First baseball lost the millennials, who wondered why 3 1/2 hours of sitting in a hard plastic seat might net 10 minutes of perceptible action. Then baseball lost the families, the dads and moms tired of explaining scandals to their kids. It already was losing Black America — big-league rosters that averaged six to seven African-American players in 1975 are fortunate to have one today — and anyone under age 20 is too occupied with selfies to appreciate Mike Trout.
But now, baseball has lost me.
It has lost the diehard who once assumed all scars heal, regardless of outrageous wrongdoing and inevitable turbulence, only to realize in 2020 that the bleeding is interminable. Even in our Year From Hell, amid racial unrest and a killer pandemic and rampant unemployment, the owners and players are so bent on feuding over billions that they apparently prefer to kill the game than trying to save it. We’ve never had time for their greed and hostilities, but with the world suspended in dire uncertainty, these labor confrontations have become obnoxious, tone-deaf, brain-dead and no longer worthy of our attention.
Let it be?
Actually, let it die. Perhaps baseball has to go away, for a long time, before it can return in a reimagined, streamlined, labor-sensible form and be functional again — let alone relevant in a changing America. I trust the chances of an honest, clean presidential election more than I trust the men who’ve steamrolled the sport into oblivion, with no one more inept than commissioner Rob Manfred, who only days ago said, “Unequivocally, we are going to play Major League Baseball this year … 100 percent.’’
Like the Steroids Era, like the electronic sign-stealing scam, like the juiced and unjuiced balls, like Pete Rose, like the Black Sox and like most of what baseball has represented through time, Manfred’s promise was a lie. With the sides deadlocked as they’ve been for weeks, Manfred now says there might not be a 2020 season, which should prompt us all to run into the streets — masks on — and celebrate that we won’t have to deal with these buffoons much longer.
“I’m not confident. I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is going to continue,” Manfred said on an ESPN special, “The Return Of Sports,’’ that made baseball look especially bad in that at least three commissioners appearing with him — the NBA’s Adam Silver, the NFL’s Roger Goodell and the NHL’s Gary Bettman — remain on possible tracks to resume play.
As this was happening, MLB was playing dirty pool, leaking a letter to the Associated Press that “several 40-man roster players and staff’’ have tested positive for COVID-19, “(increasing) the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks.’’ Making sensitive medical information public casts a poor light on the owners, who don’t seem to have much interest in playing a season, but it also sounds sirens about the elephant in the room: Regardless of their youth and virility, athletes, too, can contract the coronavirus, as football’s Ezekiel Elliott and carriers throughout all leagues realize. It’s why NBA players are having second thoughts about resuming play in the Florida bubble, along with concerns about maintaining momentum for the Black Lives Matter movement, and it’s why sports in general should re-examine whether the mad rush to return is worth the health risk.
That said, shame on MLB for using positive tests as a weapon. When asked how baseball’s labor debacle looks given the condition of the country, Manfred finally said something truthful. “”It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening,’’ he said, “and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.’’
Please don’t. I have lost all faith and patience, measures of which I once had in abundance.
I was a young columnist in Cincinnati when Rose impugned the game’s integrity, yet I came back. I was in Chicago when Jerry Reinsdorf howled, “I’m going to be a hawk’’ — the owners’ rally cry in an impasse that wiped out the 1994 World Series — yet I came back. I spent a phony summer in press boxes watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa reduce the Great American Home Run to a steroids-swollen freak show, yet I came back. I’ve seen plummeting TV ratings, graying demographics, foul balls that killed or permanently injured fans, elaborate schemes, continued PED use, games that grew longer instead of shorter, coordinated ball-juicing that created disproportionate-to-reality power numbers and an institutional failure to market a breathtaking generation of young stars.
And yet, I stayed loyal, fighting an hour of freeway traffic for another night at Dodger Stadium, just as I once zig-zagged through neighborhood streets in a rush-hour swirl and reached Wrigley Field in time for Kerry Wood’s 20th strikeout. I’ve always been a ballpark aficionado, savoring the ambience and architecture of stadia old and new, but more importantly, while football and basketball were blowing past Mr. Magoo (aka former commissioner Bud Selig) in the express lanes of American life, I enjoyed simply sitting in a seat with a beer and hot dog and watching a game.
Until I didn’t.
What’s driving me away is the audacity of these people. The owners are not dealing in reality, deluding themselves that MLB can: (1) either cancel the season or play an illegitimate regular season of 50 or so games, which bastardizes the very historical standards that distinguish it from other sports; (2) wage another wintertime war by colluding against Mookie Betts and other jackpot-worthy free agents; (3) deal with another coronavirus-threatened season in 2021; and (4) threaten a lockout in 2022 after the collective bargaining agreement expires — and STILL expect fans to be there in the end. Memo to Manfred and all other management space cadets: The fans will not be there this time. The last one will have shut off the lights, closed the door and padlocked it. Baseball can absorb only so much damage before its inherent joys are completely stripped away.
We have reached that dead end. The sport is broken.
Said Players Association executive director Tony Clark: “Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told players and fans that there would `100%’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season. … This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning. This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from players, and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”
All of which is hard to fathom, in that MLB continue to be enabled by broadcast networks still trying, for some reason, to prevent the sport’s mercy-killing. Turner oddly sees enough value to invest $3.29 billion into an MLB extension, which comes after Fox did a $5.1 billion extension two years ago. If ESPN goes the same route, the owners are looking at more than $2 billion in annual television revenues. The network bosses, who seem to have lost their minds, are ignoring the trouble signs and dreary ratings and administering an IV to the fallen beast.
But what good is financial sustenance if the owners lie about it and chase the union away? They insist on crying poor when obviously, after generating $10.7 billion in revenues last year, they’re rolling in the green. The players see those windfalls — the Turner extension was leaked over the weekend — and understandably ask why their average salary has fallen since 2017 while owners brag about record revenues. Normally, fans side against athletes in labor stalemates, and, given the current jobless rate, many don’t grasp why the players didn’t take a deal weeks ago and play for America’s spiritual well-being. But reasonable and smart folks realize the owners are using an opportunity — COVID-19 — to extort the players. Good faith bargaining, this is not.
St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., whose team is valued at $2.1 billion, had the gall to say on local station 590 The Fan, “The industry isn’t very profitable, to be honest … don’t think for a minute that the reduced payroll added money in the pockets of the owners because it didn’t.’’ So where did the money go? “It’s a bit of a zero-sum game. A lot more is put into training, conditioning, promotional work, front office, analytics,’’ said DeWitt, who bought the Cardinals for $150 million in 1995.
The … industry … isn’t … very … profitable? Do the math. In the last six years, according to the Washington Post, the average value of an MLB franchise has ballooned from $811 million to $1.852 billion. Not only is the industry profitable, it can more than sustain the larger mission of playing baseball during a pandemic, especially when players would be assuming the virus risks, not the owners hiding in bunkers with their accountants. By comparison, the NBA is desperate to complete its season in a Florida bubble and avert more than $1 billion in losses. One hopes the details of a Wall Street Journal report are a clerical oversight and not a five-alarm fire, but a landlord is alleging that the league’s Manhattan retail outlet has not paid its rent. MLB teams, trust me, can more than pay the rent.
DeWitt’s remark was mocked by numerous players, including Brandon Crawford, who tweeted: “”ThE iNdUsTrY jUsT iSnT tHaT pRoFiTaBlE.’’
Andrew McCutchen added, “bUT bAsEbAlL iS dYiNg!’’
That hasn’t stopped other owners from spreading more propaganda, whether it’s Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts saying, “The league itself does not make a lot of cash,’’ or Arizona Diamondbacks general partner Ken Kendrick echoing the nonsense, calling it a “falsehood that continues to be perpetrated.’’ The players are outraged, knowing Ricketts has used Cubs profits to build a ballpark village in Wrigleyville. The union also wants the owners, who say they’d face losses of $640,000 a game in empty parks over an 82-game schedule, to open their financial books. But the owners prefer to hide the books, which makes players, media and fans suspicious of the numbers in a sport that does nothing but lie anyway.
Allow me to list the most recent valuations of elite major-league teams from Forbes, as of April: New York Yankees, $5 billion; Los Angeles Dodgers, $3.4 billion; Boston Red Sox, $3.3 billion; Cubs, $3.2 billion; San Francisco Giants, $3.1 billion. And the net worth of select owners: the Washington Nationals’ Ted Lerner, $4.8 billion; Charles Johnson, the San Francisco Giants’ principal owner, $4.5 billion; the Detroit Tigers’ Marian Ilitch, $3.8 billion; the Los Angeles Angels’ Arte Moreno, $3.3 billion; John Middleton of the Philadelphia Phillies, $3.3 million; and John Henry of the Red Sox, $2.7 billion. Rounding out the billionaires club: Joe Ricketts of the Cubs, John Fisher of the Oakland A’s, Ray Davis of the Texas Rangers and Reinsdorf of the White Sox.
So here is baseball, in the crapper once again. The ESPN documentary, “Long Gone Summer,’’ was a syrupy waste of time, hardly mentioning until the final few minutes that McGwire and Sosa had duped a fawning nation with PED use. But the most maddening recurring theme was how the 1998 home-run chase, four seasons after the World Series shutdown, somehow had re-energized the sport.
It did not. Rather, it just delayed the inevitable. Baseball, as always, cannot get out of its own way, to the point we’ve stopped trying to catch its fall. I want to see a full-on face plant. I want to see them eat dirt, or some other substance.
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.