December 2010

Postcard #4 from the GM Winter Meetings

I think it’s time for me to
return home.

 

The only event today worthy
of mentioning was the Annual Manager’s Luncheon for the media.  It’s kind of cool to see
Dusty Baker, Bud
Black, Terry Francona, Joe Girardi
and Bob Geren all chatting it up in the same room during the
pre-lunch cocktail reception.  Sports
Illustrated’s
Tom Verducci was there, as was
FOX’s
Ken
Rosenthal
and AP’s Ron Blum. 

 

Once the reception was over,
everyone was seated in a separate dining room. 
Each team was assigned to a round table with eight seats.  Geren and I hosted our beat writers
Susan Slusser and Jane Lee,
while USA Today baseball writer and
Bay Area resident
Jorge Ortiz joined us, as did
some members of the Japanese media who had interest about gauging our interest in signing
Hideki Matsui. 

 

As by now you know, it’s our
team policy not to comment on any speculation or characterization of available
free agents.  So, our conversations,
though friendly, were very generic with our friends from the Pacific
Rim.  However, I always look
at these instances as great opportunities to establish closer relations with
international media, since there will come a day when we will feature a
Japanese player that will require their coverage on a daily basis.  I enjoyed sitting next to
Takashi Yamakawa of Kyodo News,
and also meeting a reporter from the Hochi
Shimbun. 
Geren was very gracious to
everyone on the table, and I think enjoyed the small talk that’s rarely part of
his daily routine during the season.  It’s
a time when we can all just be people, people on both sides of the fence who
should appreciate what a great profession we’re all part of.  


Of course, it won’t be long before we turn
our attention to another season and the tension returns.  Pitchers and catchers report in 70 days.  

Postcard #3 from the GM Winter Meetings

For many of you following
the A’s negotiations with agent
Don Nomura,
who represented Japanese All-Star pitcher
Hisashi Iwakuma, our announcement released late last night should not have come as much
of a surprise.  As our local media–as
well as dozens of reporters for national and Tokyo outlets in his homeland–had
chronicled during the exclusive 30-day negotiating period, prospects for
signing the Rakuten right-hander were in doubt from the early going.  


That said, I do believe both Mr. Nomura and
the A’s brain trust headed by
Billy Beane and David Forst,
made every effort to close the gap and reach an agreement.  I know this does not appease
many of you fans who are hoping Oakland becomes a player on the free agent or
trade market this winter.  My response to
you is this:  First, don’t forget we have
already upgraded ourselves with the acquisition of outfielder
David DeJesus, someone who was heavily pursued by several teams last
year prior to the trading deadline until a thumb injury ended his season.  Second, the A’s still have currency to invest
in new players, whether they come via the free agent market or trades.  Certainly, the mega deals struck by
Jason Werth and Adrian Gonzalez, both way north of $100
million, does not help the A’s or any small market team’s cause, but that’s not
to say there are not deals out there to be made for legitimate
middle-of-the-order hitters.  Third, let
me remind all of us that it is only Dec. 8. 
There’s a lot of territory to cover between now and the season, so let’s
try to be patient and see what develops in the coming months.  Clearly, Billy and David have identified
their needs, and I can attest from first-hand knowledge that they are burning
the midnight oil in attempts to add critical pieces to our 2011 team.

 

One of the warmer moments of
this year’s Winter Meetings happened this morning, when Commissioner
Bud Selig paid tribute to four legendary managers, who retired
after this past season. 
Joe Torre, Lou
Pinella
and Cito Gaston were present at the media conference here, but
Braves’ executive
John Schuerholz had to pinch-hit
for
Bobby
Cox
, who missed the festivities due to a
family medical emergency.  I was in the
audience, along with many other baseball people who wanted to pay their
respects to four men who have meant so much to this game.  It was truly a unique press conference,
really more of a coronation than an interrogation by the media corps.  I give credit to the Commissioner and League
PR man Pat Courtney for providing this platform for a newsworthy event.  


From my past years in the NFL, I always
marveled at how the late, great
Pete Rozelle
would always have news in his back pocket whenever needed at these annual media
events.  A former PR director himself,
Rozelle knew full well that you needed to “feed the beast” because if
journalists spend the money to cover the meetings, their bosses expect
news.  By adding these staged events, it
just helps media justify the expense whether there a many signings or trades
that happen to hit during the meetings or not. 
In listening to the three managers in attendance, it struck me how much
they had in common beyond career victories and championships.  


One of the common threads was their love for
the game.  Torre shared how to him,
“baseball is always brand new.  I still
get goose bumps when a game is played.” 
After spending some years in the sport, I think I understand what he’s
saying.  And of the great ones I’ve known
or observed, they all brought energy, passion and yes, love, for the game every
day of their lives. 
Rickey Henderson,
Willie Mays, Dennis Eckersley
, Reggie Jackson all had that same trait.

 

One of the trademark scenes
in our league PR Meetings each year is when you notice certain team’s PR staffs
absent during presentations.  Normally, I
can tell you which clubs are about to make news announcements based on who’s
missing at their seats.  This morning,
Jay Alves of the Colorado Rockies was absent.  I thought maybe he had just had a long night
celebrating after being named this year’s recipient of the Robert Fishel Award,
which honors a member of the MLB public relations fraternity for a lifetime of
exemplary service.  Jay once sat in my
seat with the Athletics during the Haas Family Era, and it was great to see him
get the award and even more impressive to see how humble Jay was and how he
thanked so many people in his life.  Some
had Oakland A’s connections, including current A’s Director of Team Travel
Mickey Morabito and former club mainstays, Hall of Fame broadcaster Lon Simmons and marketing executive Andy Dolich.  


Jay opened
his acceptance speech at the PR reception last night by illustrating the wide
range of experiences and responsibilities that go with his job as a baseball PR
man.  First, he comically recalled the
time when the team brought a real elephant
on the Coliseum field as a pre-game promotion. 
“Before long, I noticed that the elephant was taking his trunk and
sucking up huge grass divots.  The media
wanted to know why there were so many extra ‘on-deck circles’ near the A’s
dugout!”  Then Jay, on a more somber
note, told us how the family of
Keli McGregor
asked him to write his eulogy when the Rockies’ president suddenly died in a Salt Lake City hotel room
last April.  The obvious disparity between
these light and heavy moments did demonstrate, however, just how wide
the scope of our jobs is.  


So, when I saw
Jay absent this morning, I thought either he was out late last night, or like
many PR people, he was back in his hotel room preparing a press release to
announce a trade or free agent signing. 
Then when I went on line during our meeting break, I read on MLB.com
that Alves’ manager
Jim Tracy had collapsed near
hotel elevators around 1 a.m. this morning, and was now resting comfortable at
a nearby Orlando
hospital.  Jay, along with former A’s
star infielder (and now Rockies’ coach)
Carney Lansford, had been with Tracy
when it occurred.  And it was Jay who
would serve the normal PR function hours later when he served as a spokesperson
about the incident.  Thankfully, it
appears Tracy
will be okay.  And for Alves, he can mark
it up as yet another unique experience in this crazy profession.  

Postcard #2 from the GM Winter Meetings

The
first official day of the Winter Meetings has come and gone with little fanfare
on the A’s front.  I was tempted to start
this blog out by stealing a classic opening line from
Mark Hyman, a long-time friend from Maryland who used to be a
baseball writer for the Baltimore Sun
and now reports for Business Week    Sizing up a similar situation years ago,
the wry Mr. Hyman once opened a story in the Sun this way:  “On a day that
nothing happened, nothing happened.”  
While apropos, my day here was far from uneventful.  As previously stated in my last entry, the
morning was filled with MLB Public Relations Meetings.

 

It
was reported that 565 national and international media have converged in Dumbo Land
to cover the Winter Meetings.  That
represents a rather sharp increase from last year, when less than 400
journalists attended.  One of my fellow
PR colleagues suggested the warmer environs of Florida
may have been a factor, compared to last year’s meetings in Indianapolis. 
My preferred reason, however, is that the popularity of our sport has
experienced an upsurge this season, when perhaps there are more compelling
stories.  One story I heard this morning,
however, was delivered by a former baseball legend when the Baseball Assistance
Team (B.A.T.) address the League’s PR specialists.  


Sudden Sam McDowell, the ex-flame throwing left-handed pitcher who regularly led the
American League in strikeouts back in 60’s and early 70’s for the Cleveland
Indians, explained how he became involved in B.A.T. many years ago.  He matter-of-factly said he had been “kicked
out of baseball because I was an alcoholic.” 
He also said how proud he was that baseball is the only professional
sport that has an organization like B.A.T., which assists anyone in the
“baseball family,” past or present, who has fallen on hard times and needs a
helping hand.  


This past year, the
organization awarded $2.2 million in donations to 90 grant recipients.  “The NFL doesn’t have something like this,
nor does the NBA or NHL.  Hell, B.A.T.
even helps umpires!  Can you believe
that?”   For me personally, it was a
thrill to see Sudden Sam.  He was a
bigger-than-life character for me growing up in Northern
California.  He was 6-5, 200
pounds with a nasty high-rising fastball that would eventually strike out 2,453
batters in his 15-year big league career–a figure that still ranks 34th on the
all-time list.  As a teenager growing up
in Auburn, Calif.,
I can still remember an early-season Sunday doubleheader at the Oakland-Alameda
County Coliseum featuring Cleveland and Oakland.  I can’t recall the exact year, but it was
probably 1970 or 1971.  Before leaving Auburn for the game, I
remember reading a banner story in the Sacramento
Bee
about A’s owner Charlie Finley offering some collection of five A’s
players to the Indians in a trade for Sudden Sam.  And who should be the Indians’ starting
pitcher in the twinbill opener?  Sam McDowell.   


Well,
as you can imagine, there were a few A’s players who were less than thrilled
with Finley’s offer, and I believe it was
Reggie Jackson
who launched a three-run homer into “Reggie’s Regiment” in the right field
bleachers to open the festivities and McDowell was knocked out of the game in
the first inning.  The A’s went on to win
the opener, and then you saw something that would never happen today.  Sudden Sam decided to start the nightcap.  He ended
up pitching brilliantly and earned a victory! 
One of the few times in history that not only a team split a
doubleheader but so did their starting pitcher.

 

By
late afternoon, my world was nothing but coordinating media interviews.  I ran
Billy Beane through the gauntlet, cramming in sit-downs with MLB
Productions (for a documentary film), MLB Network TV’s Hot Stove League live
show, Comcast Sports Net Bay Area’s Chronicle Live program and finally, a
one-on-one with long-time friend and ESPN correspondent
Pedro Gomez, all over a time period of 50 minutes!  Now while Billy was media hopping, I also coordinated a schedule for Manager Bob Geren,
which included a 30-minute press conference with national media in the MLB
Media Interview Room, followed by an interview with Comcast Sports Net Bay
Area’s
Mychael
Urban
for CSNBA’s website, a quick
appearance on XM Radio’s MLB Network and another taped interview with
MLB.com.  


I returned to Billy’s
hotel suite, where Bay Area scribes
Susan Slusser
(San
Francisco

Chronicle)
,
Jane Lee (MLB.com), Carl Steward (Bay Area News Group) and Urban (CSNBA) peppered him with questions
pertaining to possible free agent signings, trades or when we expect to comment
on the
Hisashi
Iwakuma
negotiations.  Billy was his usually articulate and
thoughtful self, although the writers were disappointed to learn we most likely
will not comment on Iwakuma until the negotiating period is over or we sign
him. (Editors note: The A’s and Iwakuma were unable to come to terms and Iwakuma will return to Japan for the 2011 season).  With a midnight deadline to the
30-day exclusive negotiating window, it might be a late night for yours
truly.  In the meantime, I about to head down
to the lobby bar for some good old-fashion PR work.  And a beer. 
Ah, the life of a Major League PR man. 
Hey, somebody’s got to do it!  I’ll
be back with installment #3 tomorrow.

 

Postcard from the GM Winter Meetings

The 2010 Winter Meetings
have officially commenced in Lake
Buena Vista, Fla.
this week, I am happy report and in the time-honored tradition, the hotel lobby
is teeming with journalists, baseball execs and job seekers.  As of this morning, still no sighting of
Mickey or Minnie, however.  


We’re lodged
at MLB headquarters, a place called Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort, a
man-made monstrosity that puts the Emerald
City to shame.  I must admit I’ve never been a big fan of what’s
referred to as “the Disney Complex.”  In
fact, I kind of have a personal complex
about the Disney Complex.  Yes, it’s
beautiful, squeaky clean with palm trees and lush surroundings.  But I always feel held captive for some
reason, probably because it’s isolated from downtown Orlando and your only entertainment or dining
options are within the world of Disney.  


Of
course, we’re hear to attend the annual Public Relations Meetings each morning,
press the flesh in the lobby in the afternoons, and coordinate media interviews
with the A’s traveling contingent headed, of course, by GM
Billy
Beane
, Assistant GM David Forst and Manager Bob Geren.  So, I’ll spare you with any more references
to the Disney Penitentiary–er, I mean Resort–while I’m here.

This morning, I’ll join my
team counterparts at the opening session of the MLB Public Relations Meetings,
where league VP of Communications
Patrick Courtney will open the festivities with a look back on the 2010 season, as well
as a look forward at the coming year.  Among
agenda items this year will be the ever-burgeoning world of social media, ways
we can curtail expenses by reducing our publishing projects with green
initiatives, reviewing various “best practices” and case studies by individual
clubs, participating in round-table presentations by many of MLB’s partners
ranging from MLB Network to ESPN to XM Radio. 


I will be ducking out a little earlier today to participate in the Sports
Management Worldwide Baseball Career Conference, appearing on a “Public
Relations and Media” panel with Hall of Fame baseball writer
Tracy Ringolsby, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick,
NBCSports.com blogger
Craig Calcaterra and Biz of
Baseball’s
Maury Brown.  We’ll be addressing about 200 attendees
interested in careers on the business side of baseball.  I’m always amazed about the growing hordes of
young people pursuing jobs in our profession. 
I plan to share my professional experiences, plus offer some pearls of wisdom
like….”find a team to work for that wins championships and you’ll be considered
a PR genius!”…and… “always remember the Golden Rule–the players with the most
gold rule”…and “if you can master the
art of updating daily game notes while keeping your Xerox machine from going
sideways, you’ll make it in this business!” 
I suspect I may not be invited next year.


Of course, the
meat-and-potatoes of these meetings are always the daily appearance of your GM
with your beat writers and other media. 
In recent years, there’s been very little news of substance emanating
out of the hotel suites of baseball GMs, Mr. Beane included. As die-hard A’s
fans–hey, if you’re reading this obscure blog, you absolutely qualify as a
die-hard supporter of The Elephants–you already know that some potential free
agents, most notably
Lance Berkman (Cardinals) and Adam Dunn (White Sox), have already flown off the shelf with
recent deals.  So, I’m sure Ms. Slusser
or Ms. Lee will be drilling Billy on the prospects of acquiring new RBI bats
among a still-eligible pool that includes
Adrian Beltre, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero and a few others of note.  Billy, as is his custom, will then remind the
well-intentioned scribes that is A’s policy not to comment on free agents
unless we sign them.  


Then the
conversation will rapidly turn from free agents or potential trades before
entering the inevitable “Small Talk Zone” that might cover anything from the
quality of snacks provided in suite, to why FIFA snubbed the U.S. in awarding
World Cup sites, to why the Ramones continue to hold significance in American
culture, to the merits of having Brad Pitts portray you in a major motion
picture.  In other words, don’t expect
much baseball news this week.  But, as
noted baseball philosopher and erratic right-handed pitcher
Joaquin Andujar once said, “There is one word in America that says it all, and that
one word is ‘you never know.'”  Stay
tuned.

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