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The Corn Porn Game Thrived — Now, What’s Next For MLB?

Just what baseball needed — a reminder of its romance — came through in the cornfields of Iowa, putting the onus on commissioner Rob Manfred to create other magical venues and help his struggling game

Jay Mariotti

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AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

We need to fall in love with baseball again. The sport has punished us for decades, with scandals coming faster as pace of play drags slower, and no amount of innocence, nostalgia and gooey romance is too much.

Granted, a regular-season game tucked into the Iowa countryside is only a microdose of escapism. But damn, wasn’t it creative and fun and down-to-the-last-pitch breathtaking? Never has a scripted event so corny — literally — provided such a cool and urgent moment in time. For once, baseball felt good and wholesome, as it did when we were kids, before we grew up and saw the adults muddle it with steroids, gambling, electronic sign-stealing, illegal pitching substances, 4 1/2-hour games, ownership collusion and other self-destructive, ratings-eroding behavior.

Tim Anderson Gives 'Field of Dreams' Game a Hollywood Ending - The New York  Times
Courtesy: New York Times

On a warm summer’s night in either heaven or Iowa — you choose — they made another pilgrimage to the “Field of Dreams,” a sentimental splash that could have been sappy if overdone. Instead, as Kevin Costner said after he emerged from the cornstalks and was followed by spellbound members of the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, the scene was “perfect.” Every televised shot of the old movie set, juxtaposed against the famous house nearby and miles of rural green, was mesmerizing. It was because this was new and intensely original, hatched from a dream, including a reddish sky at sundown.

When sports keeps us inspired, it keeps us wired. They built it, again. And they came, again, this time for an authentic competition that sent the same ethereal message.

The Corn Porn Game succeeded wildly, with Chicago’s Tim Anderson ending it, more Roy Hobbs-style than Ray Kinsella, with a two-run walkoff bomb accentuated by his dancing and neck-gesturing as traditional South Side fireworks exploded in Dyersville. Sox 9, Yankees 8. All that lacked was a standing ovation from the cows.

“Thirty years ago — 30 — on the other side of that corn, we filmed a movie that stood the test of time,” said Costner, as silence fell over the makeshift, 8,000-seat ballpark minutes before the first pitch. “Tonight, thanks to the enduring impact that little movie had, it has allowed us to come again. But we’re on a field that Major League Baseball made. We’ve come to see the first-place White Sox play the mighty Yankees in a field that was once corn. The dream is still alive.”

The actor, now 66, projected a Pope-like image as he stood in the infield in an untucked white shirt, greeting each player warmly. “It’s like we’re in church,” Joe Buck said on the Fox telecast. What could have been a cynic’s party actually served as a poignant reminder: Baseball still can be sacred when it returns to its roots. “We’re down and out in terms of technology here,” said Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ $341-million pitcher. “To go through the cornfield, to be playing in Iowa in the middle of a cornfield — it’s surreal, to be honest.” Between the endless rows of DeKalb corn behind the outfield, the faux barnyard wood on the fence, the hand-operated scoreboard, the basic light standards and retro-style uniforms, MLB really did pull this off. It made you want to play catch with your dad, a spiritual theme in the movie.

Soon enough, the religious experience gave way to what America wanted to see. How many home runs would be deposited into the corn? Eight, for the record. Jose Abreu went first for the White Sox, Aaron Judge countered for the Yankees (in his custom Field of Dreams cleats), then Eloy Jimenez and Seby Zavala gave the Sox a big cushion. Brett Gardner nailed a cob himself for New York, as did Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the ninth, both burning Liam Hendricks with two-run homers. Maybe the closer was too wrapped up in the scene — and his in-game interview with Fox — to focus on the job at hand. He said it was a lifetime memory to run through the cornstalks, so what was a blown save in the scope of life, I guess?

“Who wouldn’t be excited? There are certain things that resonate with a game like this,” said Hendricks, who first saw the movie as a boy in his native Australia. “Some of the guys were concerned about travel and things, but I’m always interested in games where they have a specific meaning or add character. … I ran through the corn. I did the maze. I went through the house. And I got to shake Kevin Costner’s hand, never a bad thing.”

If you looked hard enough, sure, 2021 was everywhere. Fans in the front row behind home plate, where seats went for a MLB-regular-season-record $4,400 on the secondary market, were on cellphones. Signage for “GEICO” and “MATTRESS FIRM” was crammed into our eyeballs. A big-screen TV was in left field. Nike swooshes were on the throwback jerseys. Iowa-based fans protested blackout rules for MLB games in the state, even erecting a nearby billboard that said, “LET IOWANS WATCH THEIR FAVORITE TEAMS.” When Fox wasn’t flying drones and using 39 total cameras, the network was tacky — promoting a $10,000 jackpot on its FoxBet Super 6 promotion. Did the network bosses not realize members of the 1919 White Sox, who threw the World Series that year, showed up in the movie to play on Costner’s field?

For a night, we could hold off on the scoffing. “It’s a live event you’re not going to forget,” Fox executive Michael Davies said.

Said baseball lifer Tony La Russa, who couldn’t manage the Sox in this game while attending the funeral of his sister’s husband in Florida: “I was raised to embrace the history of the game, and I think too often we lose parts of it. ‘Field of Dreams’ is a great movie, and it embraces everything about family and all the game’s all about.”

The only concern is if MLB dilutes the magic with too much of a great thing. Predictably, commissioner Rob Manfred was so taken by an unusual amount of positive MLB publicity that he announced the game will return to Dyersville next August. “I think the reception that this event has received has been so positive that we will be back,” Manfred said. “I think it’s pretty clear we’re going to be back next year and we’ll have to talk about it after that. But it’s just been so successful that it’s hard not to take the opportunity to do it again.”

Please, don’t overdo it and ruin it. MLB has performed well in its stated goal of bringing the sport to the people, as seen at the Fort Bragg military base in 2016, in Williamsport games since 2017 and, oddly, in London two years ago. Mix it up. Think. There are great minor-league parks — a “Bull Durham” reprise, anyone? — and proud Negro League towns. How about the Cape Cod League? An Indian reservation? The Grand Canyon?

Too much Iowa becomes too corny.

But for a night, we can stop beating up Manfred and praise him. He gave us a cathedral for a fairy tale. “A forever moment,” Costner said. “Like anything else in life, you want this to overdeliver. This did.”

Field of Dreams' Game: Kevin Costner Cusses on Live TV Pregame Show
Courtesy: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Or, as Anderson said in a more present-day twist, “Definitely dope.”

Baseball, somehow, has managed to enthrall us. Now, try to keep us hooked for more than one night.

*This piece is republished with permission from Jay Mariotti from his subscription-based Substack site.

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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