This week, following baseball has been a bit entertaining. I saw Sergio Romo attempt to undress. I saw Max Scherzer attempt a similar act. In New York, rookie starter Tyler Megill was about to tip his cap after a strong performance against Washington to a roar from faithful fans only to see them change to boos before he got back to the dugout after umpires stopped to check him for “sticky stuff.”
I’ve covered Major League Baseball in various capacities since 1996. In that time, baseball has sent me across the world, and I’ve been to nearly every ballpark, minus the very new ones. This last week, whether hosting on KJR in Seattle or being a guest on various other stations, I have had so much trouble talking about sticky stuff.
“It has been weird to watch grown men drop their pants on the baseball field,” said Milwaukee radio host Bill Michaels. “That’s what’s been weird. The target is completely misguided. If you are not shooting a torpedo with the bow of the ship to take the ship down. What you’re doing is you’re firing little gnats over the edge to make the captain swat his face to make it look like there’s an issue upstairs.”
First, if you think I have lost one minute of sleep thinking that the game is scarred because of rampant cheating, you are kidding yourself. Guys have been scuffing the baseball, rubbing Vaseline, going to their hands for decades.
I also am not sure Tyler Glasnow is on the injured list because of the crackdown, despite his pleas to the media.
Still, talking about it on the radio or a podcast, I have tried to make sure that I tell hosts that this whole controversy is a red herring. For the umpteenth time, baseball is simply trying to show its fanbase that it has a plan for “fixing” the sport. Only the broken things in the sports are not about sticky stuff.
“The players are laughing,” said Mark Miller, morning show host on FOX Sports Radio in Fort Myers, Florida. “Baseball doesn’t register on sports talk shows anymore. People don’t understand that it is not the national pastime anymore. This sport is a local, regional sport. The Minnesota Twins fans are phenomenal. Their radio network is great. Tigers fans, if they are at least decent, are great. But as a whole, the sport actually sucks.”
What happens when I’m asked about it, I immediately spin the conversation to spin-rates, launch-angle, and I stop and ask myself, is this what listeners want to hear?
When baseball was going through the steroid controversy, I actually felt like it was benefitting my career. When I was working for MLB.COM, I got sent to the Capitol twice to cover steroid hearings. As someone who originally saw political journalism as a career goal, attending hearings with the United States Oversight Committee and interacting with the late Rep. Elijah Cummings is considered a highlight for me.
Covering Cory Lidle’s tragic plane crash was also a weird experience. When he died, my producers and I reached out to many former teammates who did not want to say publicly nice things about him. They were not fans of him but did not want to speak ill of the dead. That was an awkward time to be on the radio.
Lately, I have been labeled as a baseball insider who hates baseball. That is only half true. I hate what baseball has become. In 2015, when my best friend and former big leaguer Darryl Hamilton was killed tragically, I wanted to walk away from the sport completely. Still, after getting some really great advice from social media and Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, I tried to go back to the game with an open mind.
Starting in 2017, I saw something dramatically different. The game looked slower. I was concerned that after 25 years covering the sport, I was altered and my brain didn’t see the same game.
I began doing extensive research. I spoke with players, managers, broadcasters, writers about the changes in baseball. I learned that, unlike the steroid era, the analytics permeating the sport has had a weird impact. Sabermetrics have lead to great offensive output but has taken the emphasis off of contact and put it squarely on launch-angle.
The Spider-Tack investigations are going well. The Athletic spoke to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred the day after Scherzer and Romo undid their belts.
“Players, in general, have been extremely cooperative, the inspections have taken place quickly and between innings. “
“They’re trying to put the spider tack back into the tube,” said longtime Pittsburgh radio personality and columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Tim Benz. “Instead of putting the toothpaste back, put the spider-tack back because at this point it has gotten so big and it didn’t have to get this big. I think if they had addressed this and made parameters around it coming into this year because I know there were tons of articles about it last year. But what they’re doing now instead of before the season, I don’t think we would have this much controversy.”
I am not saying I won’t come on to talk baseball, but can we keep the sticky stuff chat to a minimum? I am running out of ways to spin it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.