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Extra Innings From 9/11 Reminds Us How Much We Needed Baseball

“There are so many documentaries recently released about that horrific day. This one will resonate with sports fans, whether baseball is your game or not.”

Seth Everett

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On Saturday, before over 80 college football games, and on the weekend that the NFL regular season returns in full force, the sports world and the entire world will stop and remember the 20th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in United States history.

I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you': George W. Bush's bullhorn  speech still echoes
Courtesy: FOX News

The key to the country’s recovery back then was and still is sports. While all sports provided a lift, baseball played a pivotal role. There were dramatic games and an outpouring of patriotism that was seen on all ballfields.

In 2005, HBO produced and aired a documentary chronicling the role baseball played with Nine Innings from Ground Zero. Now, in 2021, co-directors Ross Greenburg and Joe Lavine revisited that doc with a brand-new feature for HBO Max entitled, Extra Innings from 9/11: 20 Years Later.

“It was difficult. I’m not going to kid you, all of us shed a lot of tears,” Greenberg said exclusively on my Sports with Friends podcast. “We had been through this once before, but it was a very difficult moment.”

The film does a lot more than retell the story of how the Mets and Yankees responded to the tragedy. The best part of the film is the beginning when members of the 2001 Mets and 2001 Yankees explained where they were when the planes struck the World Trade Center.

“New York is a Testament to survive,” former Yankee manager Joe Torre says in the film. “No matter how hard the city gets hit, it always finds a way to get back up on its feet.”

Al Leiter was trying to get on a plane to pitch in Pittsburgh that night.  The Yankees were home, after being rained out the night before.  That immediately reminded me that I was supposed to go to Yankee Stadium for that rained-out game.

I hadn’t gone out to the ballpark by invoking the “Seth Everett Rain Delay Policy (One drop I’m out – inspired by the late great Phil Rizzuto and an 11-hour Marlins-Rockies split double-header I covered in Denver in 1997.)

The next morning I went on a radio show hosted by Holden Kushner in Des Moines, Iowa.  During the segment, my call-waiting went off, multiple times. Still, radio people know you don’t ask a host to hold on.

After the segment, the phone rang again. (This is a hard-line phone – it was 2001.)  It was my father.  He was across the street from the World Trade Center. He just called to tell me he was alright.

My younger sister lived in Greenwich Village in New York City in 2001.  She was walking downtown and saw the second plane hit with her own two eyes, not on TV like the rest of us.  My father and sister ran back to her apartment and turned on the television.

The bridges and tunnels were immediately closed. Living in Brooklyn, I could not get to Manhattan if I wanted to, and could not get to New Jersey where my mother was.  Instead, I climbed to the rooftop of my apartment building to see the smoke from ground zero.

“All of us had personal stories,” Greenburg said. “Mine was deeply personal. I lost my mother on September 9th and a month and a half later found myself going to game three (of the World Series), even though my wife, Michelle, did not want me to go because she felt like a bomb was going to drop on Yankee Stadium. When I went, I realized I was living a documentary.”

Extra Innings from 9/11: 20 Years Later to Premiere on HBO Max, Saturday,  Sept. 11 | Pressroom

“September’s a great time of year,” Torre said. “The weather cools down, pennant races heat up. Everyone was talking baseball.”

The Mets manager back then was Bobby Valentine. In the film, Valentine followed Torre by saying, “And there was no reason to think that 2001 would be any different.”

The film tells the story of a camp in Massachusetts that was set up for kids who lost family members on 9/11. Two of the campers that met back then are married adults today.

Greenburg said it was key to not only show how the families are still impacted, but how they also have positive things in their respective lives.

“That was the one thing that Joe (co-director Levine) and I were very adamant about,” Greenburg added. “We wanted to send the message loud and clear that if you’ve been through a horrific event and you’ve had to overcome very startlingly, tough times that you can get through it and you can live your life.

“That doesn’t mean that you’ll ever forget those days of 9/11 and everything that happened after. But it does mean that we’re human beings and we can live our lives. And in these difficult times, I think that’s a message.”

The “Piazza Game” was 10 days after 9/11.  It was a Friday night, and I had never attended a sporting event on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.  Still, I felt compelled to be at Shea Stadium that day. 

The crowd was so tense that night. Everyone was talking, but not cheering.  Until Piazza’s 8th inning home run.  And the cheers were of “USA! USA!” more than anything for the Mets or against the Braves.

“That was very important for people,” Greenburg added. “That’s why this resonates so much for me as a story that needed to be told.”

The playoffs and World Series with the Yankees were much more intense moments. People forget that the Jeter “flip-play” against Oakland happened that year.

The ALCS between the Yankees and Seattle Mariners was tightly contested. Then, President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch before Game 3 of the World Series and I never felt so patriotic in my whole life.

I remember asking Mark Feinsand of MLB.COM if we could stash our MLB Radio equipment in his office because clearing security was such a long and arduous process.

The old Yankee Stadium physically shook when Tino Martinez hit a home run to tie it, and recently-inducted Hall of Famer Derek Jeter became Mr. November.  The new Stadium simply cannot shake like that.

60 Moments: No. 11, Derek Jeter becomes Mr. November and makes New York  sing – The Athletic
Courtesy: Bill Kostroun/AP

Extra Innings from 9/11: 20 Years Later will be released on HBO Max on September 11th, 2021. There are so many documentaries recently released about that horrific day. This one will resonate with sports fans, whether baseball is your game or not.

On Saturday, before the kickoffs, pitches, and Women’s US Open Final, remember the victims, and remember the patriotism. Hard to believe, it has already been twenty years.

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Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.

“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”

Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.

Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”

The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans? 

Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!

“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”

Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled. 

According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage. 

“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”

Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.

“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’ 

“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.” 

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Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones

There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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A cartoon depicting political candidates talking sports
Credit: Maia Lathrop / Clarion

Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.

In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.

The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.

Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”

Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.

Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.

When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.

We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.

Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.

If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.

We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.

I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things.  There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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Expanded College Football Playoff Media Rights Will Price Out Fans From Attending Games

Who doesn’t want to spend their retirement chasing a championship across America? If you don’t mind that, do I have a deal for you!

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ESPN and College Football Playoff logos

Everything I wrote last week about the new College Football Playoff deal with ESPN, forget all that…maybe. Last week’s report of a multibillion dollar deal for a total of eight years of playoff games was premature, that is according to the reports of CBS Sports college football insider Dennis Dodd. Sources tell Dodd that MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher circulated a memo to his conference athletics directors saying the committee has yet to review a draft of the deal. That committee is made up of the college football conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletics director.

First off, I would bet my life savings that two of those conference commissioners have reviewed the deal. Nobody is more powerful in the college sports landscape than SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey (who oversees a conference that is business partners with ESPN). Thinking he and Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti have not seen ESPN’s bid is a bridge too far for me. Second, many in the media world have speculated that ESPN may be the only bidder. In that case, if you have or haven’t seen the deal, it is probably the deal no matter what.

All of that is irrelevant to what I am writing about today. The fact remains that someone will cut a deal with the College Football Playoff and it will be a big one. That is the issue as it pertains to the fans. Television dollars run the sport, this is nothing new. But the television dollars spent on the College Football Playoff are running the fans out of the stadiums. As a primer for those who have forgotten, the top four seeds get byes in round one, seeds five through twelve will play on the campus of the higher seeded team. The quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game will be played at a neutral site.

That is the problem for the average fan. For purposes of this discussion, let’s work off the final AP Top 25 of the 2023 season. Ohio State finished 11-2 and was ranked #10, they have a massive fan base and would be among the favorites in any College Football Playoff even with an 11-2 record. That massive fan base travels as well as any group of fans in the sport. No matter where the Buckeyes play, they have fans. We are about to see what those fans would have to pay if Ohio State gets hot.

Round One: Ohio State at Oregon, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon. The Buckeyes draw the seventh seeded Ducks in one of the tougher environments in the game. The first round games are played on the Friday and Saturday before Christmas, who has plans then? On Expedia, I am able to book a round trip United Airlines flight from Columbus, Ohio to Portland, Oregon for $357, heck of a deal. I’ll, conservatively, add $200 for a rental car for my trip and all I have left is my hotel costs. An average hotel in Eugene goes for about $200 per night so I sleep for $400. Total Cost (before tickets): $957.00

Quarterfinals: Ohio State versus Texas, AllState Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, Louisiana. The quarterfinals and semifinals are played in the New Year’s Six Bowl Games, I am assuming the selection committee rewards Texas with a site close to Austin so the Buckeyes are off to The Big Easy. Delta flies us to Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans for a round trip cost of $561, we spend $100 on Uber (New Orleans is very walkable) but we can’t save on hotel rooms. New Year’s in New Orleans is not cheap, we spend $300 a night to sleep soundly.

Total Cost (before tickets): $1,261.00, Grand Total: $2,218.00

Semifinals:  Ohio State versus Washington, Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas. Since we are going to DFW, American Airlines is our best bet this time, we fly round trip for $497. We drop another $200 on our rental and the average Dallas hotel is around $250 a night. We didn’t break the bank but this is adding up very quickly and, as a reminder, we have yet to buy a single ticket.

Total Cost (before tickets): $1,197.00, Grand Total: $3,415.00

Finals: Ohio State versus Michigan, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia. If you fly to Atlanta, you fly Delta. I live in Birmingham, every Southerner knows that, if you die in the South, you have a layover in Atlanta on the way to Heaven. Our round trip flight goes for $504 and we Uber in downtown Atlanta for $100. The good news is there are tons of really good hotels walkable to Mercedes-Benz. The bad news is they are not cheap for big events. You are looking at a minimum of $400 per night.

Total Cost (before tickets): $1,504.00, Grand Total: $4,919.00

Before we have eaten our first bite of food, before we have paid a single dollar for a seat, we are already out almost $5,000.00 per person. The expanded College Football Playoff works for television but has priced out the average fan. Who doesn’t want to spend their retirement chasing a championship across America? If you don’t mind that, do I have a deal for you!

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