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‘This Is Our Year!’ — For Dodgers, It Better Be

Another October crash would be especially painful for the L.A. bluebloods, who should not underestimate Tampa Bay, a modern baseball miracle that might make Dave Roberts eat his bold prediction.

Jay Mariotti

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If the comparison points are market size, finances, pedigree, ballpark charm and American magnetism, heh, this World Series would end in three games. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a cultural machine, a force in sports and life, the franchise of Jackie Robinson and Kirk Gibson’s home run and legends from sea to sea, cradled by a timeless stadium dug from a canyon off Sunset Boulevard and Vin Scully Avenue that overlooks hills, palm trees and the southern California dream.

The Dodgers are selling season seats with cutouts of fans' faces for up to  $299 | KTLA

The Tampa Bay Rays? They are baseball orphans, stuck with the worst ballpark, lowest payroll, weakest attendance and flimsiest existence of any contending sports team in the 21st century. With local politics quashing a new home, the Rays were desperate enough to consider a split season in Montreal, except Canada can’t even have them now due to COVID-19. And while there’s no shortage of celebrities rooting for the Dodgers in their homes — Kim and Kanye, McConaughey, Snoop, J.Lo — the Rays have one lonely but robust voice echoing across Florida’s west coast.

“Awesome, baby!” bellows their superfan, Dick Vitale.

Yet the mammoth disparities in status, lineage and sparkle are exactly what makes this Series watchable. Unlike the Rays, who already have won just by getting here, the Hollywood Dodgers can’t lose now, certainly not to these humble dishrags from St. Petersburg, not when they’ve botched so many October chances that Clayton Kershaw — and his heavy-rotation tire commercials — are cringeworthy in L.A. Up there atop the ravine, which somehow looks down upon the skyline as if you’re in Dodger Blue heaven, a toy owned by a cold, faceless investment firm called Guggenheim Partners still managed a prorated team payroll of almost $100 million for a 60-game shotgun season. The Rays came in at — ready? — a mere $29.3 million, trailing only Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the race to spend the least.

Which might explain why manager Dave Roberts, so often blamed (and deservedly so) for postseason strategic blunders, was prematurely giddy after Cody Bellinger won the National League pennant with a home run still flying past tumbleweeds in Amarillo. It certainly feels like circumstances are lining up for the Dodgers to win their first Fall Classic since GIbson’s gimpy blast in 1988. Waving a finger for emphasis, Roberts stood on the field and told a scant crowd inside Major League Baseball’s Texas Bubble, “I don’t want to get too emotional, but I’m just so proud of these guys. It’s been a crazy year — guys away from their families, social injustices — (but) our fans stuck together and these guys all stuck together. We have a lot of work to do, but … “

And then, as fans gasped from Thousand Oaks to Rancho Cucamonga, Boyle Heights to the beach, Roberts went THERE — to a dangerous place he never should go, a place that will devour him if he’s wrong.

“This is our year! This is our year!” he shouted, louder than Dickie V, a few feet from where his boss, Andrew Friedman, was applauding furiously.

Dave Roberts after the Dodgers won the NL pennant: 'This is our year' -  True Blue LA

Well, guess what? This might not be their year, either. Despite built-in advantages that border on obscene, the Dodgers are capable of another crash, especially if Kershaw again forgets he’s the pitching G.O.A.T. of his generation and keeps performing like an actual goat, as in farm animal. For sure, the series won’t be a sweep as much as a potential seven-gamer that will please MLB and Fox, even if America is too brainwashed by pre-election madness to partake in even decent numbers. I’m picking L.A. in seven, but not without trepidation. With history as a witness, stuff happens to the Dodgers every October that reduces them from favorites to farces. Witness the dugout celebration after Bellinger’s spectacular blast, when he traded forearm bashes with Kike Hernandez and dislocated his right shoulder. “I hit Kike’s shoulder a little too hard and my shoulder popped out,” he said. “They had to pop it back in so I could play defense. It kinda hurt. I’m going to maybe use my left arm (in the future). I’ve never dislocated that one.”

Funny, but the Rays don’t dabble in slapstick. They are too focused, too professional. For the uninitiated, they will keep the series close because they are an ongoing scientific miracle, prioritizing math mastery, high character and maximum efficiency when relatively paltry revenues give them little choice. The story line that hovers over the Series, of course, is Friedman. He started the Tampa Bay minimalist experiment 14 years ago, joining the Rays as a 28-year-old general manager after leaving Wall Street. Two years later, he was in the World Series, where the Rays lost to the Phillies, and by 2015, he was leaving the small-budget scrappers for the unlimited resources of Dodger Stadium. He already has his own industry tree of data-first geeks — including Erik Neander, his former intern and now the Rays’ baseball operations boss. Meaning, the pressure on Friedman is even more intense than usual. Imagine if he loses to his former team when he has almost four times the payroll?

“Obviously, I have close personal relationships there, some of my closest friends,” he said. “But my focus is what we’re doing here. We’re focused on four more wins.”

The Guggenheim money men didn’t blink upon acquiring Mookie Betts and showering him with a 12-year, $360 million extension — an addendum to a gold mine of homegrown talent including Bellinger, October storm Corey Seager, rotation ace Walker Buehler and emerging bullpen weapon Julio Urias. The Rays, meanwhile, are symbolized by wanky castoffs who happen to fit a data-and-brainpower system that must involve artificial intelligence on some level, in that this organization hatched revolutionary ideas such as the single-inning pitching opener, bullpenning and an all-lefty lineup. America simply doesn’t know much about them, even if Blake Snell won the Cy Young Award, centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is an consistent acrobatic presence on “Web Gems,” and Charlie Morton is the most reliable starting pitcher in the ballpark.

“If they don’t know the names by now, they’d better learn,” Kiermaier said of the American people. “Because we’ve got some boys who can play.”

One such find: Randy Arozarena, cut loose by the Cardinals only to morph into Mr. October, hitting .382 with seven homers and 10 RBI. If he keeps slamming bombs and clutch hits for a team built on a sturdy rotation and a fireballing bullpen, they should change the name of dismal Tropicana Field to The Arozarena. Not that he’s taking himself too seriously, like the rest of the Rays. This is a man who escaped Cuba on a raft at 19, knowing his family needed money after his father’s death. “You honestly just have to risk your life for your family,” Arozarena told MLB.com. “When you’re in the ocean, the only thing you’re thinking about and hoping for is that you get there safely. There’s been people that are out in the ocean for days and months, and there are others that don’t make it because they die. But when you’re in one of those fake boats in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the only thing you do is hope that you survive. I took the chance and, thankfully, I got here without any problems.”

Randy Arozarena-Led Home Run Barrage Key In Leading Tampa Bay Rays To World  Series

Similarly, you won’t see manager Kevin Cash making any Roberts-like proclamations. How can he? “We’re not a team built with superstar after superstar,” he said. “We’re a team that maximizes opportunities and tries to get matchups to help us win games. And we did that really, really well this year.” What you will see is Cash inevitably make the correct pitching move, an element that should terrify Dodgers fans still leery of Roberts and his decisions, such as his befuddling loyalty to Kershaw in tight moments. In Game 7 of the American League championship series, Morton was sailing with a two-hit shutout, having thrown only 66 pitches against the flailing Astros. Admittedly relying on textbook algorithms, not human instinct, Cash pulled Morton for reliever Nick Anderson. Morton wasn’t happy, nor was Snell the night before after an early hook. But Anderson and closer Pete Fairbanks, despite tense moments, retired the final 10 Houston hitters and eliminated the electronic sign-stealers. If you  pitch for the Rays, your feelings might get hurt.

“That’s what we do,” Cash said. “We believe in our process, and we’re going to continue doing that.”

Said 6-foot-8 ace Tyler Glasnow, who will start Game 1: “Cash made the right move again — shocker!”

Glasnow will be facing Kershaw. That quickly, the joy of Sunday night gave way to familiar anxiety in southern California. You’d think, after the manager and scuffling future Hall of Famer were bailed out of a 3-games-to-1 hole against Atlanta, that Roberts will stop overtrusting Kershaw in middle-inning jams and rely on his stable of young arms, including ferocious Brusdar Graterol. Friedman, the numbers guy, would be the first to know Kershaw has fared well this season the first two times he sees a lineup in a game, then craters the third time. In fact, Braves slugger Marcell Ozuna was convinced Graterol was coming into the game. “You know, I thought about it,” Roberts said of making the change. Relieved to see Roberts stay the course, Ozuna ripped an RBI double that again made Kershaw the subject of amateur shrinks everywhere: What’s with the double identity?

Here is where Friedman is vulnerable to criticism, if not another autumn failure. In the offseason, he allowed three key pitchers to get away — elite starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and veterans Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda — and traded another, Ross Stripling, in August. If even one was still around, Kershaw wouldn’t have to start Game 1. Will he bounce back with a lights-out performance like the one against Milwaukee in the wild-card round? Or will he be Mystery Clayton, the one with the 5.72 ERA in his last two starts, the one with an 11-12 record and 4.31 ERA in 35 postseason appearances?

“I’m doing good, doing good,” Kershaw said Monday. “Every year is different. Obviously, you have that experience to draw from. I’m trying to learn from that the best I can. I’m going to prepare like I always do, and I’m excited about another opportunity to get it done.”

And the team? “We do feel good about our momentum and confidence about winning games at any point,” Kershaw said. “We do feel confident going into the World Series, I do know that.”

It would have been delicious, sure, had the Astros won the AL pennant, giving the Dodgers a chance to avenge the cheaters who beat them in the 2017 World Series. Those thoughts ended the minute Tampa Bay beat them. “You can’t think like that,” Kershaw said. “The Rays are a very formidable opponent. Winning a World Series is going to be special no matter who you play. 2017 is over. This World Series is what we’re preparing for now.”

Rays capture AL pennant; will face (insert TBA team name here) in World  Series! | Tampa News Force

The Rays are not trash-can-banging frauds, we know that. They’re just the sneakiest little ballclub ever to reach late October. I live in L.A., by the beach, and I am feeling tremors.

It is not an earthquake.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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