season that between April and October we were in the same place maybe 23 days out of that entire span. So it was a little bit rough."

    "There were times where I would drop off the car in short-term parking, and he would fly in an hour later and pick up the car in short-term parking," Susan says. "We really were like ships crossing.

    "We did have a very romantic lunch in Columbus, Ohio, one day when the A's were in Cleveland and the Giants were in Cincinnati. We both drove several hours and met in the middle."

    But as the years went on and as newspaper staffs started to shrink, Dan got assigned more A’s stories — and that meant encroaching on Susan’s turf in the Oakland press box.

    "It's not really necessarily a comfortable situation," Susan says.

    But, luckily, Dan and Susan specialized in different skills. Susan is an ace reporter. Dan says that sometimes A’s players call her to learn whether or not they’re really on the trading block.

    As for Dan?

    "Dan’s actually a much better writer than I am," Susan says. "It actually makes me angry sometimes. He knows he's written a really good story when I’ve read his story and then I sort of start glaring at him."

    "She'll read a story sometimes that I've worked hard on, and she'll say, like, 'I hate you,' " Dan says. "And I'll say, 'That means so much to me.' 'Cause that lets me know that I did OK."

    But when Dan has had to go head-to-head with Susan on a breaking A’s story — like the Johnny Damon trade — it's usually ended badly for him.

    Now, for the record, Susan is quick — and kind — to point out that while it is her full-time job to cover the A’s, that is not her husband's focus. Nevertheless, she doesn’t cut Dan any breaks.

    Take, for instance, the time Dan was trying to reach one of her regular sources: A’s general manager Billy Beane.

    "I think Dan had left a couple messages at his office with his secretary or something," Susan says. "And Billy said, 'Why don't you just give Dan my new cellphone number?' And I said, 'No.' I mean, I couldn't. He's my competition, so that's not going to happen. I don't know how Dan eventually got it. I think he did. But I'm not — that's like asking me to go tell the competing beat writer inside information."

    "Dan, are you ever tempted in the middle of the night to pull out Susan's phone and just jot down some new sources for yourself?" I ask.

    "No, but that's a good idea," Dan says. "That would solve a lot of my problems."

    "You'd have to use my thumbprint, so don't try it," Susan says.

    "You’re right there. I can use your actual thumb while you’re sleeping," Dan says.

    Scooped Again

    Such sleuthing would’ve been especially handy for Dan ahead of the baseball winter meetings in 2017. The winter meetings are an annual gathering of baseball executives and agents — it’s a time when lots of news breaks.

    And, in 2017, Dan’s editors at the Mercury News asked him to go.

    "I’m totally lost, and Susan is totally like royalty there," Dan says.

    "He really hates it," Susan says. "I love it. It's like a big cocktail party for me."

    (Dan Brown)
    (Courtesy Dan Brown)

    It was the first year that Dan and Susan were covering the winter meetings at the same time. They set up workstations right next to each other — and started trying to out-scoop each other.

    "And I would hear her on the cellphone or watch her disappear into a hallway to talk into her cellphone and start sweating over what was about to come next," Dan recalls. "While I'm like Googling to find out what rumor she might be onto."

    Susan wouldn’t let Dan fall too far behind.

    "She'd tap me on the shoulder and say, 'I just posted a story about Piscotty's trade. You might want to check it out,' " Dan says. "It was her polite way of saying, 'I've just beaten you badly on the story.' So I would have to, first, Google the spelling of Piscotty."

    The A’s were targeting a young outfielder named Stephen Piscotty who was from the Bay Area.

    "So it was a good story that I read about in the San Francisco Chronicle website," Dan says.

    But that wasn’t the only breaking news at the winter meetings: former Oakland A Jose Canseco went on a troubling twitter rant about sexual molestation.

    "And I was just trying to figure out what the heck was happening," Dan says. "And as I was doing that, I heard Susan on the phone next to me, talking to Jose, getting clarification on his comments. So that was another real rewarding journalism moment for me."

    A Balanced Relationship

    Dan kept getting beat. So he did the sensible thing: He decided to get out of town early.

    Susan stayed behind to cover one last event. Dan took the 6 a.m. flight home.

    "And I’m easing my way through the first class cabin to get back to row 23C, or whatever it was," Dan says. "And there’s Billy Beane right there on my flight."

    "When Dan posted his story with the Beane comments, I think I responded on Twitter something like, 'Divorce proceedings are imminent.'"

    Susan Slusser

    The A’s general manager was also heading home early. It hit Dan: If any news broke while they were in the air, he’d have first access to Beane when the plane landed.

    And sure enough, it was during the flight that the A’s finalized that trade for Stephen Piscotty.

    So when they landed at SFO, Dan approached Beane to get his first comments on the trade.

    "The first thing he said was like, 'Susan's gonna kill me,' " Dan says. "I had to say, 'Well, you and me both, pal.' But, for once, I didn't care."

    Dan was so worried that Susan would still somehow find a way to get hold of Beane and post a story before he did that he wrote his story from baggage claim.

    "And when Dan posted his story with the Beane comments, I think I responded on Twitter something like, 'Divorce proceedings are imminent,' " Susan recalls. "And I never actually did get Billy that day. I think he decided to just let Dan have his one scoop."

    So Dan finally got his scoop. A little balance in a relationship is probably healthy, right?

    Still, given all of the problems that seem to crop up when husband and wife work for rival sports publications, I was left wondering whether they wished they could work in different fields — where they'd never have to compete against each other.

    "No, I can't even imagine such a scenario," Susan says.

    "No, because I get to see traits of her that are kind of like the best in her," Dan says. "Her intelligence and her work ethic and all those kind of things — they really elevate her in my eyes. So, no. I like being able to appreciate it on a day-to-day basis."

    Read Dan Brown's 2018 Mercury News column, "Help! I married my dreaded baseball rival (a love story)." Since our segment on Dan and Susan originally aired, Dan has become a senior writer and editor for The Athletic Bay Area.

    This segment aired on February 9, 2019.


    Martin Kessler Producer, Only A Game
    Martin Kessler is a producer at Only A Game.



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