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How To Make The Best of Baseball’s Stink

“A disgusted nation wishes MLB didn’t bother playing a shortened season, which is why it’s more urgent than ever for players to put on the best possible show through daunting health risks and labor animosity.”

Jay Mariotti

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It’s tempting to gather all the baseball saboteurs, owners and players alike, for a funeral service. We could spread the sport’s ashes across the heavenly ballfields at Malibu Bluffs Park, just off Pacific Coast Highway, a sensory delight that somehow has remained undiscovered by incurable romantics. Then a Little Leaguer would come by and rip a pitch over the fence, sending the ball, beautifully and innocently, toward the only visual in sight: the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

This would be our way of finding peace, just as we felt some relief upon hearing the FBI’s conclusion that Bubba Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime. Yes, in Nascar, a crew might create a “garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose’’ and leave it in a Talladega Superspeedway stall for months, long before the circuit’s only black driver showed up in Garage No. 4 for a race. Sometimes, a rope is simply a rope and not a targeted racist prop. Just the same, even in tortured and debilitated baseball, hope still can breathe through gritted teeth.

The reason we can’t entomb this sport quite yet is that Little Leaguer himself. While the rest of us are vomiting, holding our noses and wishing the game would go away and never return, there are kids who can’t wait for an abbreviated, mad-dash, 60-game season, even if it symbolizes the labor strife that ultimately will doom an industry bent on self-destruction.

Thus, we peel our dead skunk off the road and try to make the best of the stench. The compromise is a mere Band-Aid, holding back streams of blood that will explode in an inevitable lockout — a work stoppage this ailing enterprise cannot afford without dire, long-term consequences. And given the persistent fury of the coronavirus, it’s likely the season will be canceled before any October postseason, the appropriate abrupt ending for a devalued, bastardized alternative. Yet through the labor animosity and health dangers, the players must try anyway to stage the finest, coolest show possible. They are the only hope in salvaging what still can be a breathtaking game, despite the scandals and 3 1/2-hour slogs, when they are free of management-imposed migraines and obstacles.

Mike Trout's huge reported Angels extension gives Mookie Betts his ...

They must revert to being kids on a Little League diamond, hoping to impress anyone who might be watching. Because that’s where baseball finds itself now, drowning in public apathy and disgust after prioritizing a lengthy labor fight in a country pummeled by a pandemic, racial unrest and rampant joblessness. The electric stars — Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper — will have to save what’s left of a game that once energized America but now only brings grief and yawns. Don’t tell me about hating the Astros, A-Rod and J. Lo buying the Mets and the Dodgers’ promising chances of finally winning it all.

There is only one story line: Can baseball, on the edge of the abyss, miraculously keep players safe from a raging virus and still convince folks to give a damn and watch spectator-less games on TV? The answers will be no and no, but there’s no use in dwelling on the obvious when all it does is infuriate us.

“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides,’’ tweeted pitcher Trevor Bauer, the defining truthteller of this crisis. “We’re driving the bus straight off the cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? COVID-19 already presented a lose-lose-lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.”

Repulsive, actually. But if the umpire shouts “Play Ball’’ in late July — rather, holds up a cue card while wearing a facial covering — the players must entertain us with quality performances and nightly thrills as they never have before. Or, they still could be viewed as villains in what has become the real battleground for owners and the Players Association: the public-relations game. At present, owners are seen as the bad guys, for a change, after they foolishly tried to claim baseball wasn’t a profitable business. Yet if the players are half-hearted about resuming the season — or, in some cases, don’t want to suit up — America’s jobless masses will turn on them.

MLB suspends Spring Training games; start of 2020 regular season ...

It’s mortally unfair, I know, to make players and their families assume the dreadful virus risks. Make no mistake, there will be positive tests, scads of them, starting next week when they’re due to report to home stadiums for a bizarre form of summer training. Unlike the NBA, Major League Baseball has abandoned thoughts of a medical bubble, instead allowing players a return to relative daily normalcy: they’ll stay at their residences when teams are at home, travel to the ballpark, then hop on charter flights for road trips and stay in hotels within geographically friendly divisional pods. Still, this is madness. Despite 100-plus pages of health and safety protocols, the plan is fraught with peril. There will be mass gatherings every day in more than two dozen MLB markets, many of which are COVID-19 hotspots, including recent surges in Florida, Texas, California and Arizona — homes to 10 of the 30 teams. Players, support staff and all others on site will be susceptible to contracting the virus and spreading it in their homes and communities.

No? Just the other day, after a spate of positive tests throughout the sport, MLB shut down all 30 facilities in Florida and Arizona for Hazmat deep-cleaning. The Philadelphia Phillies, for instance, now have counted 12 positive tests among players and staffers. If the protocol included daily coronavirus testing, there might be a modicum of confidence. But the tests are being administered “multiple times a week,’’ whatever that means, through a lab based in Utah, a state with no direct connection to MLB. When a player tests positive, his team will continue to play games while he is quarantined.

Only in a quack’s wildest fantasy can this possibly work. At worst, it would be a health disaster that destroys the sport forever and forces the so-called commissioner, Rob Manfred, to walk away in shame. “What happens when we all get it?’’ Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted.

As millennials and Gen Zers, baseball players aren’t prime candidates to follow protocols. They’ll refrain from high-fives and hugs, but they’re going to chew tobacco, munch on sunflower seeds and spit. And they’ll be eating at restaurants, going out at night and possibly not wearing masks, despite MLB pleas to stay at home or in their hotel rooms. Hopefully, they won’t be as stupid as tennis star Novak Djokovic. It’s still unfathomable that the world’s top-ranked player threw a wild dance party and practiced no social distancing during exhibitions he organized in Serbia and Croatia, which led to Djokovic, his wife and three other players testing positive for COVID-19. Also testing positive at the Novak Bash: Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, whose return to the U.S. is delayed as he tries to secure two negative tests within 24 hours in Serbia. This as the NBA tries to explain to leery players why Disney employees, who would be working inside the Florida bubble, aren’t subjected to the same testing demands as players and personnel in a state nearing 100,000 infections.

It’s these blasé, devil-may-care attitudes that will derail sports amid a pandemic. “Unfortunately, this virus is still present, and it is a new reality that we are still learning to cope and live with,’’ Djokovic finally admitted in a statement. “I am hoping things will ease with time so we can all resume lives the way they were.’’

Novak Djokovic tests positive for coronavirus

Don’t count on it, Joker. Don’t count on it, ballplayers. Whether any sports season has a chance of finality depends on the selflessness and diligence of athletes to obey protocols. Yet there was Tom Brady, ignoring the warning of the NFL’s medical director and continuing to practice with Tampa Bay teammates in a private workout, even after two Buccaneers players and an assistant coach tested positive last week. Congratulations to Brady and Djokovic for joining the COVIDIOT Hall of Shame.

Will I watch the start of the truncated baseball season? Sure, if only for the surrealism. But if America wasn’t watching much baseball before the pandemic, why would attention spans be heightened for Desperation Ball? This is a sport built on tradition, statistics and historical perspective. Wedging in 60 games out of necessity — remember, the Washington Nationals were 19-31 after 50 games before rallying to win the Series — won’t whet the appetite of the baseball diehard, much less people simply looking for a fresh diversion during a tense summer.

What’s crazy is, a reasonably high level of baseball will be played next month — in front of spectators, no less. In Massachusetts, the Futures Collegiate Baseball League will open gates July 2 for a 39-game schedule involving six teams. I know what you’re thinking because I’m thinking it.

You’d rather accept the risk of sneezing, maskless fans and watch the Brockton Rox play the Worcester Bravehearts — in person — than sit in the safety of your home and watch a major-league game on TV. That’s how much joy has been sucked away by feuding adults. But for now, at least, why not take a long, deep breath and let Mike Trout swing a bat?

Before you know it, such a treat might vanish for eons.

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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