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All You Need To Know About La Russa: Reinsdorf’s Idea

From the breakup of the Jordan Bulls to an uninspired ballpark, the Chicago owner can’t get much of anything right, including a 76-year-old manager who inevitably is sparring with young players over old-school rules.

Jay Mariotti

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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.

White Sox' Tony La Russa: Throw at Yermín Mercedes not suspicious | RSN

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.

tony la russa yermin mercedes unwritten rules of baseball | Newsday

“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.

Column: 'Last Dance' has perfect villains Jerry Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf -  Chicago Tribune

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?

Zero.

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.

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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