From a sports broadcasting perspective, the most intriguing aspect of the 2022 Major League Baseball season has been the increased use of microphones on players during games. Players being interviewed while on the field was previously reserved for events with nothing at stake, such as the MLB All-Star Game or Spring Training match-ups.
But being mic’d up during play has become a weekly feature on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball coverage, which has drawn positive reviews from viewers and outlets like the Associated Press.
“To see it get rolling this year, along with a tangible enthusiasm from players to be a part of it has been a pleasant breakthrough,” ESPN vice president of production Phil Orlins told the AP’s Joe Reedy.
As Orlins points out, the key is that players have fully bought into being interviewed during play, whether on the field or in the dugout. They’ve embraced the opportunity to show fans and media what personalities are behind the names and faces, while also demonstrating what’s involved in playing baseball at the major-league level.
Yet on this past Sunday’s telecast, ESPN’s in-game interview came close to actually serving a journalistic purpose. The mic’d up player was Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout, who’s made news recently for non-baseball reasons, notably his role as commissioner in the fantasy football league that led to a dispute between the Reds’ Tommy Pham and Joc Pederson of the Giants.
Pham slapping Pederson over a fantasy football tiff might be the most absurd sports story of the year and ESPN had the opportunity to interview someone who was indirectly involved. Could play-by-play broadcaster Karl Ravech ask Trout about the rule which Pham claimed Pederson broke in the league? Would the Angels’ star comment on the teasing from Pederson that upset Pham?
OK, ESPN knew that wouldn’t happen. The network already planned for Trout to be mic’ed up for the SNB telecast, but it’s likely that one of the conditions for wearing a microphone and being interviewed was that the Pham-Pederson spat was an off-limits topic. The proverbial elephant in the room was acknowledged during the bottom of the fourth inning with Ravech trying to sneak a pitch by the three-time American League Most Valuable Player.
“You can throw it out there, just to see what I’ll say,” Trout said. “I know how it goes.”
Trout definitely knows how to handle the media after 12 seasons in the major leagues. But at least he let Ravech tentatively walk toward the subject before waving him off.
Yet the interview still nearly made news, at least of a viral nature, when Ravech asked if Trout’s league used ESPN’s fantasy football platform. Since the rules — or the ability to stash players on injured reserve — were at the heart of Pham’s issue with Pederson, it was natural to ask if the real problem was ESPN’s format. Trout nearly confirmed that before catching himself.
“That’s why there was some confusion, because that website… ah, I can’t say that right now,” said Trout. “It’s an ESPN game.”
Oooh, we nearly had the best player in baseball during a showcase MLB telecast rip an ESPN product on ESPN’s airwaves. That would have been spectacular!
But the interview did still yield some insight and information. Viewers now know it was an ESPN fantasy football league that Pham and Pederson (along with other major leaguers including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Manny Machado) played in, and ESPN’s format caused the confusion. The audience also learned that Alex Bregman won the league, for which each player paid $10,000 to participate.
At the beginning of this season, I raved about Enrique Hernandez explaining what he was going to do if a ball was hit to him in center field. It added suspense to a potentially exciting moment in the game. When the ball came his way, the Boston Red Sox outfielder did exactly what he said he would. As I wrote, “Hernandez essentially provided play-by-play before the play, then made the actual play.”
A few nights earlier, ESPN mic’d up Reds first baseman Joey Votto for its season-opening telecast. Viewers were almost literally on the field with Votto as he readied himself on defense for a possible ball in play, talked to the Braves’ Ozzie Albies at first base, and talked about his hitting approach going into the 2022 season.
Unfortunately for the Reds and their fans, that on-field, in-game interview might end up being the highlight of what’s been a miserable season. Cincinnati currently has the worst record in the National League (21-39, going into Monday night’s play) and likely won’t improve that place in the standings by the end of September.
Seeking journalism from in-game interviews is surely expecting too much. If that happens, it will almost certainly be an accident, an unintentional confession like the one Trout essentially made about ESPN’s fantasy football website. But sometimes, having a microphone in place at the right moment finds and distributes news. That didn’t occur with Trout this time and maybe some players will be more cautious when they’re mic’ed up.
Yet with those microphones, ESPN still created a fun moment for viewers and provided insight into the players on the field, as it has throughout the 2022 Sunday Night Baseball schedule thus far. Maybe, just maybe, those mics will eventually make some news — even if it happens inadvertently.
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.