When they tell the story of baseball’s demise in Americana — a movie that will last three hours and 37 minutes even with speed-up mandates — the final blow might be the summer of 2020. That’s when the powers-that-be restarted a season, recklessly and dangerously, in a raging pandemic.
No rigid isolation. No medically sealed bio-Bubble like the smart NBA people. Nah, just the same bullheaded idiocy that has plagued the industry for decades.
This is a rerun of how the U.S. government botched its response to the coronavirus crisis: wealth over health, pretend like you know what you’re doing when you don’t, then fail miserably and historically. And why would anyone at all be surprised? As it is, the owners and so-called commissioner have allowed Major League Baseball, once dignified and thriving, to devolve into clumsy and dawdling irrelevance. Who of right mind held faith they’d pull off this lunacy without immediate COVID-19 attacks?
Only days into a shortened MLB season that never should have been attempted, the pandemic has caused predictable chaos. A virus breakout involving at least 14 players and staff members has paralyzed the Miami Marlins, leaving hundreds of big-leaguers and their families to ask in a panic state, “Are we next?’’ And yet, during a conference call Monday, owners refused to consider cancelling the season, instead continuing to play Russian roulette with a virus that is openly laughing at them and ready to create more havoc.
As usual, MLB is taking a devil-may-care attitude. Let the games go on so the Brinks trucks can make their deliveries to teams and TV networks. Miami’s first two home games were postponed, along with a game between the Phillies and New York Yankees in Philadelphia, where the Marlins think they contracted the virus — unless they caught it in South Florida, a virus hotspot thanks to legions of COVID-iots in that state, or perhaps in Atlanta, where they played an exhibition game last Wednesday and where Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ star first baseman, prayed for his life after his virus-triggered fever rose to 104.5 degrees. The next day, one of the sport’s young cornerstones, Juan Soto, tested positive, further darkening Opening Night for a Washington Nationals team that couldn’t celebrate its first World Series title. Since then, the Cincinnati Reds had to send two regulars home after another tested positive.
There you have it, a wildfire in just five days, as predicted here.
And through those virus flames, MLB still is going to play ball.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared. My level of concern went from an eight to a 12,’’ said Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who has an underlying health condition — cardiac surgery last fall — and doesn’t want his team traveling to a scheduled series in Miami starting Friday.
Do the quarantine math. Check the schedules. Count how many weeks and months are left until the postseason. When infectious disease experts haven’t even begun to weaken the fury of the coronavirus, tell me, how is a corporate weakling such as Rob Manfred going to win this Whack-a-Mole game? Kanye West has a better chance of becoming President than MLB has of denting the virus, much less surviving it until late October. Already, the competitive integrity of a shotgun season — 60 games in 66 days — is in shambles.
So what is the point of even trying to continue a futile exercise? Please call off this debacle — NOW — before a rapid procession of players, older managers and coaches, support staff members and their loved ones follow the Marlins in falling ill and spreading the virus in communities. Manfred and his predecessor as commissioner, Bud Selig, have made regrettable decisions amid baseball’s free-fall since the early ‘90s. Trying to recoup $4 billion with a 60-game regular season and expanded playoffs, as the virus continues to hospitalize and kill victims throughout America and Planet Earth, is the worst decision yet. Manfred and the owners, in protective bunkers with their accountants, are risking the lives of young people — mere employees, in their eyes — and asking them try to save the game the owners screwed up. This after trying to gouge the Players Association with a second pay cut during a preseason labor battle that America was in no mood to watch. If the owners continue to push the virus envelope and plod on, they risk venturing into criminal territory.
What if someone dies because a baseball season was played?
Have the owners even thought about it? What if there is a mass player revolt, starting with the sport’s current face, Mike Trout, whose wife is expecting their first child next week?
“Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first,’’ tweeted pitcher David Price, who opted out of his season with the Los Angeles Dodgers to protect his family from the virus. “Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.’’
Health experts agree with Price. `This is off-the-charts bad,’’ leading epidemiologist Zachary Binney, a frequent critic of sport’s return to live events, told the Washington Post. “MLB should probably shut the Marlins down for two weeks, shut the Phillies down for five days and … hope there isn’t a broader problem.’’
Continuing on Twitter, Binney wrote, “This is absolutely insane … if possible, the literal stupidest possible plan. You have a raging outbreak, anyone in the Marlins traveling party could be infected regardless of how their tests come back. So by all means, just bring that on the road to Baltimore!”
A shutdown? No chance, Zach. As of now, the Marlins are headed to Baltimore, where, even if they barely can field a lineup with players still in quarantine, they are expected to play Wednesday and Thursday against an Orioles team that now must worry about infections. Anyone expecting to hear from Manfred, who loves to hide from public view in difficult times, instead got a statement from MLB:
“The members of the Marlins’ traveling party are self-quarantining in place while awaiting the outcome of those results. Major League Baseball has been coordinating with the Major League Baseball Players Association; the Marlins; the Orioles; the Marlins’ weekend opponent, the Phillies; and Club medical staffs, and will continue to provide updates as appropriate.”
Meanwhile, other teams are being sized up by COVID-19, which is licking its chops, ready to pounce in clubhouses across a diseased land. “I don’t believe there is going to be any panic,’’ Dodgers president Stan Kasten said on Sirius XM, speaking from a state, California, that has been ravaged by the virus. “My understanding from talking with other teams is that it’s business as usual at least for every other team.’’
Good luck to all. “Guys are talking. There’s heightened awareness,’’ said Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin, “because what everybody was hoping didn’t happen, did. … We’ll see if it gets worse’’
When word came Sunday that four Marlins players — including the day’s starting pitcher, Jose Urena — had tested positive, MLB should have shut down the game. There was no thought of that, not even from within the Marlins themselves, with veteran manager Don Mattingly saying, “We never really considered not playing.’’ Donnie Baseball, obviously, is not Donnie Infectious Disease Expert. He should have known better, lamenting days earlier how his team’s dugout was “a mess’’ during a rain delay in Atlanta. “We had all these guys and nowhere to go,’’ he said. “Then we’ve got a zillion guys in the dugout, so there’s no way we’re social distancing.’’
And every way to spread a virus. Yet, no one thought about not playing a game when four players already were sick? “That was never our mentality,’’ said Miami shortstop and team leader Miguel Rojas, who said players made the call during — gulp — a group text. “We knew this could happen at some point. We came to the ballpark ready to play.’’
No longer is that a prudent, advisable strategy. “The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these unchartered waters,” said Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, whose stewardship continues to trend in the opposite direction of his epic playing career. “Postponing (two home games) was the correct decision to ensure we take a collective pause and try to properly grasp the totality of this situation.’’
The totality is this: Everybody, go home.
All of which should serve as stark cautionary warnings for the NFL and college football, which should not be proceeding with seasons. Without a Bubble, football risks the same frightening outbreaks as baseball at only a higher rate, given the absence of physical distancing on scrimmage lines and larger roster sizes in locker rooms and on road trips. Roger Goodell is the commissioner, trying to save $15 billion for the owners this season, but the most sound leadership thoughts are coming from players such as New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty, who said on a podcast, “I’m not going to lie. For me as a fellow player, I go on social media and it makes me very nervous to think there will be a season. I’ve seen guys posting a video in a nightclub, and it’s just like, `Yo, we’re attempting to play football. That’s not going to be OK.’ You see guys working out in one city on a Monday, working out in another city on a Tuesday, and another city the next week, and it’s just like, `Dang, if they’re working out here, here and here, that means you have to be traveling and you come across however many people.’ Or you see a guy posting pictures and there’s hundreds of (people), whether it’s anywhere. So for me, it is nerve-wracking.”
He surely speaks for football players everywhere, including those in college, where the help isn’t paid but the university presidents and head coaches are making heavenly salaries. I mean, when the infection control officer of Minnesota Vikings tests positive for the virus, what does that say about football’s chances? McCourty saw the Marlins’ outbreak and said, “Those are the things that for me, make it nervous to say, `Are we going to be able to have an entire season?’ Because of small things like that that go a long way … it only takes one person testing positive, you come into the building, and that thing will spread like wildfire.’’
MLB considered playing in a Bubble, in Arizona, until the governor got cocky and allowed the state to become a hotspot. So, without thinking much, Manfred figured 30 teams could play games in 27 home markets — many still crushed by massive infection spikes — and that everyone would safely head back to their homes and hotel rooms after spending days and nights at ballparks. How mindless can one be? As Mattingly said, “It’s a lot scarier on the road,’’ where players in their 20s and 30s aren’t too eager to follow strict protocols.
“To me, if there was a breach of protocol by any of those players, then it’s more easily explainable,’’ Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said of the Marlins. “If not, then it becomes more problematic.’’
Never forget that any scenario is possible in a pandemic, including a complete crash throughout sports. But the NBA does have a chance, fair to middling, of successfully finishing its season in a controlled environment. So does the NHL. So does the WNBA. So does Major League Soccer.
Barring a miracle, MLB will be the first league to try and fail, throwing a wild pitch amid the wildest of fires. The only question is whether Manfred will get off the mound before his farcical season turns tragic.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.