December 2012

WINTER MEETINGS SHOWCASE GOLDEN AGE OF BASEBALL BROADCASTING

There is much debate over which era was the golden age of baseball.  Many feel the 1960s were unsurpassed as a decade of superstars, with the likes of Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Clemente, Robinson, McCovey and Koufax.  Others would argue for the Big Red Machine, Swingin’ A’s and We-Are-Family Pirates of the 70s, while some might favor the great Yankee championship teams of yore.  And there are those who claim the talent level of today’s players is higher than ever before.

But when it comes to network TV coverage of our game, there has never been anything close to what MLB Network and ESPN is now providing to the millions fans who love baseball.   While this has been a rather slow Winter Meetings, it certainly hasn’t lacked in coverage by these two media giants.  If you’re a true fan, you already know where to go for 24-hour, seven-days-a-week coverage of Major League Baseball.  I must admit I do catch myself marveling over the amazing growth we have experienced in this area.

ESPN was the original in broadening daily coverage by introducing Baseball Tonight, which gave us a nightly dose of all the game highlights, news developments and lively debate.  Before long, the folks in Bristol had hired some of the top baseball writers in America—Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian, Jayson Stark—to share the studio panel with Karl Ravech and popular former players.  Their live set in Nashville has been prominently on display all week, with managers, GMs and players spending time on air, which of course, has to be a fan’s delight.

New York Yankees v Oakland AthleticsEven closer to home, MLB Network is celebrating its four-year anniversary this season.  It’s hard to imagine this all-baseball, all-encompassing media outlet was launched so recently.  For every fan—really, for anyone associated with the game—this has become absolutely must-see TV.   Unlike ESPN with its wide spectrum of sports coverage, MLB Network gives you wall-to-wall coverage of America’s No. 1 sport—beisbol.  This week in Nashville, this upstart network has really showcased why it has become almost habit forming for Major League viewers.   When not getting lost in the hotel lobby or attending the Public Relations Meetings here, I have retreated to my room to catch up on emails, phone calls and other work.  Here at the Opryland, you can also turn on Channel 55 and watch all the live coverage on MLB Network.  I look up one moment, and there’s host Brian Kenny, respected former GM John Hart and Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci debating the merits of the Mets signing David Wright to a new mega-deal.  This, of course, came on the heels of the David Wright making an appearance on the show.  Intermittently, I get news updates on trades, signings and rumors from some of the best reporters in the business, ranging from MLB.com’s Gammons to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman to FOX’s Ken Rosenthal.  I also glance up from my laptop several times to see live guests ranging from Bud Black to Mike Scioscia to our very own Bob Melvin.  They’re all very captivating interviews with knowledgeable people asking questions of baseball people in the know.

And, of course, there’s those wacky guys (Chris Rose and Kevin Millar) who host Intentional Talk, a daily show that really connects with our players, having—and poking—fun every minute along the way.  I know many of you loved some of their priceless interviews with Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge last year.  Needless to say, Rose and Millar are right in their element, talking “ball” in the heart of Hot Stove central.

As someone who works in baseball and has seen the remarkable evolution of sports coverage on television, I recognize how lucky we are to have such network outlets so devoted to our sport.  What’s more, Bay Area baseball fans can “double dip” in sampling their television fare, thanks to the same complete coverage—and commitment—that Comcast SportsNet has demonstrated in the past several years.   This week, they sent an on-site producer and two “insiders” to provide coverage of the A’s and Giants.  The hours of programming CSN provides, along with MLB Network and ESPN, on a yearly basis was beyond anyone’s wildest imagination only five years ago.  So, when it comes to the golden age of baseball broadcasting, look no further than 2012.  We should all appreciate it and soak it up.

A’S LOOKING ONLY TO TWEAK AT WINTER MEETINGS

For the first time in several years, the A’s baseball brass heads to the Winter Meetings in a rare position.  They only have to make minor tweaks to a team that won 94 games last season—the second most in the American League behind the Yankees.  Of course, the odds are those tweaks won’t actually occur at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel this week.  It would be Billy Beane’s hope that at least some substantive conversations with agents and other team general managers will take place, perhaps laying the foundation for deals in the weeks ahead.

The A’s already acquired one of the better all-around outfielders in the National League when they traded Cliff Pennington to Arizona to obtain Chris Young, whose powerful bat, speed and defensive prowess will give Bob Melvin flexibility and one more weapon in his arsenal in 2013.  Maybe we should petition the league to see if we can add a 10th man to our defense.  That way Young, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith can flip to see who plays “rover.”

While there’s no reason for Billy to tip his hand on what he and his trusty triumvirate of David Forst, Farhan Zaidi and Dan Feinstein are planning to do, it would be safe to say that a front-line shortstop, and maybe to a lesser extent, a veteran starting pitcher, are on the list.  Although we chose not to exercise the option of late-season addition Stephen Drew, it appears we remain interested in him and appreciate what he contributed down the stretch to our division title run.  However, as a free agent, there are certain to be other suitors for Drew’s services as well.  With four more months before Opening Night, there still is plenty of time to address the shortstop situation.

For me personally, the greater challenge this week will be navigating the gargantuan property called the Opryland Hotel.   Whoever designed this place must have had a sense of humor.  It is comprised of an endless expanse of lobbies, atriums, bars and indoor plants.  Last time I was here, I learned quickly that every quadrant, corner or section of the inner sanctum looks identical to the other.  While it certainly is a beautiful venue, you are guaranteed to get lost several times during the Meetings.  And this is not a good thing, since the primary objective of the Winter Meetings is to, ugh, meet.  Blank stare, increased breathing…and then the inevitable double take…  It’s not pretty.  I know.  I have been one of those wandering souls in the Opryland’s Land of the Lost.  I would think GMs and player agents can circumvent this by simply meeting in their suites, which I guess has become the most common method no matter where the Meetings are held.

It’s not quite that simple as a club PR director.  You are charged with the responsibility of delivering your general manager and manager to the various media locations off the various foyers during the week.  There are appearances on the live sets of ESPN and MLB Network, Sirius/XM Radio and informal media conferences for the national and Bay Area media covering the event.  Every year, I make a point of surveying the hotel layout before those interviews take place.  It has crossed my mind that leaving bread crumbs from each location to the hotel elevator might not be such a bad idea.  It’s embarrassing enough if I get lost, but the last thing I want to do is get the 2012 Executive of the Year and AL Manager of the Year lost, too.  Maybe I should invest in a GPS navigator.

No matter, we forge on.  BoMel does his 30-minute informal session with the media corps later today.  He also is scheduled to appear on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s “Chronicle Live” show in the 5 o’clock hour.  If you tune in and he’s a no-show, you’ll know his PR guy took a wrong turn at the shrubs and his worst fear has been realized.

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