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2020 Strikes Again: A Dodgers Title Marred By Covid

MLB must explain the suspicious timeline behind Justin Turner’s positive test, which tainted a compelling World Series and turned the champions into visible symbols of America’s coronavirus divide.

Jay Mariotti

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Here in America, 2020, a renowned baseball franchise won the World Series after its star third baseman was pulled in the eighth inning because of a positive COVID-19 test. What, we’re just supposed to ignore a heinous breach of medical trust and let everyone party? Yes, this was a triumph of perseverance, not only for the bluebloods who blew decades of chances and billions but for a generational athlete, Clayton Kershaw, who finally buried his postseason bugaboos.

Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw is no longer an October failure - Los Angeles Times

But six days before the most consequential election in this country’s history, the Dodgers are symbolizing more than sports glory. They are the definition of why the coronavirus continue to rage. As they celebrated in an empty ballpark in Texas and fans frolicked in Los Angeles with only a few rubber bullets fired by police, anyone with a functioning brain was mortified by it all.

Already plagued by a long history of scandal, from the Black Sox to the Steroids Era to the trashcan-banging Astros, Major League Baseball might have one-upped itself in shame Tuesday night. Justin Turner, the shaggy-haired slugger and team leader, took his regular coronavirus test Monday. It’s unconscionable that the president of MLB’s Utah-based lab, Dr. Daniel Eichner, needed a day and a half before contacting deputy commissioner Dan Halem with news that Turner’s test was inconclusive. It happened in the second inning of Game 6, if we can believe the details of commissioner Rob Manfred, which should have put the league on immediate high alert. What about Turner’s Dodgers teammates and their family members, all staying in the designated “Bubble” hotel? What about the traveling party of the Tampa Bay Rays, staying inside the same Four Seasons in the Dallas suburb of Irving? What about baseball officials and broadcasters? Were they at risk because Manfred, on the final night of a four-month odyssey, was trying to sneak his way through an infection?

In the height of irresponsibility, MLB stayed mum throughout the game, as if wanting the crisis to go away. The league had a billion reasons to do so — the dollars arriving once the postseason was complete and champions were crowned — and, as has been common procedure in American sports throughout the pandemic, the financial grab took priority over the safety of the workers in uniform. Halem asked the lab chief to inspect Turner’s pre-game Tuesday sample, hoping the previous test was a false positive. In the sixth inning, MLB was informed that Turner indeed was infected. If Manfred truly cared about protocols, Turner would have been placed in quarantine, the game would have been stopped, and every person in the Bubble would have been put on notice. Instead, Turner was allowed to play two more innings while the Dodgers were being informed. The ballgame came first — and was it coincidence that this dangerous dance continued until the Dodgers had taken command, after Rays manager Kevin Cash absurdly had removed the dominant starting pitcher, Blake Snell?

This was administrative malpractice of the most corrupt kind. At first, there was no explanation for Turner’s removal, which smacked of a cover-up attempt. Not until Fox Sports’ Kevin Burkhardt reported the positive test did reality settle in: MLB had waited until it saw daylight at the end of its COVID tunnel — riches and finality — before acknowledging that the virus hadn’t been conquered after all. Manfred has spent October in hearty self-congratulation for overcoming the early outbreaks of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals and “harnessing” the virus. As America and Planet Earth are wickedly aware, COVID is kicking all of our asses and will keep doing so as long as selfish people run institutions as important as sports.

“It’s a bittersweet night for us,” a wobbly Manfred told Fox, adding, “We learned during the game that Justin tested positive and he was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”

I’m not buying any of this. When $1 billion is on the table, after MLB lost $3 billion in cash during its truncated regular season, powerful men tend to wobble. This smells like a scam, negative news delayed intentionally so the World Series wasn’t interrupted. And the scene grew worse not long after the 3-1 clincher, when Turner appeared on the field for the traditional team photo. Flanked by his wife, he hugged Kershaw and posed beside manager Dave Roberts, who wasn’t wearing a mask. His teammates wanted him out there, COVID be damned, before preparing for an emergency round of PCR tests. This is not how championships are supposed to be celebrated.

Justin Turner gets positive COVID-19 test results during World Series Game  6, returns after Los Angeles Dodgers win - ABC13 Houston

“Thanks to everyone reaching out!” Turner tweeted after the game. “I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA #WorldSeriesChamps.”

Dodgers baseball boss Andrew Friedman, who had endured years of criticism to reach this night, was troubled by the developments. “It was extremely surreal,” he said. “Obviously, it’s incredibly unfortunate, and it speaks to what all of us are dealing with in 2020. Post-game, he wanted to come out and take a picture with the trophy. For him, being a free agent and not sure how the future will play out, I don’t think anyone was going to stop him. This is something we’re going to wrap our arms around. It was an unfortunate end point of this incredible series and definitely affected some of the joy of winning becuase of what J.T. has meant to us.”

Asked why he was seen in an animated discussion with Turner and why he allowed Turner to pose for the photo, Friedman suggested the matter was out of his hands. “If there’s people around him without a mask, that’s not good optics at all,” he said of Roberts. “I think the subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important so that any of us who test positive don’t spread it to other people. It wasn’t up to Justin. He wanted to come out and take a picture with the trophy, and he did.”

His teammates had no problem with it. “He’s part of the team,” Game 6 hero Mookie Betts said. 

“Forget all that, he’s part of the team. We’re not going to exclude him from anything.”

“It’s gut-wrenching. It hurts me. I can’t imagine how he feels,” said Corey Seager, the Series MVP. “If I could switch places with him right now, I would, because that man more than anybody deserves to take a picture with that trophy.”

The takeaway here is bigger than the World Series, bigger than sports. What Turner’s positive test does is remind Trumpers that the coronavirus is not a hoax, that it can overshadow the Dodgers’ first championship in 32 years. Just the same, Trumpers can fire back and say, “Turner had no symptoms. He was fine. It was all fake news, a conspiracy,” — on the same day the White House said Trump has “ended the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Only in a pandemic, one might joke, would Kershaw handcuff October, Roberts hush his critics and the Dodgers win the Series. But this is no time for Open Mic Night, not that The Comedy Store, The Improv and other local laugh shops are open anyway. A wonderful story was clouded by COVID, and it’s important we not forget that wonderful story. You don’t have to like the Dodgers to appreciate how they mastered baseball’s most surreal year. Armed with every logistical reason to crash again, they invited loved ones to Texas, bonded like family for an entire month and handled the weirdness better than the rest.

That they did so in a bastardized season didn’t make the agony purge any less rewarding. They would have loved to celebrate at Dodger Stadium, where the home team hasn’t clinched a Series since 1963 and where 1,000 vehicles packed the parking lot each night for viewing parties on 60-foot screens, with honks replacing cheers. But Arlington will do. Like the Lakers and Tampa Bay Lightning, like Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa, like Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka, like the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and soccer’s Portland Timbers and anyone else who won a championship in the evil 2020, the Dodgers like winning this way. The memories of Game 5, the real clincher, told us that much.

There was Kershaw, now the old soul after a near-decade of using “We Are Young” as his warmup music, at peace after handing the ball to Roberts with a lead for a change. In the pivotal moment of this entertaining Series, the Dodgers needed him to be Hall of Fame Clayton or just Decent Clayton one night after the Rays, had reminded the world of their unique tenacity — and audacity — with what is known as The Brett Phillips Experience. Would Kershaw implode again in October? Would he be Hangdog Clayton? No, he would not, for this time, he realized Roberts was making the right call in removing him after 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball. His teammates lobbied furiously for him to stay in the game, including Turner, who mouthed an expletive. But Kershaw, without his best stuff, refused to plead his case as he might normally. And it all worked out, for both embattled men, as the storybook insisted it should. Who will forget the sight of Kershaw, 4-1 this month with a 2.93 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings, sitting with a satisfied smile at a Zoom conference with daughter Cali and son Charley after Game 5?

“Anytime you have success in the postseason, it just means so much. That’s what you work for. That’s what you play for this month,” he said. “I know what the other end of it feels like, too, so I’ll take it.”

He looked at Cali, 5. “Every dad just wants their kids to be proud of them,” Kershaw said. “Cali told me that, so I’ll take that.”

Then there was Roberts. He laughed when reminded that Dodgers fans, who numbered around 8,000 in a socially distanced ballpark, still managed to unload a ferocious assault of boos as he threatened to fail them again in removing Kershaw. “I understand that fans and players can get caught up in emotion, and I’m emotional,” he said. “But I still have to have clarity in making decisions because, ultimately, my job is to help the Dodgers win the World Series. So yeah, I can’t get caught up in fans’ reactions with a decision I make.”

Dave Roberts guides Dodgers to 1st World Series title in 32 years | KATU

Does he have anything to say to his critics? Too classy for that. “When you take on this job … of a particular organization that hasn’t won a championship for quite some time, that’s part of what you signed up for,” Roberts said. “So, I just take it more as passion and care from the fans.”

They had flipped the script, as they say in Hollywood, at last bringing joy to their legacies and fun to grocery-store visits to Ralph’s. Two nights later, the Dodgers were in heaven. “This is our year!” shouted Roberts, greeted by cheers now. It was a refreshing and necessary scene for the battered American psyche. We still were able to witness a World Series celebration, even if it involved a franchise with endless resources and an ability to trade for Betts, then hand him $365 million for the next dozen years.

I live 17 miles west of Dodger Stadium, so I guess this is my local team, at least according to my MLB app. You should know some things about Los Angeles during a pandemic. These days, there is little to resent about L.A. The coronavirus has dimmed the neon and dulled the thrill of living here, with masks dutifully worn after 300,000 cases and 7,000 deaths in the county. The sun comes out only if the wildfire haze lets it. As I write this, the air quality index is an unhealthy 171. Freeway traffic is light because there’s nowhere to go. “Here come those Santa Ana winds again,” goes the Steely Dan refrain, as dust coats your eyes on the tennis court.

Another political disturbance could bust out at any time, even on Rodeo Drive, which will close on Election Day. In Inglewood, the new $6-billion football stadium sits undisturbed like an alien spaceship, deemed unsafe by Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Guns N’ Roses and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who lets two NFL teams play there on TV in what must be the loneliest experience in sports. Celebrities? I saw Ben Affleck and his girlfriend strolling on a Santa Monica avenue, but most are in seclusion, venturing out only after paparazzi are alerted for relevance preservation purposes. I also spotted Arnold Schwarzenegger on his bike. Wow.

All that said, I’m still hearing anti-L.A. groans nationally after the Game 6 clincher, especially given the Turner episode. Coupled with the NBA title of the Lakers 16 nights earlier, this has become the sports epicenter of the pandemic. The concern is that L.A. has so many built-in advantages — weather to enjoy, movies and docs to produce, mansions to purchase, Kardashians and Jenners to date, new championships to win — that every prominent American athlete will try to funnel his way here and flourish amid the overflowing resources of southern California’s franchises.

LeBron James did, using his influence to lure prized sidekick Anthony Davis. Betts couldn’t wait to sign the extension after his trade to the Dodgers, who added him to an embarrassment of homegrown riches including Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger and Seager. Mike Trout might own Eagles season tickets and love his native Jersey, but he never paused in his Newport Beach digs before re-signing with the Angels for $430 million. And if Kawhi Leonard and Paul George tip-toe around here these days, having failed to take over the town as promised, they’re still with the Clippers and eyeing a title they frittering one away in the NBA Bubble. When a superstar wants a scenery change, SoCal always is on the short list and often is the choice. If Hollywood once was about movie stars, now it’s also about music icons, influencers and athletes.

LA County gets C+ from UCLA on environmental issues (Constantine  Alexander's Journal)

But here’s something the groaners don’t know about L.A. that might soothe their trophy envy. Unlike the people of New England — a region that won a nauseating six Super Bowls, four World Series, one NBA title and one Stanley Cup between 2002 and 2019 — Angelenos don’t walk around with puffed chests, open alcohol containers and bro-dude bravado, fueled by an obnoxious delusion that sports titles make them superior to the rest of us. Oh, some idiots will riot in the streets, but this is not a place where sports feeds native self-esteem and identity. They do like hanging banners and adoring their icons, favoring those who play entire career spans here, such as Kobe Bryant, over a rented mercenary such as James. Yet if the Lakers had lost to the Heat or the Dodgers had blown another to the Rays, people wouldn’t sulk and mope for the entire winter, as they do in Chicago or Philadelphia.

They’d just head to the beach.

That’s why athletes love L.A. The fan and media pressures, which can be suffocating in psycho cities in the East and Midwest, are downsized. Local sports radio has some of the worst ratings in the industry. There isn’t a ravenous appetite for written sports content as there is in, say, Chicago, where I needed a watchdog friend and a bartender’s security skills just to stop for a post-game beer. (An aside: When a Bears fan said he didn’t like my columns, and I expressed shock that he knew how to read, he tried to slug me … until the bartender leaped over the counter and removed him). The media stars here are either friends of the athlete (Jim Hill), comedians (Fred Roggin and Petros Papadakis) or a columnist such as Bill Plaschke, the closest thing to a hardass after the forced retirement of churlish L.A. Times colleague T.J. Simers. That’s why I was so surprised to see Jerry Hairston Jr., the Spectrum SportsNet LA analyst and indirect Dodgers employee, stand in a somber studio after the Game 4 crusher and knock Roberts for more mismanagement and closer Kenley Jansen for serving a meaty fastball for Phillips to bloop into history. There aren’t many Jim Romes left around here.

It’s as chill as advertised. And those old stories about athletes gathering at the Playboy Mansion or getting down with the ladies at the Forum Club? Well, the party scene obviously is subdued now. You might see (fill in the young NBA star) with Kendall Jenner at Nobu in Malibu, but LeBron is a middle-aged homebody with three houses to choose from, Kershaw is a devout Christian and family man who spends offseasons in Dallas, Trout is a new daddy, Betts is helping the homeless, Bellinger is Instagramming with his model girlfriend, Kawhi’s main crib is in San Diego, and hockey players literally have a commune by the beach. The Rams and Chargers? They still don’t matter much in a region where loads of transplants stay true to hometown NFL teams in replica sports bars, such as New England haunt Sonny McLean’s, which is partially open with outdoor TVs if anyone wants to cry about Tommy and watch friggin’ Cam throw another pick.

The Dodgers and Lakers are what the natives care about. I was outside at a pizza joint when Cash removed Snell after 5 1/3 scoreless innings, an impulse regretted by the manager as Snell seethed. “I am definitely disappointed and upset,” he said. “I just want the ball. I felt good. I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there, and then for us to lose, it sucks. I want to win, and I want to win the World Series, and for us to lose, it just sucks.”

Blake Snell, Kevin Cash and a Decision That Will Haunt the Rays - The New  York Times

For the Dodgers, it was a gifted opening. For Major League Baseball, it was an undeserved reprieve. Imagine, as Game 7 awaited, if everyone in the Four Seasons had to be quarantined for days. Imagine if the Series was postponed until November, if played at all. Imagine if Manfred didn’t get his billion dollars.

Usually, the end of a baseball season smells like champagne. This one smells like a skunk.

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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