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Aaron Always Will Be The King — And *Bonds The Bum

Baseball has fallen down a scandalous cliff since The Hammer’s glorious 1974 milestone, and if MLB’s leadership has any brains, it will continue celebrating his legacy amid Bonds’ dirty Hall of Fame bid.

Jay Mariotti

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Henry Aaron is gone, but his image can’t be allowed to die with him. It’s all baseball has left, really, memories of the sport’s most prosperous times back when a home run meant something and a slugger didn’t need a syringe to be king. He fought the most despicable attacks of racism with grace, embracing defiance more than bitterness, and if the so-called current commissioner had any nerve, he’d officially declare Aaron’s 755 homers as the all-time record.

Vin Scully's greatest calls: Hank Aaron's historic 715th home run

But Rob Manfred, who only has exacerbated an ongoing crisis of cultural irrelevance and labor warfare, wouldn’t dare do the right thing and affix a big, bloated asterisk to Barry Bonds’ steroids-enhanced 762. Instead, he will allow a swell of Aaron tributes to be swallowed by a repulsive possibility Tuesday: Bonds receiving just enough votes for Hall of Fame induction.

Upon which, as always, the real king will be slighted again.

Which would be a sin, because if baseball had an iconic logo, The Hammer would be the one swinging the bat in the likeness. He represented integrity, dignity and all-around mastery in a sport that since has degenerated into scandal and deceit, from steroids and recreational drug use to gambling and electronic sign-stealing. It’s not a stretch to say baseball began its slow, agonizing plunge in American life on April 8, 1974, the night Aaron blasted No. 715 in Atlanta and passed Babe Ruth. That should be remembered forever as one of the top-five glorious moments in sports history. As Vin Scully waxed on the broadcast, “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”

Yet almost five decades later, the evening is more symbolic of how this country refused to learn from the hatred that accompanied his chase. “If I was white, all America would be proud of me. But I am Black,” Aaron said then. “They call me `nigger’ and every other bad word you can come up with. You can’t ignore them. They are here. But this is just the way things are for Black people in America. It’s something you battle all of your life.”

He realized the bigger hero in White America was Mickey Mantle, beloved as a folk hero despite human failings. Aaron was the far more exemplary figure, surviving poverty in the Jim Crow South to achieve stardom, with Willie Mays, in the years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. But as he approached the hallowed record of Ruth, another man far from perfect, Aaron was subjected to racist letters that threatened his life and soured him on his accomplishments. To his dying day, the wounds remained. “It really made me see for the first time a clear picture of what this country is about,” Aaron told the New York Times. “My kids had to live like they were in prison because of kidnap threats, and I had to live like a pig in a slaughter camp. I had to duck. I had to go out the back door of ballparks. I had to have a police escort with me all the time. I was getting threatening letters every single day. All of these things put a bad taste in my mouth, and it won’t go away. They carved a piece of my heart away.”

He refused to let them have the entire heart. Only weeks before he died in his sleep at age 86, he was setting an example of how to persevere and stand tall. Who was among the first in line for the COVID-19 vaccine? Henry Aaron, who knew the greater African-American community is reluctant to be vaccinated and wanted to make a statement about the benefits of inoculation. “I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this,” he said. “It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”

Home Run King Hank Aaron Dies of 'Undisclosed Cause' 18 Days After  Receiving Moderna Vaccine • Children's Health Defense

Just as America continues to be torn by racism, baseball has been crippled by relentless cheating and self-destruction. The ‘80s were disgraced by Pete Rose’s gambling habits and the Pittsburgh drug trials. The ’90’s brought a labor impasse that wiped out a World Series and allowed football and Michael Jordan to usurp Major League Baseball in mass popularity. A new century cast light on rampant PED usage that made a mockery of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who had returned the sport to the mainstream, and the unrepentant likes of Bonds. Of late, the Houston Astros stole signs and banged on trash cans to alert hitters of oncoming pitches, part of a wide-ranging scheme that should have nailed more teams. Perhaps the best proof of Aaron’s regal status is how media outlets approached him for comments.

“I think whoever did that, they should be out of baseball for the rest of their lives,” he said of the Astros while appearing on NBC’s “Today.”

And Rose? “I just think it’s hogwash to say that he should be put back into the game just because the public wants it,” Aaron told ESPN. “A rule is a rule, and the rule is on every clubhouse door that you can’t bet on baseball. It doesn’t say that you’re excluded if you have 4,000 hits or 700 home runs.”

All you need to know about baseball and its recklessly lost trust is this: The all-time hits leader, Rose, is banned from the sport; and the all-time home run leader, Bonds, remains a borderline Hall candidate much like Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest starting pitcher ever. Each made dubious history after Aaron’s No. 715, and other than Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive game streak, no baseball moment since 1974 has made legitimate transcendent impact.

So baseball had better try its damndest to clutch Aaron’s legacy and not let go. “With courage and dignity, he eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people,” President Joe Biden said. “But he was unbreakable.”

Said former President Barack Obama: “Humble and hardworking, Hank was often overlooked until he started chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, at which point he began receiving death threats and racist letters — letters he would reread decades later to remind himself `not to be surprised or hurt.’ Those letters changed Hank, but they didn’t stop him.”

Another former President, Donald Trump, has yet to comment. But Bonds did — when saying nothing would have been the more respectful play. “I was lucky enough to spend time with Hank on several occasions during my career and have always had the deepest respect and admiration for all that he did both on and off the field. He is an icon, a legend and a true hero to so many, who will forever be missed,” Bonds wrote on Instagram. “Hank Aaron — thank you for everything you ever taught us, for being a trailblazer through adversity and setting an example for all of us African American ball players who came after you. Being able to grow up and have the idols and role models I did, helped shape me for a future I could have never dreamed of. Hank’s passing will be felt by all of us who love the game and his impact will forever be cemented in my heart.”

In the cruelest twist, it was the man who admired Aaron most who enabled Bonds to supplant him atop the career home-run chart. As a fan in Milwaukee, Bud Selig was in awe of The Hammer when he played for the Braves and, after buying the Brewers, brought Aaron back to town for his final two seasons. But when he ascended to the baseball commissionership in the ‘90s, Selig was complicit in not cleaning up the steroids scandals that ultimately allowed Bonds to one-up Aaron.

Bud Selig talks about the impact Hank Aaron had on him - Los Angeles Times

“Not long ago, he and I were walking the streets of Washington, D.C, together and talking about how we’ve been the best of friends for more than 60 years,” Selig told the Associated Press. “Then Hank said, `Who would have ever thought all those years ago that a Black kid from Mobile, Alabama, would break Babe Ruth’s home run record and a Jewish kid from Milwaukee would become the commissioner of baseball?’”

If the kid from Milwaukee had done his job responsibly, he would have banned Bonds long enough that he couldn’t have broken the real home run record. But that’s the story of Henry Aaron’s life: When so much was right, even a friend did him wrong. MLB can rectify the error by celebrating The Hammer as a regular rite, beginning Tuesday, on what could be one of the sport’s darkest days.

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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