The geek in me, somewhere beneath layers of cynical crust, cannot wait to see Francisco Lindor in a market that deserves him. Or Kim Ng make her first major deadline deal. Or the Blue Jays, rejected at the Canadian border like Lil Wayne and Keith Richards, play home games at their 8,500-seat spring training facility. Or Trevor Bauer throw a gunked-up, four-seam fastball with an elevated spin rate toward the dreads of Fernando Tatis Jr., gaslighting a rivalry formerly soggier than a bag of fish tacos.
“I’ll speak for the people of San Diego: There’s nothing we can’t do,” said Peter Seidler, chairman of the Padres, who are trying to dethrone the Dodgers after decades of not trying at all — their .462 winning percentage since 1969 ranking last in the majors, embarrassing even Ron Burgundy.
The fan in me wants to know if Tony La Russa will need naps during night games, if Jose Altuve is forever lost in sign-stealing purgatory, if Mike Trout can ride the reborn Shohei Ohtani to October, if Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna have descended from a neighboring universe, if the Shortstop Wars featuring Tatis and Lindor and Trevor Story and Corey Seager and Trea Turner are Major League Baseball’s exhilarating answer to the NFL’s quarterbacking rage. Will the Yankees, in a city of elite medical care, find doctors and trainers worthy of their payroll? Will those insufferable Boston loons, incensed not to have won a World Series in three whole years, burn down a billboard near Fenway Park — purchased by a Dodgers troll — thanking the Red Sox for gifting Mookie Betts?
“I don’t care if you’re working at Waffle House or for the Red Sox or for the Dodgers. You should just get paid what you’re worth,” said Betts, who wore a $3,500 blazer and $1,495 Dodger blue loafers for a GQ profile.
And the adventurer in me wants to be at the ballpark, any ballpark, for the first real Opening Day in 104 weeks. If that journey takes me to the nearest option, the COVID-19 vaccination site once known as Dodger Stadium, I will sprint to the closest stand and order a Dodger Dog. I will not eat it without first gazing at it longingly, making certain it’s charred appropriately with the proper bun texture before devouring it like Joey Chestnut on a bender. Then I’ll head to whatever seat they assign me, distanced despite the two vaccine jabs in my left arm, to sit among the folks whose absence sucked life from the sport amid the pandemic disruptions of 2020.
“It was the worst, to be honest,” the Cubs’ Javy Báez said of the numbing fan-less season. “It was worse than facing a pitcher in spring training in the back field. I didn’t like it at all.”
Yet the realist in me, the one who views sports as a massive industry and not as a sandbox for media people who never grew up, knows that 2021 isn’t about fairy tales, poetry or even basic story lines. It’s tempting, in fact, to just send everybody home before the first pitch. You know, lock the owners and players in a rubber room — with wild tigers and deadly snakes poised to attack for strategic urgency — and not let them out until they decide how to amicably divide tens of billions of dollars in future revenues. Bloodied by interminable crises and scandals for eons, Major League Baseball has reached a breaking point that reduces the events of an arriving season to afterthoughts. Simply, if the billionaires can’t hunker down with the multi-millionaires and mutually grasp the destructive ramifications of an approaching labor impasse — with the collective bargaining agreement expiring at season’s end — then this sport deserves to fade into some dark abyss.
As the diseased cow of American entertainment, baseball can’t afford a 2022 work stoppage. Otherwise, in a precipitous cultural decline that started with the 1994 strike and continued through steroids and cheating disgraces, a sport once known grandly as the national pastime will slip-slide into a niche mode — closer to hockey and soccer on the U.S. relevance meter than almighty pro and college football. Only by the questionable grace of broadcast network enablers — ESPN and Turner have signed new, multi-year deals and joined Fox as marketing buttresses — does MLB continue as a national player, even as every autumn establishes new lows for postseason ratings and new highs for average viewing age (59, opposed to 42 for NBA games). What baseball does best — fun at the ballpark — also has taken a huge hit, with attendance drops in each of the four seasons before the pandemic.
The warring parties could be pulled further apart by the explosive racial climate in Georgia. After the state legislature restricted voter access, a law that President Biden described as “Jim Crow in the 21st century,” Manfred should be working furiously to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Already, Players Association executive director Tony Clark has suggested players will boycott the game, but knowing how MLB operates in slow motion, don’t be shocked if Manfred lets the Masters take the critical abuse — does anyone believe the Augusta National fathers, for all their progressive strides, would devote a nanosecond to the issue? — and stays the course for July 13 at Truist Park. That would not be a positive step in labor talks.
How tragic that a traveling company with so many dynamic stars — more than the NBA, when you think about it — can’t get out of its own way. For this morass, the owners are to blame, as always. So nakedly hellbent on financial ambition, they lost touch with the 21st century and hired a commissioner, Rob Manfred, who somehow is more obtuse than his Mr. Magoo-like predecessor, Bud Selig. Why, in a world moving at technological warp speed, would the powers-that-be insist on putting jackrabbits into a continuing turtle race? We’ve heard for years that the commissioner’s office was concerned about pace-of-play issues and would unilaterally install a 20-second pitch clock if the Players Association didn’t cooperate. Even though such a clock has been used in the minor leagues since 2015, we’re still waiting for implementation at the big-league level … because the union isn’t budging and owners are complicit, actually preferring that games plod on because it’s good for business.
No event that averages three hours and seven minutes — up almost a half-hour from the pre-Selig years — is good for business. While the smart sports leagues accelerated the pace of action with Lamborghini infusions, from NFL offensive explosions to NBA three-point madness, baseball decided a cement mixer made more sense. In an era-defining Sports Illustrated takedown, Tom Verducci found alarming bits of data that support the dawdling: Since 2011, players take 2.6 seconds more between pitches and put the ball in play on only 15.8 percent of the pitches — meaning, 259 pitches are thrown a game without a ball in play while an average of four minutes pass without a ball in play. More Verducci: “Last season set per-game records for highest strikeout rate for a 15th straight year (23.4%). It also set per-game records for most pitchers (8.9), most hit batters (0.92), fewest sacrifice hits (0.14), and length of nine-inning games (3:07). Batting average last season (.245) and stolen bases the past two seasons (0.94 and 0.98) sunk to their lowest rates since 1972.”
We watch baseball to be stimulated, right? Instead, we are being tortured, wasting our time and energy and money on an unwatchable slog. What are we supposed to do during those 259 pitches? The owners want us to eat $8 hot dogs and drink $15 beers at the ballpark. Or, if not already asleep at home, to catch glimpses of advertising signage behind home plate and throughout the ballpark. They do not care that games are longer than “The Irishman” or most one-way domestic flights in the U.S. They have allowed the preeminent sport of the 20th century to crash early in a new millennium.
Strikeouts, walks, home runs — that’s baseball. In the concluding Game 6 of the World Series, only two balls were put into play in the final 28 minutes.
A recipe for ennui.
“Three true outcomes — that kind of gets old. That’s where I think the game kind of lacks,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon, who would be a better commissioner than Manfred.
Only too happy to participate in the slowdown was the new breed of front-office thinkers, prioritizing nerd-alytics and keeping bosses happy with shady maneuvers such as the manipulation of service time. How ironic that the most accomplished bro-dude exec, Theo Epstein, has been summoned by Manfred to address the waning entertainment value. “I take some responsibility for that because the executives, like me, who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures, have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game,” said Epstein, now a consultant to the commissioner after breaking historic curses with the Red Sox and Cubs.
But it’s much too late to fix what ails baseball when Manfred and Selig lost one generation and are about to lose another. Deadening the baseball this year is a lost cause thanks to Manfred, who was responsible for an absurd, six-year home-run boom that diluted and ruined the coolest thrill in sports. Limiting defensive shifts is long overdue, but making infield bags larger to encourage base-stealing — hell, does anyone even remember Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock … or Barry Bonds before he sold out to PEDs and power records?
The lords also want bunts. Who knows how to bunt anymore?
As I’ve pointed out, maybe 10 teams care about winning a World Series this year. The other 20 do not, including foundational franchises such as the Cubs and Red Sox, which makes for a lopsided, painful imbalance that drains competitive integrity. The state of MLB must be pretty dismal when Donnie Baseball himself is grumbling. “I watched a lot of the playoff games after we were eliminated and quite honestly it was a little hard to watch,” said Don Mattingly, manager of the Marlins. “There was nothing going on. Strikeout, strikeout, home run. It was hard to watch. It tells me we have to find a way to make our game move.”
The owners and players should try thinking, for once, outside the batter’s box. They should focus not on themselves but on the sport they’ve collectively wrecked and the dwindling number of Americans who still care. And before the owners even begin to deal with a union that doesn’t trust them, they must settle their own internal differences over revenue sharing, lest the number of tankers continue to overwhelm the serious teams.
I’ve tried my best. I’ve listed several reasons to watch baseball in 2021. I’ve tried to be positive.
But why invest in baseball when baseball won’t invest in you? Why embrace an industry that again holds a knife at America’s back, ready to plunge it only minutes after a champion is crowned and the TV money is banked?
The season is here, perhaps the last baseball we’ll see for a long time. Indulge at your own risk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.