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La Russa Debacle: Another Reinsdorf Disgrace

“At some point, America will grasp that the inept Chicago sports owner was lucky to stumble upon Michael Jordan and, otherwise, will be remembered for a series of historically bad decisions.”

Jay Mariotti

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This is the commentary that should be delivered in Chicago but won’t be. That’s because media in the city fear Jerry Reinsdorf, who isn’t significant to the planet in 2020 but represents all that’s wrong with sports ownership in America. Writers and talk hosts don’t want to incur his wrath. Heads of media companies prefer to curry his favor and make money off his teams. Even national baseball reporters protect him as a source.

Jerry Reinsdorf, the boss of the Bulls and White Sox, is having quite the  crazy week - Chicago Tribune

Me? I never cared in my 17 years as a Chicago columnist, figuring it was important to tell the truth about the chairman of the Bulls and White Sox and suffer the political consequences, even as Reinsdorf tried repeatedly to land me in trouble wherever I worked. One of my former radio bosses, Bob Snyder, told The Athletic that Reinsdorf was the kind of crank who called Disney boss Bob Iger to complain about me when I worked for ESPN. If it didn’t faze me then, it sure doesn’t now. Heretofore, Reinsdorf’s numerous management sins have been unsound and clumsy — none more foolish than dismantling the Michael Jordan dynasty before its rightful expiration date, as “The Last Dance” docu-series recorded powerfully for posterity.

But his recent appointment of a longtime crony, Tony La Russa, as White Sox manager is becoming the sealant that fastens Reinsdorf to a place in sports disgrace. As if the move wasn’t dubious enough for several reasons, including the fact La Russa is 76 and hasn’t managed in nine seasons, now we have this: Reinsdorf made the hire official one day after La Russa was charged in Arizona with driving under the influence.

Near midnight on Feb. 24, according to police records obtained by ESPN, La Russa drove his SUV into a curb near Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport in a collision that left the vehicle smoking. When police arrived, La Russa refused to take a breath test, requiring an officer to obtain a warrant and draw blood samples. A field sobriety test led to his arrest, during which La Russa became “argumentative,” police said. If it’s peculiar that more than nine months passed between the arrest and the filed charges — a gap that Reinsdorf, an Arizona resident for years, surely will contest with his legal team — the issues surrounding La Russa are much more disturbing.

This wasn’t his first DUI bust, you see. In 2007, when he was managing the St. Louis Cardinals, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in Jupiter, Fla., where he fell asleep at a traffic light with an illegal blood-alcohol level. In a statement at the time, La Russa said, “I accept full responsibility for my conduct, and assure everyone that I have learned a very valuable lesson and that this will never occur again.”

Well, it apparently occurred again. And now, a young, rising ballclub that needs firm guidance is caught in another messy La Russa swirl, thanks to an 84-year-old owner who allowed his emotions to sabotage common sense during the managerial search. Reinsdorf always has regretted allowing his circus-act general manager at the time, Hawk Harrelson, to fire La Russa as White Sox manager in 1986. Thirty-four years later, he actually thinks La Russa — who won three World Series titles in Oakland and St. Louis but has faded into executive-suite irrelevance since his last championship in 2011 — was the best idea for the 2021 dugout. Already, months before Opening Day, this has become a regrettable farce.

It was disturbing enough that the owner either disregarded or wasn’t aware of La Russa’s dinosaur views concerning police brutality and social injustice. In 2016, he again made the wrong headlines when speaking about the kneeling campaign of Colin Kaepernick: “I think that’s disrespectful, and I really question the sincerity of somebody like Kaepernick. I remember when he was on top. I never heard him talk about anything but himself. Now all of a sudden he’s struggling for attention and he makes this big pitch. I don’t buy it. And even if he was sincere, there are other ways to show your concern. Disrespecting our flag is not the way to do it.” Did Reinsdorf even consider that several players and coaches — including core team members Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito — knelt during the national anthem on Opening Day this year?

Even that could be set aside as a generational hiccup when La Russa, in his introductory Zoom conference last month, issued an update on his tone-deaf self, saying, “There’s been a lot that’s (gone) on in a very healthy way since 2016, and not only do I respect but I applaud the awareness that’s come into not just society, but especially in sports.” Yet there can be no explaining away of a second DUI. And it looks worse when he hung up on an ESPN reporter Monday after saying, “I have nothing to say.”

Tony La Russa charged with DUI stemming from February arrest

Why would he be so defiant? Reinsdorf has his back, of course. One of the owner’s trusted writers is USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, whose news story about La Russa’s arrest included a quote from the team publicist that the White Sox “were aware” of the charges, followed by this alarming exclusive from the mouth of You Know Who: “A high-ranking White Sox official told USA TODAY Sports that La Russa is in no danger of losing his job, or receiving any discipline by the club.”

That’s Jerry, who once had a manager, Ozzie Guillen, who referred to me as “a f—— fag” and later admitted to a Miami reporter, “I’ve got my routine. Game’s over, stay in the lobby of the hotel, the hotel bar, get drunk and go to sleep. I get drunk because I’m happy because we won or get drunk because I’m very sad and disturbed because we lose. Same routine … for 25, 28 years. It hasn’t changed.” Guillen somehow is shocked he hasn’t been re-hired as a major-league skipper, though, thanks to Reinsdorf, he remains gainfully employed as a Sox analyst at NBC Sports Chicago when legitimate media people nationwide are being laid off.

In Chicago, I was accused of picking on Reinsdorf and ignoring the seven championships he brought to the city. My counter: In almost eight collective decades of ownership — he bought the White Sox in 1981 and the Bulls in 1985 — he has produced exactly one championship (White Sox in 2005) unconnected to Michael Jordan. And he inherited Jordan, buying the Bulls a year after the previous ownership group drafted him. Chicago is supposed to be a major market, right? Imagine such a winning percentage in Boston, where the four major teams have won 12 titles since 2001, or Los Angeles, where the Dodgers and Lakers just won two titles in the same month. In New York, they’d have run Reinsdorf out of town after his abysmal post-Jordan results with the Bulls and his dismal record with the Sox, who finally reached a postseason for the first time in 12 years.

His blunders aren’t limited to the fields and courts. In the late 1980s, Reinsdorf leveraged a threatened move to Florida to win state money to build a new ballpark on the South Side. When he insisted on helping design the park, it became almost instantly obsolete, too steep and hulking with multiple decks of suites, a dud amid the retro building boom of classic, intimate stadiums that transformed American downtowns. An architect with the design firm told me that blueprints similar to Baltimore’s Camden Yards were offered to the White Sox. They had no use for them.

In that period, Reinsdorf had what appeared to be a young White Sox powerhouse, as he has now. How did that turn out? In 1994, he prioritized his anti-union views over his first-place team’s title hopes, vowing to be “a hawk” after running the independent baseball commissioner, Fay Vincent, out of power. His hawkness led to a work stoppage and a canceled World Series, and the Sox underachieved and faded away, though Frank Thomas did go on to make the Hall of Fame and star in Nugenix commercials. 

I could go on. I think you’re getting my drift, especially if you saw the end of “The Last Dance.” At least Reinsdorf, whose wide cast of cronies like to vouch for his integrity, didn’t hire A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora, two lead villains of the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal. In retrospect, could either have been worse than La Russa — who, remember, also enabled the steroids-fueled exploits of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco?

Through the dynasty he created and sustained, Michael Jordan guarded Reinsdorf from criticism far longer than he deserved. But almost 23 years have passed since a stubborn owner said goodbye, deciding he didn’t need the greatest athlete and resource known to basketball and sport, that he could build his own dynasty.

Jerry Reinsdorf says Michael Jordan was wrong, Bulls wouldn't reunite -  Insider

In that Jordan wore the number 23, I think what’s happening now must be karma.

BSM Writers

Mike Tirico Has ‘Never Pretended to Be Friends’ With Athletes

“I like having a healthy relationship where if I need something, I can ask whether it’s for on-air or for background and build trust.”

Ricky Keeler

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Mike Tirico has been covering sports on network television for 32 years. Over those 3+ decades, he has made it a point to not be so close with the athletes he covers in whichever sport he is broadcasting.

Tirico was a guest on the most recent episode of the GOLF’s Subpar podcast with Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz. While Tirico knows he is not doing extensive journalism work, he wants to make sure that he can be able to ask the hard questions if he has to any athlete.

“I never pretend to be friends with the athletes I cover. I like having a healthy relationship where if I need something, I can ask whether it’s for on-air or for background and build trust. I’m not in a position where I’m working for Outside the Lines at my old place, ESPN. It’s not a knock. It’s just you’re not in a position where you have to do these journalistic-type interviews all the time, but there are times you have to ask hard questions. I always try to keep a little bit of a buffer or a distance.”

The context of that question came when Tirico was asked about how good of a relationship he has with Tiger Woods.

“It’s good….If I reach out, he will usually get back to me. He’s been really good and really nice along the way.”

As for broadcasting sports in this day and age of social media, Tirico believes that it can make a broadcaster better whether or not the complaint from someone on Twitter is real or not.

“It makes us better because you know that people are going to catch you. If something is artificial or not, real or not, embraced or not, it forces you to be better at what you do.”

For that same reason, Tirico thinks that LIV Golf is going to make the PGA Tour have to be better going forward because now they have another tour to go up against.

“I think LIV Golf, and we all have our own opinions on it, is going to force the PGA Tour to be better. Competition is good. Checks and balances are really good.”

Even though Tirico doesn’t feel nervous about many broadcasts anymore, there was one event in the last decade where the nerves kicked in when he was hosting his first Olympics at NBC.

“The only time in the last 10 years that I’ve been nervous was coming on for the first time hosting the Olympics because Bob Costas has done that since most of us have been alive and most people had never seen anyone but Bob Costas host the Olympics in primetime…2 minutes before, I’m like ‘should I be this? Should I have fun?’ and then the minute before, I cracked a joke in the studio.”

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BSM Writers

Kyle Brandt’s Rant a Reminder to Consider the Messenger

This doesn’t mean Brandt is wrong or even that he is being told to echo the NFL’s position, it’s to note that he took a very powerful stance on a very powerful platform and they both matter.

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Kyle Brandt

This week, a massive announcement was made in the National Football League regarding the immediate future of Deshaun Watson. Judge Sue L. Robinson recommended a six -game suspension with no additional monetary fine for the quarterback. While the NFL mulls what it will say further, most others didn’t, including a really prominent personality: Kyle Brandt.

Brandt, a co-host on Good Morning Football, reacted like a lot of people did upon hearing the decision: forcefully. On Monday, Brandt denounced the decision to limit Watson’s suspension to six games, saying in part, “…I look at six and I find it very light. I hope it doesn’t stay that way personally. I think that Deshaun Watson leveraged his status as an NFL player against women. In my opinion. And I think it happened more than one time and I think it was was in closed doors in small rooms against women who were probably intimidated. And it pisses me off to even talk about it. And frankly it pisses me off to see the number six. And I don’t think it’s going to stay that way and I hope it doesn’t.”

Those words resonated. Once they were said, the clip was grabbed from the show and then distributed on Brandt’s Twitter account which reaches 333,000+ followers and on his Instagram which speaks to 96,000+ followers. That video has been seen over two million times. Viral, they say. Here it is if you did happen to miss it. Passionate stuff from Brandt.

If you believe in the message, it’s an easy to like, retweet or share idea. It’s not a hot take, frankly, because there is a large section of those that have been following this story that agree. Deshaun Watson is settling cases because people believe he did something bad. Something bad enough that judge did seem fit to point it out and recommend what is generally speaking, a strong suspension. The only problem here is the platform hosting the message.

This is not a Kyle Brandt-bashing piece. He isn’t the platform. If anything, he’s the vessel of this message he wants out. He also, very likely, feels exactly the way he said he did in the above tweeted video. In fact, the next day, Tuesday, Brandt doubled down on his opinion. The newer video was viewed over 400,000 times. You can check it out right below these words.

The distinction needs to be noted that the message Brandt is delivering, is the NFL’s message. It is what Roger Goodell wants to be the prevailing wisdom regarding how we feel about the current state of Watson’s suspension. That message is being amplified by a very popular co-host, on a very popular morning television show that is seen by a lot of people and that is owned by the National Football League.

Again, I am here waving to you wildly to say that I have no reason to believe that Brandt is being told this particular messaging needs to be voiced. But, I do know that the NFL has until Thursday to appeal the decision. Three days is a lot of time to gather data on whether or not the public might support you appealing for more games, something that the league most certainly will look into judging by their statement released shortly after the ruling.

I also know that the NFL was seeking a much longer suspension as well as a hefty fine to be issued to Watson. The NFL has taken a lot of hits for how it has handled players violating league rules and the player conduct policy. No matter which case you look at, comparing it to the one previous or the one right after is an exercise is madness. The one common theme seems to be is that when the NFL feels like it is delving out punishment, it wants to be severe, no matter the consistency. Remember, Tom Brady was a short ‘yes’ answer away from appealing his case to the Supreme Court. The NFL isn’t particularly interested in just letting things go.

It is well within the realm of possibility that the NFL is getting what it rarely gets: an overwhelming opinion that actually sides with it in terms of punishment. For the majority of the modern cases I can remember, more fans than not disagreed with the NFL’s stance on a case. This time, they might have the court of public opinion on their side. I hear far more ‘kick him outs’ in reference to Watson than I do ‘no suspensions’.

We might have the perfect storm for the NFL in terms of support and Kyle Brandt’s message lines up exactly with the leagues desires, no matter how they may have gotten there. Both want more punishment for the Cleveland quarterback. Brandt can hope, the NFL can fight.

This doesn’t mean Brandt is wrong or even that he is being told to echo the NFL’s position, it’s to note that he took a very powerful stance on a very powerful platform and they both matter.

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BSM Writers

Producers Podcast Episode 6: Jackson Safon, The Volume

Brady Farkas

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Jackson Safon has produced for a number of high profile digital networks. Now, as a freelancer, The Volume has put its faith in him to get the most out of Draymond Green, and CC Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco have trusted him to make R2C2 the best it can be.

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-producers-podcast/id1630978079

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2XBTp3PnrBvGv2n4Y19tCE?si=c84eee71512e49a5

iHeart: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-the-producers-podcast-98564690/

Google: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5ibHVicnJ5LmNvbS9mZWVkcy9wcm9kdWNlcnNwb2QueG1s?sa=X&ved=0CAMQ4aUDahcKEwiQpvak__P4AhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQRw

Amazon: https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/241160ba-ad26-4297-a37a-107dfb10b462/the-producers-podcast 

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