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Rick Rizzs’s Big League Dreams Were in The Booth

“The slider and curveball kind of eliminates a lot of guys from that business so we go into broadcasting.”

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Rick Rizzs was kind enough to spend some time with me on a trip to Chicago earlier this season. Rick has had a tremendous career. He is now finishing up his 34th season with the Mariners’ broadcast team. He’s worked with legends and seen some other legends on the field while calling games in the Pacific Northwest. But, any conversation with a Chicago area product, when dealing with baseball HAS to start with a question about which team he was a fan of, the Cubs or the White Sox?

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Andy Masur: So which team DID you root for growing up? 

Rick Rizzs: As a kid growing up, I was a fan of both the Cubs and the White Sox. I’m 65 years old, so back in 1959 I’m six years old I’d come home from school my mother would have the game on TV listening to Jack Brickhouse, he was my hero growing up. Along with Ernie Banks, Don Kessinger, Randy Hundley and Billy Williams and all those guys. I’d end up watching the game with my mom. Then my dad would come home and we’d watch the White Sox or listen on the radio. So, I fell in love with both the Cubs and the White Sox. “Little Louie” was my hero, Luis Aparicio, I wanted to be the next Luis Aparicio. But as far as I got in my baseball career was the JV team at Southern Illinois University. 

AM: I think most of us that get into baseball broadcasting had aspirations of being a major leaguer, for me it was the curve ball that drove me to the booth, similar for you?

RR: For me it was the slider. I never saw a slider until I got to SIU and played on the JV team for about two and a half years. The slider and curveball kind of eliminates a lot of guys from that business so we go into broadcasting. It’s really paid off (for me) and I’m really blessed.  

AM: You’ve gotten to work with some legends in broadcasting over the course of your career, Dave Niehaus and Ernie Harwell to name a few can you share some memories of those two gentlemen?

RR: I had the pleasure of working with Dave Niehaus for 25 years. I got to Seattle in 1983, I was here (Seattle) for 9 years then I went to Detroit to try and replace Ernie Harwell. Ernie came back so I worked with Ernie for the 1993 season. But working with Dave Niehaus was amazing. This guy was one of the great storytellers in the game of baseball, Ernie as well. I think we need to bring that magic back. We have a lot of drop ins and commercials to read during the course of a ballgame, it makes it tougher to do these days. Dave never missed a great play, in 1995 the season that really saved baseball up in the Northwest. It was a real joy and privilege working with Dave and Ernie, two Hall of Famers. 

AM: Good point about the storytelling. With all that is going on in a broadcast these days, how do you get those stories in? People want to hear them, don’t they?

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RR: You got to have an idea for the story right away. You can’t start a story with 2 outs because you’ll never be able to finish it. I learned that the hard way, and also Vin Scully told me that as well. He was the greatest story teller of all time. Weave it in with the play-by-play, you know talking about a story whatever it is, then here’s the pitch low and outside ball one, then continue with the story so there’s not really break in the thought. It’s really a lot of fun to try and achieve that goal.

I think that way we’re the conduit between the players and the fans and the fans get to know the players. They become household names and also, they get to know them a little bit, about where they grew up and their greatest achievements in the game of baseball. So if you are able to do that and if we can put the listener in the front row, to see the game on the radio then we’re doing our jobs. 

AM: It’s such a special relationship between the fans and the radio broadcasters in baseball isn’t it?

RR: Exactly. I mean like I said earlier, Jack Brickhouse was my hero. I listened to him for many, many years. I wrote him a letter when I was 12 years old telling him I wanted to be a Major League broadcaster just like you. He wrote me back! So, because of Mr. Brickhouse I’m doing what I’m doing. I had a chance to meet him in 1983 when I first got to Seattle.

It was during Spring Training that year, we went to Ho Ho Kam Park in Mesa for a game against the Cubs. He’d been retired for a couple of years but he was at the ballpark. I got to see him and a I met him. I said, “You probably don’t remember this when I was 12 years old, I wrote you a letter and you wrote me back.” He asked “what are you doing?” I said “because of you, I’m the new announcer for the Seattle Mariners and I’m doing the game today.” He gave me a big hug, so it was really cool to see my hero. 

AM: You’ve had a great run in Seattle and have had the chance to see some great games and some even better players. The one that sticks out to me is Ken Griffey Jr what was it like to be around those guys? 

RR: Ken Griffey Jr to me was the greatest player I’ve ever seen. He made the game look easy and it’s not. It’s a privilege to play the game it’s not a right. He was the best I’ve ever seen defensively out there in centerfield. He played the game with the joy of a little leaguer he had the smile on his face. He brought a lot of kids to the game of baseball with the way that he played, of course his Nintendo game was huge, and his cap turned backwards and all the other things that he did and the millions of autographs that he signed.

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He was amazing and still is and still works for the organization. It’s always a pleasure to see him. He’s helping out the youngsters. Randy Johnson is now in the hall of fame, Edgar Martinez, the greatest right-handed hitter I’ve ever seen, now in the Hall of Fame himself. Jay Buhner down through the years, Mike Blowers is now on TV with the Mariners. That 1995 ballclub, Norm Charlton, that was a special team. 

AM: Then there’s Ichiro. Hall of Fame? 

RR: No doubt about it. First ballot Hall of Famer. It was incredible when we went to Tokyo for the Opening Series in Major League Baseball in March, to start the year, but the story was Ichiro. They were his final two games in the big leagues. He finishes up with 3,089 hits, in the United States in Major League Baseball, that puts you in the Hall of Fame. He had 1,278 hits over in Japan, more hits than anybody professionally (4,367) in the game of baseball (Pete Rose finished his career with 4,256 hits). But what he did for the ballclub he made those two games “home” games for the Mariners in Tokyo, they rode that excitement.

It was amazing seeing 50-thousand fans stand up and cheer. They would not sit down, they would not leave, until Ichiro came out after that second ballgame to take a bow, a final bow. I tell you what he was something special in a Mariners’ uniform and he definitely is going to the Hall of Fame. 

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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