Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't Do It, Bud!

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing

Newsflash ... April and October baseball has been played in terrible weather for years. That is not news to anybody, and while I can't speak from experience I'm just guessing that it wasn't any better back in the days that there were no domes or teams in Florida, Arizona or California.

That begs the following question: Why does Major League Baseball always deflect the issues instad of adressing them?

The unsual 2008 World Series brought a couple major issues to light and gave us yet another glimpse at an issue that MLB always seems to struggle with - how to handle difficult situations without putting its proverbial foot in its mouth.

The first issue that came to light that cannot be fixed is that the major league schedule is just too long. Cutting even eight games off the schedule would increase the chances that the postseason could be completed under at least reasonable weather conditions substantially. However, if you do simple math and consider that one team losing 25,000 fans per game at an average of $20 a ticket (don't we wish!) over an eight-game span would equate to about $4 million per team. Of course, not every team would lose eight dates, but the point is made. Yet, on the other hand, don't forget that the average ticket costs more than $20 and that most teams average more than 25,000 a night. So, with escalating salaries and debt to service from billion-dollar stadium deals, cutting the length of the season is not a viable option.

The bigger issue that surfaced as a result of the first suspended game in World Series history was that in more than 100 years MLB had never thought about the possibility that a postseason game could be impacted by weather after it had become official. Again, horrible weather in October is not a new phenomenon - global warming aside. I spent two miserable nights in 1979 sitting in rain, snow and sleet as the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates attempted to play Game 1 of that year's Series. The first night it was 40 degrees with rain and sleet, and we waited for several hours before the game was postoned. The following morning we woke up to a dusting of snow and spent nearly four hours that night sitting in conditions as frigid as any January football game I've ever attended.

With that in mind, how is it possible that in more than a century no one had ever considered that a World Series might end because of Mother Nature? That just defies logic. At the end of the day, Bud Selig and MLB did the right thing. No postseason game should ever end with fewer than nine innings having been played, and I'm sure that such a rule already has been created to take effect in 2009. The issue, as usual, was that apparently either Selig made this decision in advance without informing any of the participants or media covering the World Series or lied and made a decision as it became obvious that Game 5 was going to be cut short, choosing to tell the world that he and team officials had agreed to that stipulation during an earlier contest.

No matter, the decision was the right one; it just would have been a shame for one of the managers to change his strategy without knowing the potential impact of such a move. What if Charlie Manuel had brought in closer Brad Lidge during the top of the sixth as the inevitable postponement became imminent? Upon final analysis, Wednesday's "mini-game" was as exciting as anything the sport has seen in recent memory, so everything turned out for the best.

That leads us to the larger issue, which has presented itself in the days following the Game 5 debacle: In response to the PR nightmare that has unfolded, will MLB make yet another ill-advised, knee-jerk, short-sighted decision because its lack planning and organizational skills almost led to an incredibly embarrassing situation?

I hope that others who make a living in baseball or covering baseball and who have a much broader audience than I will take a stand here and speak to the absurdity to the notion of moving the Fall Classic to a neutral, warm-weather or domed site.

Sure, in the first year or two or three the host cities are going to go all out to ensure that the event is sold out and lives up to the standards that have been set by events such as the Super Bowl and BCS Championship Game. And as long as teams with rabid fanbases such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs or even the Mets are involved in the Series, it is certain to bring with it an influx of out-of-towners. However, realistically, what happens if we get an Astros-White Sox Fall Classic? Or another Rays-Phllies showdown?

Will seven games sell out under those circumstances? Maybe in the first couple of years, but how about five years down the road? Is someone who lives 3,000 miles away going to pay an outrageous amount of money for a ticket and go through the hassle of booking a flight, a hotel room and a rental car for a Game 7 that might not even happen? Will the average fan even consider spending the money it would cost to travel to such an event? Will ANYONE be willing to take a full week off of work to attend the entire series? I'd have to think that the answer to these scenarios, for the most part, is a resounding, "NO!"

So, by moving the World Series to a neutral site, no only would MLB be taking a team's one shining moment away from the loyal fans who have made the sport a financial success for so many years, but also it would be running the risk of a potentially horrific PR situation in which the sport's ultimate showdown might be played in front of a half-full, no I'd prefer to say half-empty, stadium.

Could you imagine if the Cubs finally came through and won their first title in more than 100 years and there were only a few thousand diehards there to witness it in person? That alone should be enough to convince Mr. Selig to end this debate quickly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Go With Garza!

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing

Usually I blog about sports PR, marketing, image-building or other similar topics here, but I can't pass up an opportunity to blog about baseball under these unusual circumstances. I did write a book about the aport, afterall, so I should be allowed to write about it here every now and then - especially during the World Series. So, here goes...

Tonight's game between the Rays and Phillies is a three-inning game. Make no mistake. This is not a game entering the bottom of the sixth; it might as well be a 0-0 tie - 3-1/2 innings to see whether the Phillies can win their city's first professional sports title in 25 years or the Rays extend their fairytale season.

With that said, there is no way in the world that either team should begin the game with a reliever on the mound. Well, I'll take that back. The Phillies might want to consider it since they have a two-game edge and really can have all of their guns loaded for games six and seven if they save their starters tonight. And if the relievers come through, they'll really have their guns loaded going into spring training as the champions of the world.

Tampa, on the other hand, has got to approach this as a must-win mini-game. There's no other way to view it. Professional athletes, especially baseball players, are creatures of habit. Over the marathon 162-game schedule they become extremely comfortable in their roles - especially the pitchers - and learn exactly what they need to do to prepare themselves to handle their role effectively.

Relief pitchers sit and wait their turn all game and then are on call from the fifth inning on, ready to jump up and get themselves warm in a matter of minutes so that they can go put out a fire. They don't know for sure until the game unfolds whether they will be used. But, based on the ebb and flow of a given contest, depending on their assigned role, most of them can figure out by the fourth or fifth inning if they will be called into action at some point. From that moment on they begin their mental preparation, followed by the physical act of getting their arms and their bodies ready to peform - maybe for only one pitch or maybe for as long as two or three innings.

For relief pitchers a routine is established to which the mind and body become accustomed. It's when managers remove these players from their comfort zones and place them into unfamiliar circumstances that they tend to fail. If you don't believe me, check and see how many of Mariano Rivera's career blown saves have come when he has been asked to record four or more outs instead of the usual three.

Starters, on the other hand, are used to waiting around all day, studying the opposing lineup, long-tossing and running in the afternoon and then going through a 25-minute routine before the opening pitch. Although tonight's game is only going to last three or 3-1/2 innings, the pregame routine is more in line with what is normal for a starting pitcher. A starter would take the mound fully prepared and mentally focused, while a reliever might be just enough out of sorts to have trouble finding the strike zone and ultimately give away the game.

My choice would be Matt Garza, the MVP of the ALCS. Garza has been filthy throughout the postseason and has not pitched since Saturday. A couple of innings tonight would be like a side session for him. He'd throw that in the bullpen, anyway. I don't think there are many guys who'd be jumping to the front of the line to hit off of his 95 mph fastball and wicked slider tonight in frigid, wet and windy conditions.

Even if Garza throws one inning and gives way to a reliever, at least all parties are going to be placed in situations that they are used to, which in my mind gives them a better chance to succeed. Heck, Garza could throw two easy innings and still pitch either Game 6 or Game 7 for the Rays.

Joe Maddon is a smart guy. I'm sure he has a feel for what his players can and cannot handle. He says he's going with Balfour, so I'll just assume that he knows something I don't. I just go back to the 1986 World Series when John McNamara left some bullets in the Red Sox gun, hoping his team would get to a Game 7. Right now, if there's no Game 7, there's no shot at a world champioship for the Rays. That's why they should approach the next two-plus games as if they are Game 7s and let the chips fall where they may if they do indeed get that far.

If I'm managing - and ther are 5,000 reasons why I'm not - Matt Garza, who already won a Game 7 this year, is on the hill. In my mind that would give me the best opportunity to force a couple more "Game 7s" and give Garza more than one opportunity to impact the remainder of the series.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One More Thing on the Cowboys and I'm Done (PROMISE!)

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing

Ok. I have to be more creative. I just realized that my last three blogs directly related to the Cowboys - although one of them was a positive endorsement of Troy Aikman's commentating abilities.

Just a couple more thoughts first, however, as Adam "Pacman" Jones goes off to start alcohol rehab today. I sincerely hope that he and others who suffer from similar problems can find the strength and support to overcome their afflictions and become productive members of society. Not just productive athletes, but productive citizens. And I hope that some of these guys start to realize in a hurry how fortunate they are to be where they are earning millions or at a minimum hundreds of thousands of dollars to play a game. And I hope that they realize it can end in a fraction of a second and that they need to surround themselves with the right people who can help them prepare for when that end comes - whether it's in five minutes or in five years.

That's why we started API Management & Marketing ( to provide the brand and image management services these athletes need to be able to capitalize on what they have now and live comfortably as contributing members of society when their careers are finished. We are not sports agents, but we do fill in the gaps for what the agents can't provide and supplement what they do. Our services actually make the agent's job easier. Think about it: if the athlete has a stellar image, performs well on the field, understands PR, gives back to the community and is generally a good person, don't you think he or she is more attractive to corporations looking for people to pitch their goods and services? Absolutely.

So, in the wake of all this, Jerry Jones goes out and signs Roy Williams, a talented player who hasn't accomplished anywhere near what he was expected to accomplish - and a player who has had some issues of his own in Detroit - to a $20 million dollar contract. Jones' statement: "Terrell (Owens) was ecstatic about the signing." Now Jones is making business decisions based on what is going to make a mercurial, unreliable, tempramental superstar happy?

Not a formula for success. It may appease the fans for now, but is just going to make them angrier when the ultimate failure occurs in January.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jerry's Kids

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Why doesn't Jerry Jones get it?

Two years ago T.O. ripped apart the Dallas Cowboys with his selfishness, mood swings, public outbursts and ultimately his overdose on "vitamins." So the following year what does Sir Jerry do but visit Chico's Bail Bonds and rescue troublemaker Tank Johnson from himself. Disliked everywhere but Dallas, Jones was a hero in Chicago for removing yet another threat to the local community there. The end result: another early playoff exit, a teary-eyed T.O. defending his Q.B. and more questions about the team's character.

The Cowboys had character issues? No way. Who knew? Once known as America's team, the Cowboys became South America's team in the wake of several drug-related incidents during the 90s. These days they are just plain unsavory.

If all that turmoil weren't enough, Jones studied the police blotter this past off-season and decided to take yet another chance on a guy who didn't deserve another second (or tenth) chance. Adam "Pacman" Jones, who had become commissioner Roger Goodell's poster child for the NFL's new more stringent disciplinary policies and who seemingly had not gone a week without showing up in a police report, was welcomed by Jerry Jones to Dallas with open arms and and open checkbook.

Jerry Jones' secondary had been heavily criticized for several years, so this move made all the sense in the world. A superb athlete with no understanding of what it takes to be a productive citizen in one of the most lenient societies in the world would be a perfect fit playing for Jones' dysfunctional family. I guess Jerry Jones figured that if nothing else "Pacman" had to be in shape. After all, he'd been running from the law non-stop for about three years.

"Pacman" Jones said all the right things. He wanted a fresh start and was grateful for the opportunity. He wouldn't mess up again. He'd learned to appreciate what he had been given and was going to make the most of this second (tenth?) opportunity. Out with "Pacman" and in with Adam Jones. A new beginning was all he wanted.

And he got it, along with a pardon from Goodell, who no doubt was convinced to "do the right thing" when Deion Sanders, football's Jesse Jackson, showed up at Cowboys training camp to mentor the new and improved Adam Jones. Neion Deion proclaimed Adam a "good kid" and a "changed man." He figured that out during just one afternoon fishing with him. Who needs $200 an hour shrinks? Clearly that was all Goodell needed to finalize his decision.

So, fast forward to Week 6 of the NFL season. After a 3-0 start and a procolmation from the media that they were the team to beat in the NFC, the Cowboys had dropped two of their last three games and seemed to be on the verge of imploding. T.O. pouted publicly and questioned the play calling and his quarterback's decision-making after a loss to the Redskins. This past Sunday, after a ridiculous loss to the same Cardinal team that allowed Brett Favre to throw six touchdown pasess, Owens flat-out refused to talk to the media and then decided to insult a reporter after being questioned.

That came on the heels of a return appearance by "Pacman," who reportedly slugged it out in a hotel bathroom with a body guard who had been hired as part a security team that was assembled strictly to keep Jones from getting into altercations with others. Tank Johnson was interviewed and gave a ringing endorsement of his teammate by saying that the incident didn't involve the team and didn't impact the team or the league. So, in the World According to Tank, Jones should be allowed to continue playing. Those comments were made in the middle of the week. you think that the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the incident might have played at least a tiny part in your team's loss on Sunday? Well, I guess both Deion and Tank, two fellas with impeccable reputations, can't both be wrong about "Pacman," er, Adam.

Those who have played for the Cowboys during the Jerry Jones regime speak fondly of the man. Michael Irvin, another credible source, credits Jones for his turnaround. Troy Aikman says that Jerry Jones was a father figure to him. Other former players frequent the teams practice facilities and offices, because Jerry Jones encourages them to come back and treats them like kings when they do.

Could it be that Jerry Jones is just too nice of a guy to turn his back on these guys? That he just wants to help these young men get their lives on track? That his pursuit of these "rebels" has nothing to do with winning football games? Or is he so obsessed with winning that he just doesn't care what type of person takes the field representing his organization?

The problem is that championship teams traditionally are filled with people of character who possess the work ethic, commitment to team values and respect for their livelihood that is necessary to stay in peak mental and physical condition and help them overcome the obstacles and setbacks that are part of every season. Talent alone rarely wins championships, but talented players who have little regard for anyone but themselves can cause an implosion.

Dallas, we have a problem - again. The Cowboys will implode in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 ... or has it already happened? There is some poetic justice here. However you slice him or whatever you want to call him - whether it's "Pacman" or "Adam" - the younger Jones can't cover an NFL receiver consistently right now. So, this may turn out to be a test of whether the elder Jones really is a nice guy who wants to help these troubled young men succeed or if it really is all about the almighty "W."

The disturbing part of all this is that next year the Cowboys will move into a billion-dollar stadium that certainly will celebrate what the franchise has accomplished under Jerry Jones. That move will be accompanied by celebrations of the franchise and the success it has enjoyed with Jerry Jones at the helm. And while fans may be disgusted by the current state of affairs in Dallas and while this year's edition of America's team is fast becoming a public relations disaster, all of those "diehard" Cowboys fans scattered around the country who have never set foot in Dallas will gladly forgive and forget if the Lombardi Trophy is returned to the "Big D" - even if they'll never actually get there to see it.

The rest of the American public and the corporate community won't forget, however, and the possibility that these players will become accepted and productive members of the community after their playing days are done is remote, to say the last. Jerry Jones might think he's doing these guys a favor, but in reality he's nothing more than an enabler who may in fact be crippling them for life.

It's no wonder so many retired NFL players are broke within five years of playing their last game. They spend most of their adult lives in a fantasy world in which no one is held accountable and their quality of life is determined by how well they play a game. It's so important for these players to surround themselves with quality people who will give them sound personal, business and financial advice. Unfortunately, many of them don't realize that until it's too late.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Aikman Moves Up the TV Ranks

I'm the first one to admit that I wasn't a fan of Troy Aikman the football player. Where I grew up, less than a half hour from Washington, D.C., rooting for any member of the hated Cowboys was simply not an option.

I'll also be the first to admit that the day Lavar Arrington sprinted across the Texas Stadium turf and knocked Aikman into La-La Land for the umteenth - and final - time never ranked among my top 1,000 most disappointing moments in sports. And I'll also openly admit that for a long time I couldn't stand to hear Aikman's voice coming through my televeision speakers during an NFL game, particularly a contest involving the Redskins. After all, as someone who experienced the heated Skins-Cowboys rivalry firsthand as a player (an enemy player, no less), Aikman couldn't possibly be objective as a color analyst, could he? He certainly wouldn't give the Redskins a fair shake as far as I was concerned.

Well, I'm also willing to happily admit that Aikman has successfully overcome all of the negative connotations that go along with being a superstar-athlete-turned-broadcaster to become one of the best in the business - at least in my eyes. I'm not sure that I can say the same for Moose Johnston, Keyshawn Johnson, Phil Simms, Chris Collinsworth and some of the others, although I will give them another careful hearing in the near future based on Aikman's emergence.

I've had the pleasure of listening to Aikman as he called the last two Redskins games - last week against the Cowboys and this week vs. the Eagles - and I found him to be articulate, entertaining, affable, insightful and - most important - intelligent and impartial. He handed out more compliments to Jim Zorn, Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis - he actually called Portis one of his favorite players - than you would think possible coming from a former member of Jerry Jones' Cowboy compound. And, on the other hand, he was openly, but not unfairly critical of poor play on the field, poor judgment on the sidelines and the officiating when necessary.

It's hard for me to watch a televised game in any sport without getting angry about the commentating. It's amazing how many former athletes have been handed high-profile television jobs despite the fact that they clearly have difficulty formulating coherent thoughts without a script and rarely say anything insightful. The beauty of having these athletes on the air is that they have been there in the trenches slugging it out and should be able to provide information that 99 percent of the viewing public would never otherwise be able to access.

Unfortunately, the reality is that these athletes are either too ill-prepared on a weekly basis, too inexperienced or too over-coached to provide viewers with any real substance. These former jocks tend to fall into several categores: the flamboyant, flashy former star who is hired because of his reputation and either wants to be controversial or become the next John Madden; the company guy who observes all of the trained commentators and actually overprepares to the point that his real personality never surfaces and everything seems mechanical (this person spends too much time making ridiculous hand gestures and reciting meaningless facts and figures that start to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher after a while); and the nice guy with the good personality who you want to like, but who just never becomes polished (Emmit Smith would fit into this category.)

Most former athletes who try to make the transition strive to become someone they aren't and fail miserably. Or they can't overcome who they are and experience the same results. Aikman has done nothing but be himself, study the game inside and out and throw his inherent biases out the window. He gets technical without being boring; is able to laugh at himself; isn't afraid to call out players, coaches and officials for poor performance or bad jugment when justified; and has let go of his loyalties to Dallas - at least as appropriate when on the air.

In so doing, Aikman has forged an image as a likeable guy. I'm not sure that was the case when he played, since most fans either love or hate members of the Cowboys, and you never got to know who he really was. His personality just never really surfaced, which is why it was somehwat surprising when he decided to pursue a career in broadcasting.

Aikman has learned a lesson that is valualbe to current and former athletes alike: if you work hard at what you do and let your true personality come through, you are going to earn the respect of those around you - on and off the field - and people will gravitate to you. That type of respect and public awareness will lead to opportunities in the community and the business world that never otherwise would have presented themselves.

Although he isn't often mentioned as one of sports' elite color analysts, in my mind Aikman is rapidly moving up that list. In fact, I believe that he should already be near the top. What he has done is build a likeable, professional image that should translate into potentially lucrative opportunities that will allow him to maintain the quality of living to which he has become accustomed. A retired athlete can't ask for more than that.