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As Baseball Blows It, The Bubbles Are Blowing Up

“The NBA and other leagues playing games in restrictive environments are beating the virus, at least so far, while the sports without Bubbles — MLB and football — are mired in chaos.

Jay Mariotti

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If the human element mattered in this surreal, stupefying slog of 2020, the consensus directive would be, “Health first, sports later.’’ Instead, the resumption of games has become a marketing slogan — “YOU CAN’T STOP SPORT’’ — courtesy of Nike, of course, which is trying to spike its stock with yet another campaign portraying athletes as invincible gods who, in this case, are bigger than COVID-19.

“You can’t stop sport,’’ says Russell Wilson, who is in the commercial, “because you can’t stop us.’’

And when any of us challenge that rationale as foolish, dangerous and ass-backward — that one’s life is a bit more important than a bastardized ballgame amid a pandemic — we are subjected to the millennial wisdom of Kyle Brandt, he of the NFL Network, who surely heard an “Attaboy’’ or two from his league bosses when he tweeted, “There’s a segment of the NFL media that seems to be almost rooting for COVID to affect the season. They want it. They see the Marlins news and say, `Yep! Lots of luck, football!’ These are people who make their livings off football. I don’t get it.’’

Well, Kyle, the Marlins’ outbreak news soon became the Cardinals’ outbreak news, inevitably to be followed by another team’s coronavirus spread. And some of us, as professional journalists, are obligated to be honest to the masses and not underplay a global health crisis because we’re beholden to a pay day, as maybe you are, Kyle, along with others I see in sports media. Consider it more jarring proof that this Major League Baseball season never should have been attempted and that Rob Manfred, the so-called commissioner, should be banished to another planet for jeopardizing the lives of players and families and further humiliating the sport. It’s now more evident than a 104-degree fever and relentless diarrhea runs that leagues not playing seasons in restrictive medical environments are doomed to stall, which eventually will include the NFL and college football, once mass outbreaks occur as players spit, breathe, slobber and bleed on each other every play, then gather in confined locker rooms to spread those expectorations, then travel to road hotels or mask-optional campus parties. These are not dominoes, Kyle. These are human beings who might get sick and spread COVID-19 to others, who could get sick themselves or, I don’t know, maybe die.

Yet the ongoing realities of the virus — “We just have to assume the monster is everywhere,’’ said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, whose state is home to two MLB franchises — has only turned Manfred into his own kind of monster. In a country with 500,000 new infections the past week, a country that Johns Hopkins University says needs a “reset’’ because the U.S. “is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic,’’ Dr. Rob isn’t going down without a fight. Knowing the NBA, NHL and other leagues in Bubbles are functioning well so far and making MLB look typically inept, Manfred responded with his own grand, “You Can’t Stop Sport’’ declaration to ESPN after postponing 17 games in his season’s first 10 days. In the process, he continued to point a long index finger at the players — and their union, as always — for violating health/safety protocols when: (1) Manfred and the owners signed off on those protocols; (2) MLB should have been monitoring the players’ behavior all along and canceled the Miami-Phillies game eight days ago, when the Marlins’ outbreak emerged; and (3) MLB decided not to conduct tests daily, meaning infected players can be exposed to other people for days while awaiting results, which probably is what happened when the Cardinals had their explosion of positive tests.

“We are playing,” said Manfred, who pondered canceling the season — and should have. “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

Yeah, just as Howard the Duck thought he could manage Son of Satan. This from the man who refuses to put baseball’s virus catastrophe in “the nightmare category,’’ the very definition of denial if not delusion. “It’s what the public health experts have been saying from the beginning about this, that there is no one big magic fix,” Manfred, who has not held a press conference in months, told the Associated Press. “The protocols are a series of little things that people need to do. We’ve had some problems. In order to be better, it’s a series of little things. I think it’s peer pressure. I think it’s players taking personal responsibility.” When will Manfred realize this is not a fair fight? How many positive tests, team quarantines, game postponements, reconfigured schedules, Yoenis Cespedes blow-offs and seven-inning doubleheaders does he need before he finally gets it — that he’s risking a full-blown tragedy — and starts thinking with common sense instead of feeding his shattered ego? He already has said baseball can’t afford to “not finish this season’’ if others leagues do. But quitting, at this point, would be the noble and sensible option, with epidemiologist Zachary Binney tweeting, “This is veering quickly into `shut all of MLB down’ territory for me.”

Add Jon Lester To The List Of People That Hates The Pitch Clock - Vendetta  Sports Media

Understandably, players are tired of being blamed while Manfred and the owners sit in their bunkers, counting early revenues. Said veteran pitcher Jon Lester: “I don’t know Rob’s situation, and I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth. But I do know we — not only players, but families — are making sacrifices, day in and day out. … I’ll stop there.” This after Cubs teammate Anthony Rizzo, who, as a cancer survivor, is especially vulnerable to the virus, tweeted during a rain delay in Cincinnati: “Player safety? @mlb let’s sit around for 8 plus hours inside the clubhouse.. I’m sure I can find that somewhere in the 113 page safety protocol.’’

Meanwhile, leagues playing inside Bubbles have found a competitive mood and safety vibe antithetical to baseball’s chaos. While realizing any medical or logistical hiccup is possible at any moment, I’d say the NBA’s Bubble is blowing up right now, to paraphrase the kids, with a chance not only to complete a season but even be entertaining and compelling in the process. Seamlessly, and almost miraculously, the coronavirus became an afterthought as we watched: LeBron James hit a game-winner to end an intense Lakers-Clippers game … the Raptors beat down the Lakers with smothering defense and a reminder they could repeat as champions … COVID-19 scapegoat Rudy Gobert hit the first shot and two deciding free throws in the league’s first game back … James Harden go for 49 in a playground romp between the Rockets and Mavericks … Zion Williamson pout while tethered to the bench on a playing-time restriction … Giannis Antetokounmpo make another MVP statement … and the league’s players and coaches beautifully salute Black Lives Matter, whether kneeling, standing or wearing a jersey with no social justice message, as Jimmy Butler tried to no avail.

As Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, relaying his thoughts about George Floyd while kneeling during the national anthem, “The hardest thing that happened to me was, my knee was hurting. In the middle of it, I’m thinking, `In two minutes, my knee is hurting, yet there was a guy that had his knee on someone’s neck for eight minutes.’ Think about that. A national anthem took two minutes. There were guys who needed towels and things to get under their knees, and yet someone kneeled on another human being’s neck for eight minutes.’’

This is what the NBA does. It figures out solutions and keeps eyeballs on basketball, thanks to more cameras, tight angles and technical innovations. Yes, the virtual, big-headed fans are goofy, as are the occasional simulated ventures into NBA 2K mode. But we barely notice because the games are interesting — and the same can be said for the NHL, which followed the NBA’s lead and established two bubbles in virus-dulled Canada, so far with solid reviews in Toronto and Edmonton.

LeBron James Postgame Interview | Clippers vs Lakers | July 30, 2020 -  YouTube

Said James: “We’re in the land of the unknown. Things are happening for the first time. You just take it for what it is. Don’t take the moment for granted. We’re all still living and alive and back to doing what we love to do: playing the game, watching the game. That’s a blessing, because 2020 has been pretty (crappy). We’re all blessed. … No matter what the (situation) is, no matter what the bubble is, no fans, or with fans, basketball is basketball and competitive spirit is competitive spirit, so we’re right back to where we left off.’’

So is baseball, for that matter, still stuck in the same world of hurt and inevitable impasse when the collective bargaining agreement expires next year. Leave it to MLB to clumsily lead the pandemic way for Big Sports in America, only to wobble frantically, with no sadder scene than sending the Marlins back to South Florida in sleeper buses after at least 18 players were infected and quarantined in Philadelphia. Obviously, even a shortened season already has been stripped of its competitive integrity and ability to produce a legitimate champion, which I wrote a week ago while calling for the season to be canceled. Since then, Manfred has directed his ire at Players Association executive director Tony Clark, threatening to shut down the season if players don’t manage the virus better. Rizzo wants to know how that’s possible when, without a Bubble, teams are required to travel to cities, stay in hotels and come into constant contact with virus carriers — and that doesn’t include protocol violators who might be taking risks around town or at a Wisconsin golf course, as some members of the Cardinals have been accused. “It’s one of those things where you can get food delivered to you, and if (the virus) is on there, we don’t know where this thing hides all the time,’’ Rizzo said. “You got to be prudent. You got to have faith, but guys are gonna get it. Tomorrow, we could have someone walking around here asymptomatic and spread it to 10 guys.”

The opt-outs, positive tests and short-season-related injuries continue, an absence of continuity that is robbing fans of whatever enjoyment they can muster. Mike Trout — whose wife delivered their first child, a son named Beckham Aaron — would be wise to stay home and not return, but he’s a good man who wants to help a dying sport. Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who has a heart issue likely stemming from a recent COVID-19 bout, shut down his season. Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain explained his weekend decision to opt out: “With all of the uncertainty and unknowns surrounding our game at this time, I feel that this is the best decision for me, my wife, and our three kids.’’

And Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who has an underlying heart condition, continues to speak about his fears, telling the Washington Post, “You know what? I’m just not going to hold it in anymore. This is different for everyone. This is scary for us, even if our job is to play a game. I feel like that’s something I have to say. … This is weighing on me a lot. It’s not just the players or myself. That’s only the start of it. It’s my coaching staff, the clubbies, the PR staff, the beat writers, everyone’s families. A lot of people could be in danger if we’re not smart and safe. And even then, you really don’t know if that’s enough.’’

David Martinez, Washington Nationals COVID-19 MLB | wusa9.com

Yet, the owners expect these men to keep trudging out there every day and play ballgames, no matter the health fallout. Is Manfred even listening to a man who only directed a team to a championship last autumn?

Just as America was in no mood to hear the owners and players jibber-jabber over money before the season resumed, no one wants to hear the owners blame the players for outbreaks. All the sides want to do is fight, a rift that goes back decades and was exacerbated last spring when Manfred described the World Series trophy as a “piece of metal.’’ Tweeted pitcher Trevor Bauer, referring to the protocol blame Manfred is placing on players: “Take no risk yourself; blame everything on the players; protect TV revenue at all costs.’’ Is Bauer not dead-on right? He didn’t mention that the players weren’t interested in a Bubble, but the prospect turned moot anyway when owners engaged players in a a weeks-long fight over taking a second pay cut. We should ignore the rhetoric. Baseball will not recover from this, nor does it deserve to after the league’s medical director, Gary Green, tried to justify the Marlins’ outbreak thusly last week: “Twenty-nine out of 30 is a pretty good batting average if you’re playing baseball.’’ By my count, six teams and counting have been disrupted so far, which means the batting average is climbing.

Not that anyone in sports is treating COVID-19 with appropriate fear. These multi-billion-dollar industries have exploited America’s divided views on the coronavirus — wearing masks, sending kids back to classrooms, geopolitical madness and who should win an apocalyptic presidential election presumably ahead in just three months — to almost sneak-slide games back into the American consciousness. The media have gleefully responded with mostly Brandt-approved coverage, such as when ESPN led “SportsCenter’’ not with an important Marlins update early last week … but a Pirates-Brewers game. Sometimes, the network reminds me of a drug dealer, slipping coke to fans to feed their “Why We Love Sports’’ fix and make sure they keep watching and gambling.

Coronavirus? What coronavirus?

Yet explain how Charles Barkley and the “Inside The NBA’’ crew can make us not only forget the pandemic, but make us LOL.

Charles Barkley Defends Players Refusing to Kneel for Black Lives Matter |  News Thud

The U.S. casualty numbers, which are nearing 200,000 and could reach a half-million without a miracle vaccine, have not deterred sports in the least. The NFL, a $15-billion-a-year enterprise lorded over by a commissioner and team owners who won’t be risking their health on lines of scrimmage, still believes a regular season will start in five weeks; the sizable number of players already opting out, including eight New England Patriots, strongly suggests otherwise, as does the positive test of another head coach, the Eagles’ Doug Pederson. College football hedges its bets, moving schedules back in wishfully thinking the virus will fade, but more outbreaks and opt-outs are inevitable. The almighty Southeastern Conference, still planning a shortened season in a region with less virus-related resistance, allowed players to speak with commissioner Greg Sankey and medical advisers in a conference call last week, the Washington Post reported. The exchange was ominous.

“There are going to be outbreaks,” one SEC official told the players. “We’re going to have positive cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”

Added Sankey: “Part of our work is to bring as much certainty in the midst of this really strange time as we can so you can play football in the most healthy way possible, with the understanding there aren’t any guarantees in life.”

The pushback, shall we say, was akin to a goal-line stand. Said Texas A&M linebacker Keeath Magee II: “You guys have answered a lot of questions the best way that you guys could, and we really appreciate it. But as much as you guys don’t know … it’s just kind of not good enough. We want to play. We want to see football. We want to return to normal as much as possible. But it’s just that with all this uncertainty, all this stuff that’s still circulating in the air, y’all know it kind of leaves some of us still scratching my head. I feel like the college campus is the one thing that you can’t control.”

Expect more rebellion in coming days, with a group of Pac-12 players threatening to opt out of games if the conference doesn’t meet their safety demands while, according to a letter published by The Players’ Tribune, addressing concerns about racial injustice and  “economic rights and fair compensation.’’

They want to be paid.

Sabrina Ionescu: WNBA No 1 pick under the microscope | NBA News | Sky Sports

Wouldn’t you, if you were age 20 and assuming all the health risks while the leagues, universities and TV networks were making the billions? At least WNBA phenom Sabrina Ionescu was making a salary when she suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain that could cost her the season — and who’s to say she, like other athletes, wasn’t more susceptible to injury by rushing back to play after a limited preseason?

Somehow, perhaps because this virus also is destroying brain cells, the deadly ramifications of a global pandemic have been lost amid the fury of restarting sports and rushing events onto TV. The games inside Bubbles have scratched the familiar sports itch, and, I admit, I watched the final period of a Blackhawks-Oilers game. Golf has been a surprise hit, with the hulking emergence of Bryson DeChambeau still dominating conversation before the PGA Championship, the season’s first major — yep, major — arrives later this week at Harding Park in San Francisco.

Yet, in the time I took to write this column, more people have died from COVID-19. And a goof like Kyle Brandt won’t pay attention, preferring we ignore and whitewash an epic catastrophe so he doesn’t lose his gig on “Good Morning, Football.’’ Good night, Kyle.

The Nike commercial, too, will continue in heavy rotation. But to say “You Can’t Stop Sport’’ is false advertising. Maybe you can’t stop sports inside Bubbles, at least for now, but baseball and football soon will be added to the mounting death toll.

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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