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MLB Reporters

Throughout their history, the Oakland Athletics have been one of the most audacious and individual franchises in all of baseball. As the San Francisco Chronicle's veteran beat reporter, Susan Slusser has become the preeminent scribe of the A's modern era. She is co-author, with the team's longtime radio voice Ken Korach, of If These Walls Could Talk: Oakland A's.

Young reporters often ask me for advice when they're getting into the business. I usually keep it simple with something that can apply to any job in any industry: When you get your first job or internship, always get there on time (or early), stay late, and learn every aspect of the job and other people's jobs, too. If you make yourself indispensable, you might wind up sticking around, and if you learn other skills, you'll expand your options.

If These Walls Could Talk: Oakland A's I like to remind young writers to watch and listen first. See what the veterans are doing, how they go about the job, and always be polite and friendly. The last thing anyone at any company wants is a new hire or intern showing up and being a know-it-all or a nonstop talker. Learn as much as possible and pick your spots to give your two cents. I've seen otherwise capable interns lose jobs because they came in acting overly entitled. Remember the people who’ve done the work for years might have a decent idea what they’re doing. If you think you know better, well, let your work speak for you.

Dressing appropriately is important, which might seem strange, considering the cliché of slob sportswriters can be pretty close to the mark. It's fine to dress casually for some sports, particularly baseball, with a long season played in hot weather. (Standards for the three other major pro team sports are much higher, especially on game days.)

Even with casual attire, though, a reporter should appear to be professional in order to be taken seriously. This can be especially tricky for women, and I'm blunt. I tell women entering the business: Do not dress like you're going clubbing or heading out on a date. It does not send the right message. You want players to think of you as a reporter and nothing more, otherwise you cannot do your job correctly. The best way for any reporter to dress is to not draw attention to yourself -- you want to be part of the background. Only one reporter completely ignored that advice when I gave it to her, and she was out of baseball several years later.

I was part of a committee that Major League Baseball put together to come up with a dress code before the 2012 season. The guidelines were common sense, but there was a lot of misinformation in the wake of the announcement during the 2011 Winter Meetings. Some reported, erroneously, that the league wanted to avoid any issue with scantily clad sideline reporters after an incident with the New York Jets and a female TV reporter. The truth is much more mundane, and involved a male reporter who had worn flip flops throughout the previous year's World Series. Baseball's bigwigs were unhappy that some media members weren’t attired properly for the sport's jewel event. Thus, the dress code.

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I can say, having been on the committee, that every possible care was taken to be gender neutral: skirt length and shorts length were both addressed, among other things. Some items, such as no undershirt-style T-shirts, shredded jeans and team-logo attire were geared more specifically toward photographers and camera people who often show up in the sightline of TV viewers.

Wearing logo clothing of any team is a major sticking point with most reporters. Journalists are supposed to be objective. And yet every postseason, in particular, there are reporters from local TV stations wearing team gear. It’s maddeningly unprofessional.

So there were reasons for the dress code, even if it was misunderstood. One national publication wrote an entire story based on the false premise that sandals were prohibited, despite talking to me beforehand and being told in no uncertain terms that sandals and other women's footwear are fine (though spike heels aren't the most sensible choice on a baseball field, and groundskeepers hate them). Only backless shoes -- flip-flops, shower shoes, and the like -- are not allowed, and that’s only during the regular season and postseason. Spring training, when work includes long days in the sun, flip flops are okay per the league, although at least one team has banned them during the spring.

I drew some flak myself for being sexist in the wake of the guidelines' announcement. I told the Associated Press that the idea was to "not dress like a hobo or a ho." I said it just to be funny, but yes, I guess the issue of scanty attire can be seen to be gender specific. However, for a long time, the most notoriously underdressed writer in Arizona every spring was a Northern California sports columnist -- male -- who wore short-shorts everywhere. And, as a woman, I worry that publications that toss around accusations of sexism where it does not exist will wind up cheapening the notion and won't retain a voice of authority when there is real discrimination at hand.

Meanwhile, the joke around the A's after the dress-code guidelines were published was that Billy Beane would not pass muster -- he's in flip flops year round.

-- Excerpted by permission from If These Walls Could Talk: Oakland A's by Susan Slusser and Ken Korach. Copyright (c) 2019. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple Books. Follow Susan Slusser on Twitter @susanslusser.