If the comparison points are market size, finances, pedigree, ballpark charm and American magnetism, heh, this World Series would end in three games. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a cultural machine, a force in sports and life, the franchise of Jackie Robinson and Kirk Gibson’s home run and legends from sea to sea, cradled by a timeless stadium dug from a canyon off Sunset Boulevard and Vin Scully Avenue that overlooks hills, palm trees and the southern California dream.
The Tampa Bay Rays? They are baseball orphans, stuck with the worst ballpark, lowest payroll, weakest attendance and flimsiest existence of any contending sports team in the 21st century. With local politics quashing a new home, the Rays were desperate enough to consider a split season in Montreal, except Canada can’t even have them now due to COVID-19. And while there’s no shortage of celebrities rooting for the Dodgers in their homes — Kim and Kanye, McConaughey, Snoop, J.Lo — the Rays have one lonely but robust voice echoing across Florida’s west coast.
“Awesome, baby!” bellows their superfan, Dick Vitale.
Yet the mammoth disparities in status, lineage and sparkle are exactly what makes this Series watchable. Unlike the Rays, who already have won just by getting here, the Hollywood Dodgers can’t lose now, certainly not to these humble dishrags from St. Petersburg, not when they’ve botched so many October chances that Clayton Kershaw — and his heavy-rotation tire commercials — are cringeworthy in L.A. Up there atop the ravine, which somehow looks down upon the skyline as if you’re in Dodger Blue heaven, a toy owned by a cold, faceless investment firm called Guggenheim Partners still managed a prorated team payroll of almost $100 million for a 60-game shotgun season. The Rays came in at — ready? — a mere $29.3 million, trailing only Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the race to spend the least.
Which might explain why manager Dave Roberts, so often blamed (and deservedly so) for postseason strategic blunders, was prematurely giddy after Cody Bellinger won the National League pennant with a home run still flying past tumbleweeds in Amarillo. It certainly feels like circumstances are lining up for the Dodgers to win their first Fall Classic since GIbson’s gimpy blast in 1988. Waving a finger for emphasis, Roberts stood on the field and told a scant crowd inside Major League Baseball’s Texas Bubble, “I don’t want to get too emotional, but I’m just so proud of these guys. It’s been a crazy year — guys away from their families, social injustices — (but) our fans stuck together and these guys all stuck together. We have a lot of work to do, but … “
And then, as fans gasped from Thousand Oaks to Rancho Cucamonga, Boyle Heights to the beach, Roberts went THERE — to a dangerous place he never should go, a place that will devour him if he’s wrong.
“This is our year! This is our year!” he shouted, louder than Dickie V, a few feet from where his boss, Andrew Friedman, was applauding furiously.
Well, guess what? This might not be their year, either. Despite built-in advantages that border on obscene, the Dodgers are capable of another crash, especially if Kershaw again forgets he’s the pitching G.O.A.T. of his generation and keeps performing like an actual goat, as in farm animal. For sure, the series won’t be a sweep as much as a potential seven-gamer that will please MLB and Fox, even if America is too brainwashed by pre-election madness to partake in even decent numbers. I’m picking L.A. in seven, but not without trepidation. With history as a witness, stuff happens to the Dodgers every October that reduces them from favorites to farces. Witness the dugout celebration after Bellinger’s spectacular blast, when he traded forearm bashes with Kike Hernandez and dislocated his right shoulder. “I hit Kike’s shoulder a little too hard and my shoulder popped out,” he said. “They had to pop it back in so I could play defense. It kinda hurt. I’m going to maybe use my left arm (in the future). I’ve never dislocated that one.”
Funny, but the Rays don’t dabble in slapstick. They are too focused, too professional. For the uninitiated, they will keep the series close because they are an ongoing scientific miracle, prioritizing math mastery, high character and maximum efficiency when relatively paltry revenues give them little choice. The story line that hovers over the Series, of course, is Friedman. He started the Tampa Bay minimalist experiment 14 years ago, joining the Rays as a 28-year-old general manager after leaving Wall Street. Two years later, he was in the World Series, where the Rays lost to the Phillies, and by 2015, he was leaving the small-budget scrappers for the unlimited resources of Dodger Stadium. He already has his own industry tree of data-first geeks — including Erik Neander, his former intern and now the Rays’ baseball operations boss. Meaning, the pressure on Friedman is even more intense than usual. Imagine if he loses to his former team when he has almost four times the payroll?
“Obviously, I have close personal relationships there, some of my closest friends,” he said. “But my focus is what we’re doing here. We’re focused on four more wins.”
The Guggenheim money men didn’t blink upon acquiring Mookie Betts and showering him with a 12-year, $360 million extension — an addendum to a gold mine of homegrown talent including Bellinger, October storm Corey Seager, rotation ace Walker Buehler and emerging bullpen weapon Julio Urias. The Rays, meanwhile, are symbolized by wanky castoffs who happen to fit a data-and-brainpower system that must involve artificial intelligence on some level, in that this organization hatched revolutionary ideas such as the single-inning pitching opener, bullpenning and an all-lefty lineup. America simply doesn’t know much about them, even if Blake Snell won the Cy Young Award, centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is an consistent acrobatic presence on “Web Gems,” and Charlie Morton is the most reliable starting pitcher in the ballpark.
“If they don’t know the names by now, they’d better learn,” Kiermaier said of the American people. “Because we’ve got some boys who can play.”
One such find: Randy Arozarena, cut loose by the Cardinals only to morph into Mr. October, hitting .382 with seven homers and 10 RBI. If he keeps slamming bombs and clutch hits for a team built on a sturdy rotation and a fireballing bullpen, they should change the name of dismal Tropicana Field to The Arozarena. Not that he’s taking himself too seriously, like the rest of the Rays. This is a man who escaped Cuba on a raft at 19, knowing his family needed money after his father’s death. “You honestly just have to risk your life for your family,” Arozarena told MLB.com. “When you’re in the ocean, the only thing you’re thinking about and hoping for is that you get there safely. There’s been people that are out in the ocean for days and months, and there are others that don’t make it because they die. But when you’re in one of those fake boats in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the only thing you do is hope that you survive. I took the chance and, thankfully, I got here without any problems.”
Similarly, you won’t see manager Kevin Cash making any Roberts-like proclamations. How can he? “We’re not a team built with superstar after superstar,” he said. “We’re a team that maximizes opportunities and tries to get matchups to help us win games. And we did that really, really well this year.” What you will see is Cash inevitably make the correct pitching move, an element that should terrify Dodgers fans still leery of Roberts and his decisions, such as his befuddling loyalty to Kershaw in tight moments. In Game 7 of the American League championship series, Morton was sailing with a two-hit shutout, having thrown only 66 pitches against the flailing Astros. Admittedly relying on textbook algorithms, not human instinct, Cash pulled Morton for reliever Nick Anderson. Morton wasn’t happy, nor was Snell the night before after an early hook. But Anderson and closer Pete Fairbanks, despite tense moments, retired the final 10 Houston hitters and eliminated the electronic sign-stealers. If you pitch for the Rays, your feelings might get hurt.
“That’s what we do,” Cash said. “We believe in our process, and we’re going to continue doing that.”
Said 6-foot-8 ace Tyler Glasnow, who will start Game 1: “Cash made the right move again — shocker!”
Glasnow will be facing Kershaw. That quickly, the joy of Sunday night gave way to familiar anxiety in southern California. You’d think, after the manager and scuffling future Hall of Famer were bailed out of a 3-games-to-1 hole against Atlanta, that Roberts will stop overtrusting Kershaw in middle-inning jams and rely on his stable of young arms, including ferocious Brusdar Graterol. Friedman, the numbers guy, would be the first to know Kershaw has fared well this season the first two times he sees a lineup in a game, then craters the third time. In fact, Braves slugger Marcell Ozuna was convinced Graterol was coming into the game. “You know, I thought about it,” Roberts said of making the change. Relieved to see Roberts stay the course, Ozuna ripped an RBI double that again made Kershaw the subject of amateur shrinks everywhere: What’s with the double identity?
Here is where Friedman is vulnerable to criticism, if not another autumn failure. In the offseason, he allowed three key pitchers to get away — elite starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and veterans Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda — and traded another, Ross Stripling, in August. If even one was still around, Kershaw wouldn’t have to start Game 1. Will he bounce back with a lights-out performance like the one against Milwaukee in the wild-card round? Or will he be Mystery Clayton, the one with the 5.72 ERA in his last two starts, the one with an 11-12 record and 4.31 ERA in 35 postseason appearances?
“I’m doing good, doing good,” Kershaw said Monday. “Every year is different. Obviously, you have that experience to draw from. I’m trying to learn from that the best I can. I’m going to prepare like I always do, and I’m excited about another opportunity to get it done.”
And the team? “We do feel good about our momentum and confidence about winning games at any point,” Kershaw said. “We do feel confident going into the World Series, I do know that.”
It would have been delicious, sure, had the Astros won the AL pennant, giving the Dodgers a chance to avenge the cheaters who beat them in the 2017 World Series. Those thoughts ended the minute Tampa Bay beat them. “You can’t think like that,” Kershaw said. “The Rays are a very formidable opponent. Winning a World Series is going to be special no matter who you play. 2017 is over. This World Series is what we’re preparing for now.”
The Rays are not trash-can-banging frauds, we know that. They’re just the sneakiest little ballclub ever to reach late October. I live in L.A., by the beach, and I am feeling tremors.
It is not an earthquake.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.