When a man has pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, not once but twice, he loses the right to preach about rules compliance. This is especially true in a big-league clubhouse when he’s 76 years old and managing various Gen-Zers and Millennials who want to shout, “Take a nap, coot” — unable to say “Boomer” because Tony La Russa is too ancient for the description.
But never one to self-muzzle, La Russa chose the absolute wrong time to voice old-school objections to 2021 sports realities. There are no rules on a baseball field these days, if he hasn’t noticed, and for him to publicly rebuke his own player for a mere peccadillo in the scope of post-pandemic life — well, it’s just not prudent or advisable. Needlessly, La Russa has created a storm in an otherwise dreamy season for the Chicago White Sox. And suddenly, he is starting to look like a fossilized liability who was all wrong for the gig.
He simply could have shrugged or mildly disagreed when Yermin Mercedes, the team’s rookie phenom, clobbered a 47-mph lob for a home run in the ninth inning of a 16-4 rout of the Minnesota Twins. Much more importantly, the Sox had delivered another humbling message to their supposed lead rivals in the American League Central: We own this division and are serious about winning the World Series. Instead, La Russa lit into the rookie for taking advantage of pitcher Willians Astudillo, an infielder struggling to throw a strike. The right way: Go talk to Mercedes privately, man to man, and tell him the Twins might remember his homer in future meetings, as exhibited the next night when he watched Tyler Duffey’s first pitch fly behind him.
The wrong way: Ripping Mercedes in the media, saying, “Big mistake. The fact that he’s a rookie, and excited, helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he’s got a clue.”
No, La Russa has a problem. Seems his Mercedes Benz doesn’t care about unwritten rules, declaring, “I’m going to play like that. I’m Yermin. I can’t be another person, because if I do that, everything changes.” And his teammates are backing him, which suggests La Russa already has alienated his players not two months into the season. The consensus being, once an opponent uses a position player to pitch, anything goes — though it appears their issues with the manager are more elaborate.
“No negativity. We all support Yermin,” ace pitcher Lucas Giolito said. “We all love home runs here. That’s it.”
“There are no rules,” veteran pitcher Lance Lynn said. “The more I play this game, the more those rules have gone away.”
Two days later, La Russa actually was firing back at Lynn. “Lance has a locker; I have an office,” he said. “I would be willing to bet that there wasn’t anyone in that clubhouse that was upset that I mentioned that’s not the way we compete. If someone felt that way, then it’s my job to correct it. You don’t swing 3-0 when you’re up by that big a lead.”
If he wants to be a gatekeeper to baseball’s unwritten bylaws of the last century, La Russa cannot win his private war. The players will do what they want and celebrate as they please, knowing the sport has the bigger issue of labor unrest that could lead to a work stoppage next season. What bothered them is that La Russa kept going on and on and on about Mercedes, dissing a startling, come-from-nowhere cult hero on the South Side.
“There will be consequences he has to endure here with our family,” La Russa said. “I took several steps from the dugout onto the field, yelling, `Take, take, take.’ The way he was set up, it looked to me like he was going to swing. I was upset because that’s not a time to swing 3-0. I knew the Twins knew I was upset. He missed a 3-0 take sign. With that kind of lead, that’s just sportsmanship and respect for your opponent.
“I’m always doing Yermin. For that reason, I’m here right now. For that reason, you guys are talking to me right now. If I’m not Yermin, if I’m not doing that, nobody wants to talk to me, nobody wants to know what I’m doing.”
Is it me, or is La Russa resentful of a free-spirited godsend who is hitting .368 with 6 homers and 25 RBIs? “I’m certain that will not happen again with Yermin,” he said. “It’s a manager’s responsibility. It’s a teaching moment. You want them to understand why there’s a take sign in that situation. I heard he said something like, `I play my game.’ No, he doesn’t. He plays the game of Major League Baseball, respects the game, respects the opponents. And he’s got to respect the (take) sign.”
Then, regrettably, La Russa went deeper with his get-off-my-lawn complaint. He said Fernando Tatis Jr., the sport’s most charismatic player, shouldn’t have swung at a 3-0 pitch during a blowout last season. Major League Baseball is waning in American culture, in part because it can’t market the fun quotient of exciting players to young media consumers who don’t watch or care. There’s a reason Mercedes is the talk of Chicago and a hot national story. Why doesn’t La Russa get it?
He should not be involved in this argument. He should be managing his 26-16 team and enjoying the ride, yet he’s upset because a player ignored him and disobeyed his authority. Now, the question becomes whether La Russa can last into October without more crises if his players don’t respect him.
Not that this age-gap crisis wasn’t predictable, of course, from the very day last October when La Russa was hired by … Jerry Reinsdorf. That name is all you need to know.
In one of his many attempts to have me fired in Chicago, Reinsdorf tried to claim I was anti-Semitic. When an editor-in-chief asked if it was true, I said I’m nothing more than anti-dumb-owner. How many times has this man screwed up something good because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else?
Given the blueprints of Camden Yards, he preferred a bland ballmall with a ski-slope upper deck that instantly became obsolete amid the cool retro parks to come. Blessed with Frank Thomas and a potential dynasty, he prioritized his desire to bust the Players Association — promising to be a labor “hawk” while the White Sox were riding high in first place — and enabled the cancellation of that autumn’s World Series. And you saw “The Last Dance,” when he inherited Michael Jordan upon purchasing the Bulls but only muddled the joy by siding with grumpy saboteur Jerry Krause at every dissension-torn turn, ultimately dismantling a six-ring machine because he and Krause — can I start laughing here? — wanted to build their own dynasty.
If not for Jordan, Reinsdorf would have exactly one championship with two organizations — in four-plus decades of trying. In the 21st century, his teams are among the worst-performing in American sports, with the Bulls sinking farther in a prolonged period than any championship franchise in NBA history and the White Sox missing the playoffs for 12 straight seasons, all in what is purportedly a major market. Now 85, Reinsdorf does not want to fade away in his fifth decade of ownership with only one title of his doing, which came 16 years ago in a World Series that America barely acknowledged.
But here he is, yet again, meddling in something good when he should have remained embalmed in his cave. When the Sox finally formed a championship-worthy team after nearly a decade of rebuilding, You Know Who decided he knew more than general manager Rick Hahn about appointing a manager. Rather than hire the industry standard in 2021 — say, a bright, dynamic, 40-ish former player who accepts analytics, understands the instinctual importance of heart and mind and, most significantly, can relate to players in their 20s and 30s in a modern clubhouse — Reinsdorf reached way, way, way back into the mothballs and pulled out La Russa.
The reason was typically selfish and out-of-touch: The Chairman, as he is called by his cronies, wanted to make amends for allowing his GM at the time, Hawk Harrelson, to dismiss La Russa in 1986. Know how many players on the current Sox roster were alive then?
Worse, one day before La Russa’s hiring, Reinsdorf was made aware of La Russa’s second DUI in February 2020, when his SUV hit a curb and was left smoking somewhere near the Phoenix airport … and still hired him. So if the Sox fall short because the manager failed them, it’s on the owner, as usual.
Meanwhile, the 76-year-old opinionist has become a running joke on social media among the usual MLB suspects. Tweeted Trevor Bauer: “Dear hitters: If you hit a 3-0 homer off me, I will not consider it a crime. Can’t believe we’re still talking about 3-0 swings.”
It’s the biggest story in baseball. The only one who doesn’t see it is Tony La Russa. “I’m surprised I’m getting so many questions on this,” he said. “It’s not much to-do about nothing. It’s much to-do about a little bit.”
That is, until the Sox fall short and Reinsdorf meddles again, perhaps opting for a new dose of the maniacal Ozzie Guillen. This is the owner, remember, who hired Tim Floyd to replace Phil Jackson. The smartest man in the room, he is not, or even close.
Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench
“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”
As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.
Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.
Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.
Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.
Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media.
Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???
One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.
My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”
Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.
Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country.
Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format.
There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.
If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.
I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort.
Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.
Digital Platforms Should Signal The End Of Niche Linear Networks
“Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.”
CBS Sports Network just isn’t built to last. It seems obvious, but it was really hammered home for me on Friday when Jim Rome went off on the network for preempting the simulcast of his radio show for coverage of swimming.
“You idiots are going to preempt this show for swimming?” Rome said. “Stupid.”
You don’t even have to watch the video, right? You can just read the quote and his voice is immediately what you hear in your head.
John Skipper went off on a number of topics during Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators Conference last week. Some dismissed it as sour grapes. Others said his comments were those of a man that is completely unencumbered by rights deals and corporate interests.
One thing the Meadowlark Media leader said that was dead on was that there are only a few properties in sports television that truly matter.
“Until you can get the NFL, or the SEC, or the NBA on a streaming service, it’s going to be marginal in this country,” Skipper said in a conversation with John Ourand.
He was answering a question about the relevance of streaming services, but the fact is, he could have been talking about any outlet in the world of sports television.
With that being said, it isn’t just CBS Sports Network that isn’t built to last. Comcast got this message last year. That is why NBCSN is about to go dark. Sure, every niche sport has its fan base, but can you build a profitable and powerful brand on swimming, lacrosse and 3-on-3 basketball? You probably can’t.
BSM’s Jeremy Evans recently wrote about life in the metaverse and what it means to sports media. So much happens digitally now. Think about the last time you felt like you HAD to have a physical copy of a movie or album. It always made sense that television networks would get to this place.
Peacock, ESPN+, CBS Sports HQ and Paramount+ all have plenty to offer. Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.
CBS Sports Network isn’t the only cable sports network whose existence may be on borrowed time. You know about FS1. Did you know there is an FS2? Did you know beIN Sports still exists? Don’t worry. It seems most major cable operators don’t know it either. The same can be said for networks with names like Eleven Sports, Maverick, and Pursuit.
In fact, when you look at that group of channels, CBS Sports Network is probably in the best shape. It may carry the low end of college football and basketball, but it at least has sports with large, national followings.
Radio simulcasts have always been cheap programming. Once the production costs are recouped, there is a straight-line path to profit. Sports networks on this level will always be interested in carrying radio simulcasts, and that is a good thing. It means better studios and more exposure for the hosts involved. When the suits can have a legitimate debate whether the live sports their network carries will draw as many viewers as the simulcast of a radio show, it may be time to rethink the path forward.
Streaming platforms weren’t built exclusively for niche sports. ESPN+ launched with college football and college basketball at its core. Now that streaming platforms are here to stay though, it should start a conversation and migration.
The cable sports network was never anything more than a prestige play. It was a way to show that a broadcast network was so serious about sports that the few hours it could devote to games would never do. The problem is that ESPN got that memo decades earlier and established a juggernaut.
Even FS1, which has major talent and rights to major college football and basketball and Major League Baseball, is behind the eight ball compared to ESPN. They got a 34 year head start in Bristol! CBS Sports Network is behind FS1 and it has college football, basketball and hockey. It also has the WNBA and the NWSL. Still, it seems like it is on borrowed time. What does that mean for networks that can’t get a league comissioners to take their call?
I like some of the programming on CBS Sports HQ. I think Paramount+ has been a valuable tool this college football season. There would be nothing wrong with CBS shuttering CBS Sports Network. It is just the reality of where we are headed.
CBS is run by smart people. I have faith they will see the forest thru the trees in sports media and find the right solution before they start losing money. Streaming means consolidation and unfortunately, that means there may not be room for the FS2s, Mavericks, Pursuits, and Eleven Sports of the world. That doesn’t mean the sports those networks carry cannot find a new home. They may even find a home that makes more sense for them and their fans.
Can Your Station Create Its Own Holiday?
“Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape.”
A belated happy Disney+ Day to us all!
Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape. The best part, from a marketing standpoint, is fans were captivated by it. They either didn’t realize it was a commercial or they just didn’t care.
The execution was masterful. Granted, we Star Wars fans were left wanting a bit, but Disney dropped teasers for series and movies we didn’t know were coming and showed the first footage from one we have been anticipating for more than a year now.
I started thinking how a radio station could do this. How could it go out and create its own holiday? How for one day, can we make our fanbase excited and glued to social media eagerly anticipating announcements about what is coming next?
This is going to take some creativity. Disney+ is a platform full of multiple brands with multiple fanbases buying in. A sports talk station is one brand. It has varying levels of fanbases, but largely, your dedicated audience are the people that not only love sports, but also like your programming enough to be called P1s. Is that enough people to build an event like this around?
Who cares if it is or not! Go for it.
One thing that Disney did masterfully on November 12 is it brought partners into the fold and made them a key part of Disney+ Day. Fortnite announced that Boba Fett was coming to its game. TikTok announced Disney character voice changers would be available on the platform. Disney found the kind of partnerships that could spread its holiday to even the Disney+ Day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge.
You can do the same. Surely you have a local brewery as a partner. Can they brew a one day only beer for you? Partner with a restaurant. Can they put your station’s name on the day’s special? Would other partners offer discounts and promotions for celebrating the day? There are a lot of options here.
Now, what are YOU doing on your holiday? Disney has a deep well of franchises. It could squeeze Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and more for content and announcements. Again, you are just one brand, but there is still a lot you can do.
Build the day around announcing your special contributors for the football season. Drop new podcasts and play an extended clip on air. Announce new podcasts, the kind of things that will only be available digitally.
Look at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio have created great, multi-episode series that are events for their audience. Like any narrative podcasts, those don’t come together overnight. As long as you have enough audio to build a solid 90 second to 2 minute long preview, you have something worth bringing to the air as part of the celebration.
Do you have a contract you are waiting to expire to make a change in a prime day part? Make your station’s holiday the day that the new talent or show hits the air for the first time. You can do the same for new weekend programs. Whether it is someone new coming to the station or just a new pairing, put them on air for your prime time audience to meet and have your weekday hosts help create some buzz for them.
As for the shows that are on every weekday, you have to make them special that day. Give away a big cash prize. Make the guest list epic – I mean everyone that is on air that day has to be a home run.
The other thing that Disney did so well was work to get all of its divisions involved. Check out this tweet from the Disney Parks account. Every single park around the world lit their iconic building up blue in celebration of the streaming platform’s holiday.
Can you work with other stations in your building? Maybe they won’t give you full on promotion, but between songs, if a DJ brings up a sports topic, would the PD be willing to have them mention that their sister station is celebrating all day? Would a news/talk PD let your talent pop on air to talk sports with their hosts and promote what is happening on your airwaves today?
The answer to these questions could be no. You don’t know if you don’t ask though. Also, if the answer is no, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little backup from your market manager. A station holiday is a major sales initiative after all.
The final piece of this puzzle to take away from Disney is you have to be everywhere. Any local show you air from 6 am until midnight needs to be on location. Fans should have easy access to them. How can they celebrate you if they are not allowed to be where you are?
Use the broadcasts however the sales department sees fit. Take them first to long-established clients to celebrate their loyalty on the station’s holiday. Use them to draw in new clients. Show off what your station can create with its fanbase.
Money has a way of motivating everyone. So, even if your hosts don’t like leaving the studio, these would be remote broadcasts priced at a premium and should have larger-than-usual talent fees attached.
Finally, let’s do something Disney didn’t. I was shocked that a company with this many iconic characters at its disposal and with a CEO that came from the consumer products division, didn’t have a line of merchandise ready to go. Don’t make that same mistake.
Create cool station shirts (not the cheap giveaway crap). Throw the logo on unexpected things like water bottles, bottle openers, facemasks, whatever! Have a merch tent wherever you go. Maybe set up a site to sell it for the day. Make the people come to you to get this stuff.
Twitter is a huge part of promoting what you do. Constantly show off what you are offering and what you have created. That is how Disney sold their event to its most dedicated fans as something not to be missed.
What were we celebrating with Disney+ Day? Nothing. Disney wasn’t even really celebrating anything. It was just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging. Actually, there are a lot of holidays that are just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging.
Not every holiday has to celebrate something once in a lifetime. Not every holiday has to even be real. Building your own will take a long lead time, but it is doable. Get sales, promotions and programming in a room and build a plan together. If Disney+ Day taught us anything, it is a valuable way to motivate your fans to spread your message too.
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