Baseball needed a bounce back. Fans weren’t coming out to games as often, thanks in part to the strike that wiped out part of the 1994 season and playoffs. The game itself was trying anything to spark an interest. In 1997 MLB debuted Interleague Play, hoping fans would show up to see teams that their club didn’t normally face. That worked to some extent, but nothing would rally the game like the Summer of 1998 did.
MLB capitalized on the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run race during that summer and now ESPN is hoping to do the same. On the heels of The Last Dance, the network has produced Long Gone Summer about both sluggers’ chase for history. The film documents the twists and turns of the 1998 season, with interviews from both McGwire and Sosa. It will also brush the subject of PED’s and whether or not the luster is off the pumpkin as a result.
Chip Caray had a front row seat to it all. He along with Steve Stone were the Cubs television team in 1998 on Superstation WGN. He had a bit of a different take when it came to the home run chase really saving baseball.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to say Sosa/McGwire brought baseball “back” per se. Baseball was always there, and for the fans who were able to look away from the labor disasters of previous years, that never changed”, Caray told me via email. “However, for the casual fan, or better yet, the skeptical, ‘still-mad-at-my-partner’ fan, the HR chase of 98 captured their attention and yes, brought many of them back to the game they loved more than being mad at it.”
After a lot of back and forth in the chase to 62, McGwire would get there first. In a game against the Cubs in St. Louis he hit the epic blast. Now it was no ordinary home run obviously, it put some pressure on the broadcasters at the time. Do I script it? Do I let it come naturally? That’s always a dilemma in big moments in broadcasting. Joe Buck who was also around a lot of the homers the Cardinals hit that year, was calling it for Fox. The record breaker caused some issues in the way it got out of Busch Stadium.
“Down the left-field line, is it enough? Gone! There it is, 62. Touch first Mark, you are the new single-season home run king!” Buck said before letting the pictures take over for the next 3 plus minutes. The silence ended with Buck saying, “Folks, it couldn’t happen to a better man. You will always remember where you were when it happened – 8:18 central time, Sept. 8, 1998.”
Buck admitted after the game that he had a different call prepared and written down on his scorecard. But the moment happened so fast, he had to improvise.
“That home run shot he hit was the old script buster,” Buck said. “I had come up with, ‘There it goes. Here it is. A new single-season home run champion with 62. Mark McGwire as he floats around the bases and into the history books.’ I even had it written on my score sheet to make sure I wouldn’t mess it up,” said Buck after that night’s game. “The long drawn out call that you dreamed up some day away from the ballpark, forget about it. That’s one you watch and hope you get call right.”
Caray agreed and he was equally challenged by the shear nature of how the ball got out.
“When it went over the fence, I was surprised–like the 50,000 people there–that he did it,” Caray recalled. “All I could think to say was, ‘He did it! He did it! He did it!’ I think that’s what everybody in America was saying when the ball went over the fence. And then I finally figured out, ‘OK, he did it. Now shut up,’”. Caray though, did not have anything etched on his scorebook to remind him of what to say in that moment. “My own personal feeling is, if you plan something to say, it’s going to sound . . . planned. I think the great beauty of this game is its spontaneity.”, said Caray.
Knowing now, what we didn’t know then, like the use of PED’s, didn’t change the moment for many. The race was compelling, McGwire got off to a hot start that season and Sosa heated up late to make it a race in September. Sosa hit a then record 20 home runs in June, McGwire hit 16 in May and 14 in September. There were twists and turns that made it special at the time for Caray in ’98.
|MAY||16 (27)||7 (13)|
|JUNE||10 (37)||20 (33)|
|JULY||8 (45)||9 (42)|
|AUGUST||10 (55)||13 (55)|
|SEPTEMBER||15 (70)||11 (66)|
“Look, there are a lot of people who want to rewrite their memories, and look at 98 through the prism of revisionist history. I am NOT one of those,” Caray said. “In the moment, 98 was a total blast, if you’ll pardon the pun. Two guys going toe to toe for two great franchises who share baseball’s best rivalry and it captured everyone’s attention. It was great theatre and like baseball fans everywhere, we as broadcasters and fans were pulled along in the vapor trail.”
“That was all over baseball a lot more than we knew at the time.”, said Buck during a 2018 sit down with Graham Bensinger. Buck isn’t convinced to this day that it’s fair or even possible to pick out those that did and those that didn’t.
I covered that Cubs team on occasion and you could sense the buzz around the team and Sosa. He came off as the jolly underdog that was loving every minute of the attention and accomplishment. Sosa was the loveable character, while McGwire came off as the grumpy grandpa of the chase. Sosa was available to the media and the swarms of cameras and reporters near his locker everyday was proof.
“I thought he (Sosa) played his part in the HR chase perfectly.”, observed Caray. “Endorsements came rolling in, he was everywhere. I would never say he was “Jordan-esque”, but overnight, he became an International baseball icon. Pretty amazing for a guy that had a lousy year in 1997, and grew up shining shoes and selling oranges in the DR. Anything I needed to ask of him, he was willing to answer and most of all, he treated my wife and infant daughter extremely well. I’ll never forget that.”
Buck came to the defense of McGwire and the attitude he seemed to give off. “Mark was always misunderstood to me, he was kind of the reluctant superstar at that time.”, Buck told Bensinger in 2018. “That’s kind of how he was genuinely so when he became the new single season home run guy and he’d be around St. Louis and people would come up to him he was just like ‘what do you want?’, he didn’t buy into all that stuff. I give him a lot of credit for it.”
Some do forget that in the midst of this epic home run race was a playoff race being run by the Cubs. They would eventually win a wildcard spot with a victory in Game 163 v. the Giants. They’d run into the Braves though and were swept out of the playoffs. But during that year, Caray would have some memorable games and other statistical milestones to call including Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game at Wrigley Field in May.
With all that went on during the ’98 season, it was Caray’s first year with the Cubs. He headed to Chicago with the idea of working with his grandfather, Harry Caray. The elder Caray unfortunately passed away in February of that year. So, facing Chip now was a rather daunting task.
“1998 was a huge year on a personal level, obviously, going to Chicago and trying to do the impossible, ie follow Harry Caray. I mean, there is/was no “replacing’’ him.” Caray told me.
He did have some allies to help him through, “luckily I had Steve Stone, Arne Harris (producer/director), John McDonough (Cubs VP of Marketing), Ed Lynch (Cubs GM) and Andy MacPhail (Cubs President) in my corner, they all understood (way more than I did) the enormity of the job I had ahead.”, said Caray. “I had Harry’s name…but I wasn’t him…luckily, all those guys allowed me to be ME. Best of all, we had a fun, entertaining team that captured the city’s imagination….and as you know, nothing helps a new broadcaster than to break in with a good team. And the 98 Cubs were exactly that.”
So was the 98 season in general. So much went on, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays debuted as franchises, Wood struck out 20, David Wells threw a perfect game, Bud Selig was named the 9th Commissioner in baseball history, and Randy Johnson was traded.
All of that paled in comparison to “Big Mac” and “Slammin’ Sammy” assaulting the record books and hitting home runs like they were going out of style. It is indeed a Long Gone Summer, which should be a lot of fun to relive.
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.