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In 2020, Love The Marlins and Loathe The Astros

“The Dodgers are World Series favorites, two divisional series are hatefests, and Fernando Tatis Jr. is a one-man electric factory — but baseball’s best story remains a COVID-surviving, historically mocked team.”

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What we wouldn’t do for one gonzo story, one what-the-hell moment that forges a redeeming 2020 memory, one breakout to offset the outbreaks. It would be something we never saw coming, like the coronavirus itself, and the crackpot absurdity of it all would make us laugh and shriek and emote in ways we haven’t in sports since February.     

Well, the Miami Marlins are that crazy phenomenon, the revelation that silhouettes the surreal. And if they somehow win the World Series late this month, perhaps we all can just die before Election Night — particularly if they beat the cheatin’ Houston Asterisks, who are alive and (disgustingly) well thus far in the American League playoffs. Any year can be defined by LeBron James in the NBA Finals and Tom Brady throwing five touchdown passes in a game. But the rise of the Marlins from COVID-19 hell? Their escape from numerous self-inflicted ailments through time? It’s another indication that the world never will be normal again, which is exactly what 2020 had in mind.     

The consensus says Major League Baseball, straining for eyeballs more than ever this October, needs traditional powers and neon stars to carry the postseason. Some even relish a chance to embrace hatred and brawls — the Astros against the A’s and the former teammate who ratted them out, Mike Fiers; the Yankees and Rays regenerating mutual contempt. But why promote animosity during a pandemic when we can embrace long, lost joy?     

When the year we want to forget has the tale we’d always remember?     

In July, the Marlins were the first North American sports team to be attacked and shuttered by COVID-19. Eighteen players were isolated, leaving manager Don Mattingly with scraps and oddities he barely knew, including a former Olympic short-track speed skater named Eddy Alvarez. I remember demanding they be exorcised from the regular season, not just because of virus implications but because they were THE MARLINS — 105 defeats the previous year, no winning season since 2009, the franchise gallingly known for either breaking up rosters after winning championships or shipping away great players before their prime so they didn’t have to be paid market value. This is the organization that dumped Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna in a single swoop. What was the point of competing?     

“Bottom feeders,’’ Phillies TV analyst Ricky Bottalico called the Marlins on Opening Day. That was one of the kinder descriptions.     

Yet here they are, a youthful rebuild arriving way ahead of schedule, one of eight teams remaining while awaiting a National League divisional series against the Braves. The Marlins probably won’t win, but then, that’s what was said last week, when they swept the Cubs in Wrigley FIeld without needing Steve Bartman’s help. They won the World Series during that fall of 2003, for the second time in seven seasons, but the reviled owner, Jeffrey Loria, drove away the fan base and took substantial public money to build a ballpark/art gallery that sat mostly empty even before the pandemic. Would the new leadership hierarchy — Derek Jeter as the baseball boss, Bruce Sherman as the money man — somehow be worse?     

If such an award exists in 2020, Jeter would be Executive of the Year, which surprises some but shouldn’t — wasn’t he an all-time champion and leader with the Yankees? Making the right calls on talent acquired in those painful trades, Jeter assembled a baby rotation featuring Sandy Alcantara, Sixto Sanchez and Pablo Lopez. Does it matter that we just recently grew familiar with them? The bullpen is loaded with hot kids and cool veterans. And if the offense is thin, castoffs Jesus Aguilar and Corey Dickerson dinged the Cubs when necessary, which is more than Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo can say in Chicago.     

The Marlins, more than any team in sports, have persevered this year. The Cardinals were eliminated after their COVID breakout. The Tennessee Titans have been derailed after starting 3-0 in the NFL. The Bottom Feeders keep eating — and wearing the slogan on their t-shirts — after a regular season of quarantines, postponements, seven doubleheaders, mad travel and no days off between Sept. 3 and this past Saturday.     

“I don’t think we’re going to be satisfied. We’re going to be looking to win,’’ said Mattingly, whose managerial career looked dead before this miracle. “The one thing we talked about all year was, `Why not us?’ These guys believed in each other and never quit.’’     

“We know that everybody just thinks we’re `the Marlins.’ It’s kind of like a stigma,” Dickerson said. “We know how much talent we have. The depth is crazy, and people will start to realize it.”     

What people will fall in love with is their resolve. “We’ve been screwed around all year,” closer Brandon Kintzler said. “With scheduling, fake rain delays and fake postponements, it’s just been a frickin’ whirlwind. Everyone tried to screw with us — we’re still here. You can’t get rid of us. I don’t care if we’re bottom-feeders. I want to thank Ricky Bottalico for that inspiration by the way.’’    

It’s understandable why the Asterisks are getting attention. They are the villains every postseason needs and still potent — Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa — despite their disgraceful sign-stealing scandal. They aren’t showing much remorse, with Correa riling the haters with this recent morsel: “I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here. But what are they going to say now?” Josh Reddick followed with this doozy: “It’s all about silencing the haters. That’s what this year was about.’’     

But there they were Monday, rallying to beat the A’s at, of course, Dodger Stadium — home field of the Astros’ 2017 World Series heist victims — behind two home runs by Correa, who raised an index finger that might as well have been the middle digit during one trot. When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred failed to vacate the Houston’s title or punish players for their roles in the scheme, he assured that Astros Hate never would dissipate. Now they lead an American League divisional series against the A’s and Fiers, who didn’t start a game against the Astros in the regular season but surely will be used in this series. The A’s insist they are keeping their focus on the prize: the World Series always cherished by architect Billy Beane, going back to “Moneyball,’’ but never attained.     

“it’s about not being petty and letting our emotions get the better of us by trying to be over the top and vengeful and everything,” closer Liam Hendriks said. “We’ve played them enough times this year. I believe in this team, and we’re going to try to stick it to ’em as much as we can and prove that we’re the best team.’’     

But the Astros do have an unfair advantage created by the pandemic: No fans in the stands to harass them. In the regular season, they dealt with retaliation from other teams — such as the purpose pitches and infamous pouty face of the Dodgers’ Joe Kelly. But even in Los Angeles, they have no distractions, unless you’re counting the cardboard cutouts of Dodgers fans in the seats or the Dodgers’ front office making known their pleasure that the Astros wouldn’t be in the home clubhouse. That didn’t stop Correa from cupping his ear as he rounded third base.     

Just thinking aloud: What if the Astros meet the Dodgers in the World Series … in Texas? “I love October baseball,’’ said Correa, rubbing it in after the 10-5 victory. “The energy is just different. I know there’s no fans this year, but the energy to know you win or go home is what drives me.”     

“The way people want to perceive us is fine,’’ pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. said. “People are allowed to feel any way about the Houston Astros. We have a good team. We may not have the big names and big bank accounts, but we’ve got guys with balls.’’     

And guys who beat trash cans to alert hitters to pitches, though in an empty stadium, I suppose the Astros are showing they don’t need to cheat to win — the gist of their shame. “The role of villain was given to us,’’ said manager Dusty Baker, hired this year for what was presumably a thankless job. “It’s not something I took on, even though some of it — or most of it — was warranted.’’     

Baker has been the right medicine man in steadying the cause. After general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were fired, the 71-year-old skipper has urged players to have fun and ditch the past, including the so-called snitch. “Nobody has mentioned his name,” Baker said. “I haven’t heard Mike Fiers’ name all year, until you just said it right now, you know what I mean? It’s like he’s not even present.” Baker might want to have a talk with the Astros’ social-media staffers.     

“Stay mad. We’ll stay winning,’’ they tweeted.     

Baseball’s business purists will love Yankees-Rays. By the way, is MLB still testing for steroids? Are the balls juiced again? Both California-based series are hosting home-run derby, with the Yankees getting to Blake Snell and Stanton smacking a grand slam in their Game 1 victory. Once again, the algorithmic wizards of small-revenue Tampa Bay are threatening to shame the slugging, uber-market behemoths. This series has the best chance of combustibility, with memories fresh of a September purpose-pitch war that included Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman throwing a wicked heater at Mike Brosseau’s scalp. Said Rays manager Kevin Cash, aiming his wrath at rival skipper Aaron Boone: “We’re talking about a 100 mph fastball over a young man’s head. It’s poor judgment, poor coaching, it’s just poor teaching what they’re doing and what they’re allowing to do, the chirping from the dugout. Somebody’s got to be accountable. And the last thing I’ll say on this is I got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph. Period.”     

Said Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier: “With all the history we’ve had the last couple of years, it is what it is. I’ve said many times they don’t like us and we don’t like them. It’s going to continue to stay that way.’’      

By comparison, the Dodgers-Padres series — in Arlington, Texas, of course, while the AL plays in Los Angeles and San Diego — is all about starpower. If Clayton Kershaw can dominate October with his renewed killer slider, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Mookie Betts and the Dodgers … unless closer Kenley Jansen beats himself again. It will be a hoot watching the bat-flipping Tatis and those disruption-minded Padres.     

“I feel like we’re back,’’ Tatis said of a traditionally sadsack franchise. “We’re back to Slam Diego.’’     

Imagine a Padres-Marlins NL championship series. Imagine a Yankees-Astros AL championship series. Imagine a Marlins-Astros World Series. Imagine anything you want.     

It’s 2020.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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