The term “Offseason” means different things to different people.
To most people who work in baseball – the winter is a time for R and R. Maybe a trip to some place tropical. Some personal downtime before the summer rolls around and brings with it MLB’s marathon of a schedule.
That’s not Eric Byrnes.
On a snowy Thursday in his home just south of Truckee, CA – Eric’s day includes a nearly 200 mile trek on his exercise bike.
“It’s been kind of a low effort session,” the MLB analyst declares with all the sincerity in the world.
He senses my smile through the phone.
“Seriously! I’ve been able to talk to you this whole time, haven’t I?”
While it’s impossible to sum up who and what Byrnes is – that exchange comes close. He’s one of the most driven and genuine people you’ll come across in any industry. His addiction to hard work and ability to connect with others propelled the UCLA all-time hits leader to a decade in the big leagues and another ten years as one of the game’s most charismatic analysts.
Growing up in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco, Byrnes always wanted to do two things – play sports and talk about sports. His lifelong plan hit the smallest of speed bumps in 8th grade when he turned in an essay detailing his goals.
“The teacher handed the paper back to me and said ‘everyone wants to play professional sports and everyone wants to be a sports broadcaster – come up with something else.’”
Stunned, Byrnes returned home to a mother who was not pleased with her son’s story. The two immediately went back to school where Mrs. Byrnes reissued the paper to the teacher exclaiming; “I don’t care if he gets an F, this is Eric’s paper.”
Stories like this tend to stick with people – particularly with those as successful as Byrnes. No one would blame the young man for turning that experience into proverbial bulletin board material. Fuel to support his ambition. Eric doesn’t look at it that way.
“We all make mistakes. We all say things we shouldn’t say. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day, you know?”
As for what sport he’d pursue – that remained unclear for a while. Eric was a gifted athlete – fast and competitive. He loved just about anything that involved running around with his friends. It wasn’t until he was 13 that baseball took the lead.
His parents bought him an Iron Mike Pitching Machine. Naturally, he immediately cranked it up to 90 mph and began taking cuts. He whiffed for days and weeks, but eventually started getting a piece of the ball. Not long after he was connecting on the occasional line drive.
Three years later he was a sophomore called up to varsity for St. Francis High School. In what might’ve been his 2nd or 3rd game on the squad, Byrnes found himself in the lineup against Serra High’s Dan Serafini. The 6’1” lefty would soon be a first round pick by the Twins – but that day he was Eric’s pitching machine. One by one Serafini fanned the St. Francis lineup but he couldn’t figure out the sophomore. Byrnes finished with three base hits right up the middle.
“I had been hitting Serafini for three years in my backyard,” explains Byrnes through a cracked smile.
A stellar high school career eventually earned the Bay Area native a spot on UCLA’s roster. As a Bruin, Byrnes amassed a Hall of Fame career that eventually got him drafted following his senior season. Having turned down an offer from the Astros the summer before, Eric knew his window to make the majors as a 22-year-old was short. He was also battling a bit of a superficial challenge.
“Nothing I ever did on a baseball field was pretty,” admits Byrnes. “Everything I did looked like I was working hard for it.”
Baseball is an aesthetic sport. The stark contrast of the infield dirt with the outfield grass, the unique features of every stadium in the country – and the players. Scouts (especially 20 years ago) put stock in how comfortable a player looks on the field. Swings should be effortless. Fielding should be fluid. Anything different and the player is surely overextending himself.
As he freely admits – Byrnes was a grinder. He ran on his toes and put his whole body behind his throws from the outfield. He never cared how he looked – he was only concerned about the results.
Fortunately for him, he was drafted the one franchise who completely shared his philosophy – the Oakland A’s.
“I loved what the whole organization was doing from top to bottom right when I entered. It was moneyball!”
Drafted in 1998, Byrnes made his MLB debut with the A’s in August of 2000. For the next 5 years he was a key member of the storied team that changed the way baseball teams were built.
He was never the best player on the field, but it was personality and hustle that made Byrnes a fan favorite in Oakland. Productive on the diamond, it was in the clubhouse that Eric might’ve done his best work.
“I always prided myself in being a good teammate, and a clubhouse can be a very divisive place. There’s guys from all different cultures and countries – I always tried to connect with everyone.”
Once he cracked into the Show in 2000, Byrnes decided to invest a few winters in the Dominican Republic to keep his game sharp. He didn’t realize it, but the decision to play winter ball in the Caribbean helped much more than his physical skills.
“Having spent 5 Winters down there, I knew what it was like to be the foreign player in a place where you didn’t speak the language. That experience made me want to connect with my Latin teammates back in the states. That and it kept my Spanish strong.”
It was that attitude that earned Eric a favorable reputation around the league. He understood the value of finding common ground with people. It’s a skill that would serve him greatly in the next phase of his life.
The Redwood City product’s big league career wrapped up in 2010 with the Mariners. He had a couple offers to keep playing the sport that had already given him so much, but Byrnes was ready for a new challenge. He had fulfilled one half of his 8th grade prediction – now it was time to talk sports.
He was contacted by his old friend and pitcher Kyle Peterson who had already made the transition to color analyst for ESPN College and LLWS games. Peterson recruited Eric to do some work in the booth for a College World Series regional and the rest was history.
“I did something like 7 games in 3 days and I loved it. I had never experienced that rush of live TV – I knew it was for me.”
To no one’s surprise – Byrnes was a natural on television. In no time he was making appearances on the freshly launched MLB Network breaking down the game he loved.
As they tend to do in the industry, one job led to more opportunities. In 2011 he accepted a position hosting the 7-10 pm slot for KNBR in San Francisco – the same station he used to call into as a kid. Hosting a 3 hour radio show solo is tough wherever you are, let alone a top 10 market with very little media experience. Byrnes recognized the challenge and took it on anyway.
“In life – it’s so important to be comfortable being uncomfortable. When you’re uncomfortable – that’s when growth happens. That’s where you develop. I don’t think there was a single day I walked into that KNBR studio feeling 100% comfortable – but I learned how to make it work. After that experience for about a year, I knew anything I was going to do in media was going to be easy.”
Take the word “easy” with a grain of salt when it comes out of the mouth of Eric Byrnes. After all, he’s the man who casually bikes roughly the distance between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe while chatting on the phone. The guy who played 420 holes of golf in 24 hours last Spring setting a world record in the process.
Since his playing career wrapped up, Eric has grown both as a broadcaster and a community leader. His foundation “Let Them Play,” advocates public schools re-investing in physical education across the country.
“As a kid growing up with ADHD, activity was the only thing that ever stimulated me. I understand with shrinking budgets – PE, music and art are the first things to go. I just want to do what I can to promote exercise for kids.”
As for the ever-evolving world of media, Byrnes points to the importance of having a digital presence. He recognizes how we consume our sports is changing year to year and even month to month. What the landscape looks like in another 10 years? He’s as unsure as the rest of us.
“One thing though, for sure,” the triathlete breaks for a rare breath on his pedals. “No matter your platform; TV, radio, podcast or an article. Whatever you do has to be authentic. If you’re authentic you’ll resonate with people, you’ll make an impact. I just try to be authentic.”
The 43-year-old father of three never made baseball look easy – but he sure makes his extraordinary life look effortless.
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.