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What If Baseball Had A Scandal And America Didn’t Care?

The existential crisis for Rob Manfred isn’t that pitchers are using illegal substances and deadening offenses to all-time impotence — it’s that fans aren’t talking about it, in a troubled sport teetering on apathy

Barrett News Media

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What’s sad is, no one cares anymore. The nation’s baseball aficionados, assuming any are left, are so numb to the death march of scandals in their sport — electronic sign-stealing, steroids, tanking — that they’ve come to accept cheating as an existential evil and the commissioner and owners as complicit, impervious, TV-money-hoarding hustlers.

So when weeks and months pass — actually, years — before the sport’s foggy leadership acknowledges that pitchers have emasculated batters by blatantly lathering balls with foreign substances, any fan still awake just shrugs and murmurs, “Buy me some peanuts and Pelican Grip.”

grip_dip2
Courtesy WhatProsWear

Faced with a labor impasse that could lead to a crippling work stoppage, Major League Baseball has responded with a season so lifeless and soporific that we’re almost begging for the games to fade away. Thanks largely to the illegal sticky goo, which allows pitchers to increase spin rates and reduce a hitter’s chances of making even scant contact, an already sluggish sport has devolved into a hit-challenged, action-less slog. So-called commissioner Rob Manfred has known about these crimes, just as he knew about sign-stealing and just as predecessor Bud Selig knew about performance-enhancing drugs. Yet Manfred moved at a typically plodding pace, chatting privately with the Players Association while strikeout rates soared to an all-time high, batting averages plummeted to record lows and an unfathomable six no-hitters were pitched in a six-week period.

This unwatchable trudge couldn’t have come at a worse time. With MLB ever-desperate to woo young people and retain future attention spans in a post-pandemic world, the industry never has been less relevant in America’s sporting calendar. The NBA adjusted its season so the Finals end in mid-to-late July, as the almighty NFL and its predominant storylines heat up and the Tokyo Olympics begin, however perilously. Which means baseball, for the first time, won’t have a single month in 2021 when it is front and center in our sights. Will anybody even notice when the collective bargaining agreement expires?

If nothing else, athletic competition must be governed by integrity. Why would a consumer, with so many entertainment choices, waste time, money and energy on a sport so relentlessly dishonest? It’s mind-boggling that it took an unlikely character — the oft-mocked country singer, Joe West — to shine light on the epidemic of glue, pine tar and dipping. Enforcing rule 6.02c, the veteran umpire exerted his power on May 26 and confiscated the sunscreen-and-rosin-rubbed cap of Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos.

It led Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to throw the tantrum that finally prompted deep discussion and change. “This is baseball’s dirty little secret,” said Shildt, protecting his pitcher. “Let’s go check the guys that are sitting there going into their glove every day with filthy stuff coming out, not some guy before he even steps on the mound with a spot on his hat.” Naturally, the commish wasn’t happy that a mere ump had stepped in and taken initiative, but if not for West, there wouldn’t have been a reckoning the last two weeks that led to a long-overdue response: With the aid of the same video technology that sabotaged baseball — how’s it going, Astros? — umpires will be required to inspect all pitchers for substances throughout games.

There could be as many as 10 random checks a game, reports ESPN, and starting pitchers will be checked at least two times per start. And while the Players Association will pounce with grievances, MLB is prepared to hammer cheating hurlers with 10-day suspensions without pay. Yes, the average length of games — which only has crawled the wrong way under Manfred — will be a bigger problem. And I’d feel better if suspensions were for 21 days and not 10 days, which makes it a one-start punishment for a starter. But beginning next week, at long last, Manfred is ready to take action and try to solve the latest disgrace on his watch.

What took him so long? Is he so intimidated by the union, not wanting to sever whatever CBA-negotiating thread remains, that he allowed a season to be swallowed by substance-induced spin rates? Was he not listening to the complaints, which started as whispers and mushroomed into open protests, from clubhouses? Did he not read the recent Sports Illustrated expose? Just what does Manfred do every day, exactly, in his Park Avenue office?

“I think the substance issue is real,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said last month. “I think pitchers are using a lot more substances now than they have in the past. Not just a lot more, but it’s been more effective than it has been. Guys are increasing their spin rate. That’s why there’s so many walks and strikeouts every game because guys are just letting it rip with all the spin. It’s harder to control, but also harder to hit. I think if they cracked down on that, that would honestly help the offense a lot, get the ball in play more often, and less swing and miss.”

This time, Manfred can’t make the same short-sighted mistake and think players and managers eventually will police each other. They won’t. There always has been a little boys’ code, through the steroids and sign-stealing debacles, that says a team won’t snitch on another in fear of being snitched on in reprisal. The same wink-wink nonsense has existed in the Pelican Grip Era, and just because some pitchers are suspended — trust me, they won’t be the big names — doesn’t mean balls won’t be doctored.

The team to watch is in Los Angeles — and the pitcher to watch is the smart-ass in residency, Trevor Bauer. For all their resources as baseball’s leading bluebloods, the Dodgers have too much talent to cheat, one would think. Yet their staff spin rate in 2021 reflects the highest one-year increase in the majors, SI reports. And you’d be an idiot not to suspect Bauer as the Spin King of Spin City, knowing he has accused others of cheating while acknowledging spin rates as his own secret sauce. His spin numbers are up dramatically the past two seasons, which inspired the Dodgers to follow their first World Series title in 32 years by giving Bauer a $102 million deal for three seasons. Their top four starters — Bauer, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias — rank in the top nine of four-seam fastball spin rates.

What’s happening in your house there, Dave Roberts? Asked last week if his pitchers are using substances, the Dodgers manager said, “I don’t know. I don’t have those conversations. I really don’t know.”

Now that MLB is cracking down, Roberts is more interested in elaborating. “Once things are implemented, then we’ll adhere to the rules,” he said over the weekend. “That’s the way we all should look at it.”

All of which confirmed the credo of clubhouses since the mid-1990s: We’ll cheat until they catch us … and then, if we want, we’ll continue to cheat!

Of course, by the time Manfred tries to execute another clumsy plan, the sports world will be immersed in how the Brooklyn Nets are faring if James Harden has a bad hamstring. And whether Aaron Rodgers will report to the Packers or resume his hissy fit as another get-me-out-of-here control freak. And whether Jon Rahm — shame on the sports world for thinking COVID-19 is an afterthought — can recover from his positive test in time for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where Phil Mickelson awaits at his boyhood course. And whether Japan will be ravaged by the coronavirus when it still is recovering from a tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster.

Baseball should be petrified about mass apathy. In what should be viewed as another putrid scandal, on full media blast, it’s a faint blip in a niche sport. At least the game was interesting when we were enraged by steroids.

Kids don't play the Barry Bonds market – Orange County Register
Courtesy: Orange County Register

Now it’s only a sad, lonely country song, with Joe West on vocals.

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1 Comment

  1. Mike Milkyway

    June 7, 2021 at 9:44 am

    I think it just boils down to people having better entertainment options than watching out of touch athletes play a very boring game. Often pitches are spread out by 45 seconds to 90 seconds, the countless commercials, that terrible teams. Baseball was fun decades ago, but now youtube is more fun.

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BNM Writers

Activist Journalism Should Have No Place in Mainstream Media

Lord of the Flies might only be a book, but many journalistic outlets are becoming savages for the sake of activist journalism.

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A photo of a protest

Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan was shocked most Americans are supportive of deporting illegal aliens (because that is the actual legal term for undocumented immigrants). CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan has no idea America is not a democracy (the Irish journalist might want to take a civics class before making this false claim). And the Surgeon General is calling on social media outlets to have warning labels. It’s just more proof that activist journalism has grown all too prevalent in mainstream media today.

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” Lord of the Flies might only be a book, but many journalistic outlets are becoming savages for the sake of activist journalism. Perhaps we (the media) are becoming the beast we once feared.

Brennan’s shock at her own outlet’s poll made headlines because many felt it shouldn’t be a surprise. No country in the history of Earth has been or will be completely content with an exorbitant amount of people from another country landing within their borders. The report, which claimed 62% of Americans support deporting those who come here illegally, is now framed with additional results. 53% of Hispanic voters say they would favor the program.

The new CBS poll also found more Americans “overwhelmingly” trust President Trump on border security than President Biden. While we have yet to see Ms. Brennan’s jaw drop on air a second time, I’m confident it’s already happened behind the scenes. Reactions like this are not only un-journalistic (because just give us the news, we don’t care about your opinion that’s what talk radio is for), they show how out of touch some members of the media are with America outside of the large markets.

Speaking of out-of-touch with America, CNN seems to believe it’s a good idea to have a biased non-American report on the election. Regardless of his citizenship, Mr. O’Sullivan needs to learn more about the Constitution and the founding of the American government before reporting on it. I have said it before and will say it again, America is not a democracy, it is a democratic republic. Those on the right saying America is just a Republic are also wrong.

Mr. O’Sullivan’s false narrative that America is a democracy is a prime example of activist journalism in the works. Other “reporting” from him (if you can call it that) also included interviews with Pro-Palestinian groups who say they will not back Biden. Yet he does not ask one very simple question: Then who will they back? Trump? Doubtful, but if that is the answer it never made it into his story.

These national outlets might want to take a lesson from their affiliates, as local news now has more Americans’ trust than the bigger, more staffed, and better-paid counterparts. Why? Because there is less opinion and more journalism at the local level. This is likely why a May Pew Institute Research poll showed 69% of Americans believe that local journalists in their area are mostly in touch with their community. With even more (85%) believe local news is “somewhat important” to the well-being of their local community. National news poll numbers don’t even come close (as I previously commented).

What’s most concerning out of all the past week’s headlines, however, is Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy’s call for social media to come with a warning label. This would be as effective as posting warning labels on cigarette packs (meaning this is going to do nothing to stop people from partaking in addictive habits).

You can not save everyone and you certainly can’t save agenda-driven “journalists” from developing propaganda and posting it to social media. If a warning label on cigarettes won’t stop smokers from smoking it won’t stop social media users from scrolling. It is a drug, some people are addicted. It is an unfortunate but true part of life.

Most, if not all, Americans are aware of the addictiveness of social media just like they know the dangers of smoking. Warning labels won’t make people stop and think. It’s just more government overreach.

This is the thing local news does best, gives you unbiased information, it does not tell you how to think about certain issues (usually), and the good outlets call out government overreach when they see it.

We can not regulate our way out of life nor can the industry continue to render activist journalism and try to pass it off as real news. People are getting smart and turning to local news for facts. Hopefully, these stations won’t be corrupted by the same powers that now influence our national outlets.

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BNM Writers

Fox News Leads 80th Anniversary of D-Day Coverage

More than 3 million viewers watched coverage of the 80th anniversary on cable news.

Doug Pucci

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A photo of Fox News coverage of D-Day

One of the notable news events in June was the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi Germany back on Thursday, June 6. More than 3 million viewers watched the coverage on cable news with Fox News leading the way.

President Biden attended a ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in France alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. In his remarks, Biden pledged “We will not walk away” from Ukraine, using the example of the fight to liberate Europe from Nazi domination In parallel to the current war against Russian aggression. “To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators, is simply unthinkable. If we were to do that, it means we’d be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches.”

The morning news programs televised the D-Day remembrance ceremonies within the 8-9 AM ET hour on Thursday, June 6. Fox News was tops on cable overall, according to Nielsen Media Research, with 1.467 million viewers including 153,000 within the key 25-54 demographic. The network sent host Martha MacCallum to Normandy to broadcast live from the site of the invasion, sharing stories of combat veterans.

The MSNBC’s entire 6-9 a.m. ET block averaged 1.019 million viewers and 128,000 adults 25-54.

CNN/HLN’s combined broadcast drew 475,000 viewers and 110,000 in the 25-54 demo.

Later in the month, on Tuesday, June 11, music superstar Céline Dion joined Today co-host Hoda Kotb on NBC for the singer’s first one-on-one interview since publicly revealing she suffers from a neurological condition called stiff person syndrome.

Getting a huge assist from its America’s Got Talent (5.527 million) lead-in, the one-hour news special entitled “Celine’s Story” delivered 3.227 million viewers, marking it the most-watched program on all of television within the 10-11 p.m. hour on June 11. It outdrew such other 10 p.m. news shows as Fox News’ Gutfeld! (2.496 million), MSNBC’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (1.078 million) and CNN’s NewsNight (433,000).

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BNM Writers

How KDKA Transformed Overnights to Grow Its Future and Reach Younger Audiences

“The overwhelming feedback has been positive. It makes us local, it gives us a bench … it makes the radio station’s brand bigger and connects us in different areas.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of the cast of KDKA Next Take and the KDKA logo
(Photo: KDKA)

In February, venerable Pittsburgh news/talk station KDKA announced a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh that would see students from the college host a weekday overnight program.

The program — KDKA Next Take — is heard from 1-5 AM and replaced the nationally syndicated Red Eye Radio in the Audacy-owned station’s lineup.

A product of the imagination of Audacy Pittsburgh Senior Vice President and Market Manager Michael Spacciapolli, he believes the show has been a success in its early run.

“The show certainly offers a different perspective on the way that this generation looks at the world and from their viewpoint as opposed to other hosts who are in a different time in their life than them,” Spacciapolli said. “So we certainly are able to share a different point of view from them, while at the same time utilizing those points of view on social and getting them to really engage the radio station from a social perspective and hopefully engaging in and not just speaking to, but engaging people in that demographic, as well.”

Needing to attract younger audiences has been at the forefront of the news/talk radio industry for quite some time. Another issue discussed by leaders of the format are often centered around where stations will find the next crop of young talent.

With the partnership with Pitt, KDKA took the initiative to seek out those who might be interested in a radio career, rather than hope those potential employees found them.

“I’m always looking for great talent. Everything I do and in every aspect of the radio station, I’m looking for the most talented people. I’m always looking for where is the next great talent in everything we do,” said Spacciapolli. “This gives me the opportunity to have them working with us on an everyday basis and learning everything they do — from their work ethic, to their thought process, to their ideas. It gives me an opportunity to have our own ‘bench’ and have an opportunity to see where talent could come from in the future.

“There’s going to be talent there that we are potentially going to take a look at in different roles. Do they leave Next Take when their time is up on the show and do they immediately become full-time hosts? Probably not. But can they become part-time hosts? Sure,” he added. “Can they become producers? Absolutely. Can they become reporters? Can they become part-time reporters? Absolutely. Working with us gives us the opportunity to certainly move in that direction much more quickly and confidently than we would have previously.”

For decades, overnights were a proving ground for aspiring hosts. The daypart allowed for opportunities for young hosts and provided a low-pressure timeslot to experiment and hone your craft. But with the rise of automation and syndication, those positions have largely fallen by the wayside.

However, Audacy Pittsburgh looked at the partnership with the college and saw opportunity. The collaboration allows a younger generation access to the station that is largely dominated by older hosts and listeners.

Additionally, it provided even more local coverage to a station that prides itself of being “The Voice of Pittsburgh.” That factor wasn’t lost on Spacciapolli.

“A big part of my vision was it gave us the opportunity to be local, gave us the opportunity to be local overnight, which for me is how we win in this business is being local, staying local, talking to people in Pittsburgh about Pittsburgh, and this gave us the opportunity to do that on a pretty big scale and with fresh content every day.”

It would be natural for a full-time or even part-time employee of the Pittsburgh news/talk station to be jealous that a four-hour program was being given to college students. But that hasn’t been the case, Spacciapolli shared.

“The overwhelming feedback is very positive … Because there’s no expense it’s not like it’s somebody else could have been doing it. It would have continued to be syndicated if we weren’t able to do it through the partnership with the University of Pittsburgh. So it just makes the radio station’s brand bigger. It connects us in different areas and hopefully grows the brand and gets the brand younger.”

The program is recorded live-to-tape earlier in the day before airing in the 1-5 AM timeslot, which allows for some fine-tuning and takes the pressure off the radio novices, while also allowing them to helm a show instead of working in the wee hours of the night while trying to focus on their studies.

Spaccipolli shared that an overnight program hosted by college students interested in one day working in the industry doesn’t have to be proprietary to KDKA. He said there’s one deciding factor in the success of the endeavor.

“It’s about the relationships and the partnerships. And, fortunately, I have a great relationship with the University of Pittsburgh, they’re a great partner. I was able to get deep enough into this relationship with them and find ways to potentially make this work,” he stated.

“This is not easy. It’s not something you can pull off easily because, traditionally, I think, people think about it and they think, ‘Oh, there’s got to be significant expense.’ And in this situation, there’s not because that wouldn’t have fit our model for where it is and what we’re trying to do with it. So there isn’t that expense. You’re not gonna be able to make it work everywhere. Fortunately, we were able to do it here.”

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