December 2009

A CUP OF COCO FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

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     The worst kept secret of the Hot Stove League
became reality today when
Billy Beane
officially announced that the A’s have signed
Coco Crisp (right) –aka, “The Cereal
Man”–for the upcoming 2010 season. 


     For some Oakland
fans, the signing was unexpected and maybe even a bit bewildering.  With
Rajai Davis (below) blossoming into a legitimate center fielder,
leadoff hitter and stolen base threat in 2009, it would seem the A’s would not
be seeking another player with similar attributes.  Whether the merits of this deal will stand on
its own remains to be seen, but anyone who knows Mr. Moneyball would never rule
out that this is only the first step towards a bigger-picture reshaping of the
team that might involve subsequent player moves. 

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That said, let’s just look at what Crisp–stop
laughing, that’s his legal
name!–gives the 2010 A’s.  He gives us
improved speed and defense, and he adds a veteran major league hitter.  Much like
Adam Kennedy gave us last season, Coco
is just a flat-out baseball player.  He
can help a team win games in many different ways, whether it is with his bat,
his glove, his arm or his legs.  So,
while many would have anticipated that the Athletics’ first big move of the
winter would be adding a powerful bat, the addition of Crisp should prompt us
to ask this simple question:  are we a
better team now than before his signing? 
It will be interesting, however, to see how this plays out.  Does Crisp play center field and Davis moves
to left?  Where does the A’s newest
addition hit in the order?  Or, as I
said, does the arrival of Crisp begin the process of subsequent trades or
transactions in the next month or two? 


     What I do know, though, is the A’s continue
their long tradition of featuring players with colorful names.  You would think Coco Crisp immediately makes
our Top 10 All-Name Team in franchise history. 
In the modern era, he’s a shoo-in to join the likes of
Shooty Babitt, Vida Blue, Campy Campaneris, Blue Moon
Odom, Catfish Hunter
and Mudcat Grant in that upper echelon of monikers.


    

However, I’m not sure whether he would crack the
Top 10 names if you include the early years when the Athletics played in Philadelphia.  Check out this Top 10 list of pre-1940
players on our all-time roster: 
Bock Baker (1901), Topsy Hartsel (1902-11), Socks Seibold (1915-17, 1919), Moxie Divis (1916), Ping Bodie (1917), Mule Haas (1928-32, 1938), Bevo LeBourveau (1929), Wedo Martini (1935), Rabbitt Warstler (1934-36) and Skeeter Newsome (1935-39). 


And
with that sterling note, we conclude our blog entries for 2009.  We’re closing the office for the remaining
days of December, and I must say, for our son, Luke, Coca Crisp will only rank
second on the All-Name Team.  The leader
in the Rose Clubhouse is another 2009 free agent.  Goes by the name of
Santa Claus.  I think he
might be another one of those talented Dominican shortstops.  Here’s hoping you enjoy the most precious
gifts of all–your family and friends–as we all celebrate this joyous holiday
season.  Pitchers and catchers report to Phoenix Feb. 20.  See you next year!

SOON IT MIGHT BE “TAYLOR TIME” AT THE COLISEUM

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            It’s never fair to heap
unfair expectations on a young athlete.  So the fact that the A’s newly-acquired outfielder
Michael Taylor can launch tape-measure home runs, steal bases and
play defense like a young
Dave Winfield is beside the point.  Suffice to say, I
think Billy is ecstatic that Taylor
was available.  Clearly, he paid a steep
price in shipping another blue-chipper, Brett Wallace, to the Blue Jays to consummate
the deal.  In return, however, I think we
acquired a legitimate five-tool player with huge upside.  From all reports, Taylor is the real deal.  Power, speed, rifle arm and amazing
athleticism for such a big man.  If you
don’t believe me, check out this clip on YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDZqtBpcWWw).

 

Earlier
today, I coordinated a media conference call with Michael and our beat
writers.  If there were any doubts
whether Mr. Taylor attended Stanford
University, those doubts
were dispelled rather quickly on the call. 
There were no standard answers to the reporters’ questions.  One writer asked him whether he preferred
playing left or right field.  Most
guys would have merely said, “I’m happy to play either place as long as I’m in
the lineup.”  Not Michael.  He said something like, “Well, if you play
right field, a mistake will most likely cost you a base, while not necessarily
in left field.  Of course, it also
depends on the ballpark.  At Fenway,
right field is more challenging while you have the Green Monster in left.”  Talk about an articulate young man.  This kid oozed confidence and
intelligence.  I opened the proceedings
by asking him, tongue-in-cheek, “Michael, why don’t you share with these folks
the highlights of your long and storied career with Toronto.” 
He didn’t miss a beat.  “Yeah right. 
I think it lasted all of about 38
minutes,
” he said with the hint of a giggle. 

 

Like
many Stanford student-athletes, Michael seems to have that star mentality to go
along with his unique talent.  I have
seen where that can make the difference on whether someone actually reaches
true superstardom.  Obviously, it will
play out on the diamond this year and in years to come.  But if you’re an A’s fan, I think you should
be wearing a smile today.  Billy did
good.  And go ahead and allow yourself to
daydream about a time, hopefully real soon, when the middle of Oakland’s lineup
features a pair of 6-6, 250-pound bookends named Taylor & Carter, reminiscent
of an earlier era of A’s baseball.  Bash
Brothers II you say?  Since both of these
guys can hit with power and also steal bases, maybe a more appropriate moniker
would be The Mash & Dash Brothers!

POSTCARD #4 FROM THE BASEBALL WINTER MEETINGS

Another slow day in Winter
Paradise.  Snowflakes aside, not much to
report here in Indy.  We finished up the
league PR Meetings this morning, mostly concentrating on the explosion of
social media and how baseball can best integrate its communications efforts
with the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. 
At noon, the annual Managers Luncheon was held at the Marriott, an event
solely held for the benefit of sports writers covering the Winter Meetings.  There’s a half-hour reception, followed by an
informal 90-minute lunch and Q&A session. 
Each major league manager is placed at a round table and media join
in.  
Bob Geren hosted our A’s media, Joe Stiglich of the Contra
Costa Times/Oakland Tribune
,
John Shea of
the San Francisco Chronicle and
Tom Singer of MLB.com (filling
in for the departed Mychael Urban).  I
had to chuckle a bit, however, when five Japanese media joined our table.  Clearly, an unfounded rumor that the A’s are
interested in a certain pinned-striped free agent from the Pacific
Rim had rattled a few cages. 
What I have found over the years is this:  if there are no real stories to report,
rumors start to surface with great regularity. 
But no harm, no foul.  Geren was
his usual gracious self, engaging in conversation with the Asian journalists,
asking them questions about professional baseball in Japan
and where they are stationed in the U.S. 

 

About a dozen of the club PR
directors met with MLB President
Bob DuPuy
yesterday afternoon.  It’s always good to
hear his perspective on things and also appreciate the fact he asks us for our
opinions.  Offering a big-picture view,
he said he was very pleased with this past baseball season, particularly since
it started with less than ideal conditions. 
There were the concerns associated with a sagging economy.  Then the
A-Rod revelations during spring training followed, along with the
early-season suspension of
Manny Ramirez.  But as those steroid-related stories began to
fade, baseball fans seemed to turn their attention away from that issue,
perhaps confident that baseball, indeed, was restoring its reputation through a
serious drug testing program that even penalized some of the superstars of the
game.  Add the amazingly smooth launch of
MLB Network, a World Baseball Classic that drew more fans than the Winter
Olympics, President Obama’s visit during the All-Star Game in St. Louis, and exciting playoff races, and
the sport gained tremendous momentum heading into the postseason.  And that momentum continued throughout the
division and league championship series, thanks to good baseball and several
large markets represented, so it was no wonder TV ratings and public interest
were well above normal in 2009.  While
it’s hard for us A’s fans to swallow, there’s no question the vaunted Yankees
winning the World Series only added to the overall national interest of Major
League Baseball this year.

 

Final observations and notes from the Winter
Meetings: 
First, for those of you just dying for my restaurant
review of St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, the legendary eatery in downtown Indianapolis, let me put
my food critic hat on.  I would rate St.
Elmo’s among the better steak houses I have ever eaten at, certainly comparable
to Bern’s in Tampa,
Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn, Morton’s in Chicago
or Manny’s in Minneapolis.  I ordered the bone-in ribeye, which was truly
big league.  It was recommended I also try their famous
shrimp cocktail, which was very good. 
However, the horseradish in the cocktail sauce was almost nuclear. 
I still wonder if it destroyed some of my nose membranes.  Of course, the real fun at the Winter
Meetings is you are apt to run into other baseball people at such
restaurants.  There was a contingent from
the Cardinals there.  I had to give a
double-take when I saw
Tony LaRussa
there.  Tony is well known for his
vegetarian views, so a beef haven like St. Elmo’s wasn’t exactly the obvious
place I expected to see the Cardinal skipper. 


When we returned to the hotel, the lobby was still buzzing.  Ironically, most of the conversation was not
about trades or player rumors, but centered on
Peter Gammons’ surprise move from ESPN to the MLB Network, which
was announced yesterday.  Of course,
we’re thrilled to add the Hall of Fame writer to our network lineup.  If you want to talk “ball,” what could be
greater than a panel that includes Gammons,
Bob Costas and Tom Verducci?


Billy Beane held his final session with the Bay Area
media this afternoon, moment before he was to catch a flight back to the Bay
Area.  He acknowledged that he and David
Forst
had had additional meetings and phone conversations with player agents,
mostly just kicking the tires to see which free agents might be available.  But basically Billy reiterated his earlier
contention, that the Winter Meetings are good for setting perimeters and
gathering information, but player deals are much more likely to crystallize
once GMs return their offices.  In other
words, my bone-in ribeye very well might have been the highlight of the
Meetings.  But next time, I think I’ll
pass on the shrimp cocktail. 

POSTCARD #3 FROM THE BASEBALL WINTER MEETINGS

As promised–or was that predicted?–all was quiet on the
Athletics’ front during the first full day of the Winter Meetings.  Last night the media met with
Billy
Beane
for their
initial Q&A  session with our GM.  The A’s suite is always full of baseball
personnel, from assistant GM
David Forst
and director of baseball operations
Farhan Zaidi, to director of player personnel Billy Owens and director of scouting Eric Kubota.  Head
athletic trainer
Steve (Soupy) Sayles also stopped
by during our session, sporting a new mustache and goatee, prompting Billy to
quip, “Hey, it’s Fu Man Soup!” 

 

In observing Billy at Winter
Meetings since I joined the A’s, I find him to be highly entertaining and
accommodating to the media even when he really has no hard news to offer
them.  That, to me, is an art form.  At the same time, Billy is incredibly honest
with his intentions.  He told the writers
that we most likely would spend most of our efforts talking with player agents
here who represent free agents, as we are more likely to fill a need taking
this route than via a trade.  He admitted
that he is fielding phone calls from other GMs who are inquiring about our
young talent, but he said we really have no intentions of parting with the
lifeblood of our future.  Billy also
admitted that he does not see one player putting us over the top, that we have
a number of voids to fill and that he hoped most of those voids will disappear
in time due to the emergence of our young prospects.

 

Incidentally, you can tune
into MLB Network and Comcast Sports Net Bay Area tonight to see more A’s
coverage, as Billy will join
Victor Rojas, Dan Plesac and Tom Verducci
on the MLB TV set in the hotel some time after their coverage starts at 3 p.m.
PT (6 p.m. ET), while Billy will also appear on Comcast’s Chronicle Live show at 5 p.m. PT tonight.  In addition, manager
Bob
Geren
meets the media
later today in the formal press conference room, so you can expect coverage
from our writers, as well as MLB.com television coverage.

 

Perhaps the most emotional
part of today came this morning during the MLB PR Meetings when the Baseball
Assistance Team (B.A.T.) made a presentation. 
The organization, which was founded in 1986 by a group of former big
league players and is now primarily funded by the MLB players’ payroll
deduction program and an annual banquet in New York City, featured one of our
own–the A’s long-time director of minor league operations,
Ted Polakowski. 

 

For those of us within the
“A’s Family,” we are well aware and have felt tremendous anguish over the
personal ordeal he and his family endured last year.  Ted’s wife Cheryl, who served as the team’s
administrative assistant at the Papago
Park minor league
complex, was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer during 2009 spring
training.  You can only imagine how
devastating the news was, particularly since the Polakowski’s have four
children.  Ted showed tremendous courage
today in addressing the league’s PR people, sharing his story about running up
medical bills of $200,000 or more while Cheryl was receiving experimental
treatments in Mexico.  During this nightmarish time, B.A.T. came to
their assistance with much-needed funding support.  Sadly, Cheryl passed away, but you could see
in Ted’s eyes and voice that he truly felt grateful that Major League Baseball
is, indeed, a “family.”  That term can
sound trite sometimes, but for the Polakowski’s, it had a very deep meaning
that they’ll never forget.  Ted said he
merely wanted to repay the debt by making sure others connected with Major
League Baseball–not just uniform personnel but also front office employees–were
aware that this assistance is available to everyone in baseball. 

 

New sightings in the hotel lobby:  I saw an old
friend,
Larry Reynolds, who represents
many Major League players as president of Reynolds Sports Management.  He’s the brother of MLB Network studio
analyst Harold Reynolds, and we go back to our Stanford days when Larry was a
speedy centerfielder and leadoff hitter for
Mark Marquess‘ Cardinal team and I was a young sports information
director there.  Of course, when we
bumped into each other, the discussion was not about player deals, it was about
whether Stanford might lose
Jim Harbaugh
to Notre Dame….also a priceless sight for old-school baseball people was
watching Cubs’ manager
Lou Pinella
holding court with some writers for a good hour, and the irrepressible
Tommy Lasorda and Jack McKeon
doing same….meanwhile, Bay Area resident
Tony LaRussa
almost runs me over coming out of the elevator this afternoon, asking “where do
I go for the media session?”  I was happy
to point him to the room, thinking to myself, “how can someone who just turned
65 look in such great shape?”  Must be
either his vegetarian diet or his work with animal shelters.  Or perhaps the fact he can scroll
Albert Pujols onto his lineup card most days….

POSTCARDS #2 FROM THE BASEBALL WINTER MEETINGS

It’s a veritable Lobbyfest
here at the Marriott today.  As soon as
you leave the snow-covered sidewalk outside and enter the hotel lobby, you
think one of two things:  either the
Indiana State Fair has decided to go indoors–minus the farm animals–or the Pope
has arrived and is about to address the masses. 
Or to borrow a well-worn phrase, the Marriott lobby looks like a zoo.


There are literally hundreds of
people jammed into a very small space.  In one corner, there’s
Peter Gammons,
Buster Olney
and ESPN producers
discussing what stories they are working on for tonight.  In the area near the front desk, there’s the
A’s former bench coach
Don Wakamatsu,
now the Mariners’ manager, being interviewed by a TV crew.  Meanwhile, veteran scribe
Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago
Tribune
is trading barbs with a couple of my PR counterparts, and I
exchange pleasantries with two long-time baseball writers,
Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia
Daily News
and
Peter ******* of the Baltimore Sun.  Hagen
says he’s finally recovered from the long postseason covering the Phillies
through the World Series (of course, I think to myself, if only our beat writers could have those
complaints next season!)

 

Earlier this morning, I sat
through a series of topics in the MLB Public Relations Meetings.  In light of reduced budgets and growing
environmental awareness, the group has decided to drastically reduce the
printing of both club media guides and league publications in 2010.  Only a very limited amount will be
distributed to key media and broadcast partners, but all media will have access
to our information online and on computer flash drives.  I’m proud we have taken this step, which is
long overdue.  It will save thousands of
dollars and also thousands of trees! 


There was also an hour and half set aside for various round-table
discussions, where such league partners as ESPN, TBS, Sirius/XM, MLB Network,
MLB.com, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and others were
situated throughout a meeting room.  It
was good to renew friendships, and also to discuss any new developments in
their area or ways we can improve our working relationship. 


And speaking of relationships, that was the
very subject that
John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, vice president of
the BBWAA, and I discussed during the roundtable session.  We both agreed that the relationships–yes,
even the friendships–between writers and PR people have deteriorated in recent
years, to the point where many out-of-town writers and PR representative don’t
even know each other any more.  Clearly both sides are under a lot more
stress these days, with many writers living under the constant pressure of
losing their jobs or having to file so many stories each day that they no
longer have time to phone their sources or merely do any critical thinking before they write.  And PR people continue to take on more work
assignments, forcing them to spend more time in their office or hotel room
instead of “pressing the flesh” and work at developing or maintaining
relationships with media.  I know this
subject transcends my job and the sports industry, as I have friends in other
businesses who share the same frustrations.

 

On a more positive note,
tomorrow I plan to make my first visit to St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, rated as an Indiana institution and
true landmark.  So, even if Billy doesn’t
swing that blockbuster trade in the next couple of days, I am guaranteed at
least one memorable highlight at this year’s Winter Meetings.  Now, I must close and head back to The Lobby,
where the baseball Hot Stove League lives and breathes.  If I hear any good rumors, you’ll be the
first to know.


As always, stay tuned…

POSTCARDS FROM THE BASEBALL WINTER MEETINGS

No one can say Major League
Baseball is spending money like a drunken fool in these challenging economic
times.  All you have to do is check my
travel itinerary to this week’s Winter Meetings to prove that point.  Back in my NFL days as a team PR executive,
no one blinked when we spent a full week at a resort hotel in some warm, exotic
locale like Miami or Laguna Beach. 
But now, as I write this on board a flight with our GM Billy Beane and equipment manager Steve Vucinich,
I’m headed to America’s heartland–Indianapolis, Indiana, where the three of us will
share a cab ride to the downtown Marriott later this evening. 


One thing many of you may not know is
Baseball’s Winter Meetings are predominantly an annual gathering for minor
league personnel.  The Major League
contingent is probably less than 30% of the hundreds of people who attend the
event, which probably explains why the meetings are held in places like Indy, Louisville or other minor
league cities.  And while Major League
GMs like Billy seem to dominate the daily media coverage at the Winter Meetings
each year, there is a veritable cross section of professional baseball
represented at these annual conclaves. 
Beyond team and league personnel on both the major and minor league
levels, you will see hordes of sportswriters and electronic media at the
meetings–including broadcast partners MLB Network, ESPN, ESPN Radio and
Sirius/XM Radio–as well as player agents, equipment vendors and  job seekers. 


I’m anxious to see what the layout of the Marriott is, as how functional
the meetings will be is directly related to such things.  Some past meetings have been held at the
Opryland Hotel in Nashville,
where the rooms are nice but the lobby configuration is a nightmare.  There is
no lobby, just various identical quadrants filled with indoor trees and
shrubbery which made it really difficult to find people you may want to meet
with.   You needed a compass just to take the right elevator to your room!  So, ideally, the Marriott has a spacious main
lobby, and all the meeting rooms are conveniently located within one end of the
hotel. 

 

As the A’s public relations
director, my week will consist of league PR Meetings in the mornings, assisting
Bay Area writers–such as the San
Francisco Chronicle’s
John Shea and the Bay
Area News Group’s
Joe Stiglich–who are on site covering the event, pitching
stories to national media like Sports
Illustrated
, ESPN and USA Today, and attending a MLB subcommittee
meeting. 


I am particularly looking
forward to a Communications Meeting chaired by MLB President Bob DuPuy on
Tuesday, as he never sugar-coats issues that challenge baseball yet he is a
very logical and pragmatic thinker who understands what drives our
business.  There will also be some
evening social functions, including the A’s Organizational Reception for all
major and minor league personnel Tuesday night and perhaps a night out with the
media at a local restaurant–I have had St. Elmo’s Steakhouse on my “bucket
list” for many years and hope to finally eat there on this trip–and later in
the week, I will cover the Rule 5 Draft in the event we select a player like we
did last hear (Ben Copeland). 

 

Each evening around 6 p.m.,
Billy will host our Bay Area media in his hotel suite, giving the reporters an
opportunity to ask questions for the stories they will write later that
evening.  I refer to this as “The Media
Dance,” as more times than not, there simply is no hard news to report.  So, the writers and Billy engage in a
conversation of hypotheticals.  “If
another team were to offer you a deal that involved a slugging first baseman,
would you be willing to give up some of your best pitching prospects?,” a
reporter might ask.  Then Billy, being
the good soldier, would try his best to give an honest quote without really
saying a whole lot.  “Well, John, we are
always willing to listen.  However, it
would have to be an impact player who has a long-term future with us, not
merely a rental player.”  And so it will
go.  Probably the highlight of most
session is the round of beers Billy usually offers all of us in
attendance.  No guarantees here, as my
time schedule can go sideways in a New York second if we happen to make news
with a player acquisition, but my intentions here in Indianapolis will be to
file a short blog daily, sharing observations and information that hopefully
you will find of interest. 


Stay tuned…

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