MLB: Talking Baseball, Brands and Beer with ESPN's Baseball Tonight
Yesterday afternoon I joined a handful of respected journalists from around the country on a conference call with members of ESPN's Baseball Tonight to discuss the World Series and what is going on around the league.
Baseball Tonight will be broadcasting live from outside the Ballpark in Arlington and Busch Stadium before and after every game of the World Series with over 35 commentators providing in depth analysis.
A number of topics were discussed and touched on by John Kruk, Curt Schilling and the newest member of the Baseball Tonight team, for the World Series only, Ozzie Guillen.
With that trio, you know that there were some interesting and colorful comments, so without further adieu...
How Do You Promote a World Series That Does Not Involve a Major Market?
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Really the question is: "Why should people who are not fans of the St. Louis Cardinals or Texas Rangers care about this series?"
John Kruk alluded to the fact that for people who love the game of baseball, this series is exactly what you wanted: Texas, the best team in the game as the season came to a close and St. Louis, the hottest team in the game as the season came to a close going head-to-head for the championship.
Curt Schilling pointed out that the Rangers are the first repeat AL Champion since the Yankees in 2001 and that this only shows that the level of parity and competitive balance in baseball is greater than in any other professional sport.
How large of a payroll you have has become less and less important, something that Ozzie Guillen agreed with, remarking how wonderful a job Texas GM Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington had done in finding the right pieces to add to their team—the guys who do the little things but do them well.
There is no shortage of "human interest" stories, from Josh Hamilton and his daily battles with addiction to Albert Pujols and other players who embrace the chance to spend time with those less fortunate and do a ton of work with various charities for causes that they are passionate about.
At the end of the day, this is a series for Rangers fans, for Cardinals fans, and for people who truly love the game and could care less what teams are playing. If you're one of those people who can't get enough of the Little League or College World Series, then this is right up your alley.
But for those who are only interested in the team that they cheer for, while they may check in on the games from time-to-time, I believe it is unlikely that those fans would remain glued to their televisions to watch the game for any significant length of time.
Beers in Beantown
While Boston Red Sox fans may be up in arms about the dysfunction that permeated through the clubhouse this season, putting the majority of the blame on Terry Francona is not the right thing to do.
During a game, a manager has to be worried about what is unfolding before him on the field—he has to assume that the players in the clubhouse have enough respect for their teammates to conduct themselves as professionals. As Guillen would continue, his point became clear—players need to police themselves and be aware that while winning promotes chemistry, losing promotes problems.
Schilling was stunned by what was going on and expressed disappointment in both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, saying that these guys are adults and should know better. He expected Beckett to assume a leadership role with the pitchers and that he was very surprised to hear that Lester essentially stopped listening to Francona towards the end of the season as the team was grasping at anything it could to stop their unfortunate descent in the standings.
He continued on to say that any good manager allows the clubhouse to run on its own, and wondered if the lack of players like Gabe Kapler, Mike Lowell, Doug Mirabelli and Mike Timlin contributed to the chaos, intimating that those four were big parts of making sure there was a positive atmosphere in the clubhouse during his time with the Red Sox.
Schilling admitted to having beers in the clubhouse during his career, but that it was after he had been pulled from a game and was back in the clubhouse icing down his arm. Grabbing a beer and/or something to eat while icing your arm and watching the rest of the game is a common practice around the league and has been for quite some time.
The Red Sox did not tank down the stretch because of a handful of players drinking beer and eating Popeye's chicken during games—they tanked because there were too many individual agendas and, ultimately, they just played like crap.
While the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs continue to hash out compensation for Theo Epstein leaving Boston and taking the reins in Chicago, Schilling had a number of thoughts on the "boy wonder".
Epstein is one of the smartest non-players that he has ever known, explaining that Theo "understood the clubhouse" and knew when to make an appearance and when to stay away.
He was someone that players knew that they could trust—he never came off as a typical "front office guy" and that went a long way with him and his teammates.
While acknowledging that the money he had at his disposal was quite generous, Schilling said that the most important thing Epstein did was to create a player development machine with the Red Sox, something he is convinced that Theo could have done on a significantly reduced budget.
The scouting department and minor league staff that Epstein assembled is among the best in the game and has set the Red Sox up to continue having success for a number of years.
Schilling is convinced that Epstein will bring a World Series championship back to Chicago if and when he is officially named the Cubs GM.
First It Was Manny Being Manny, Now It's Ozzie Being Ozzie
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Everyone knows that Ozzie Guillen is not shy in front of a microphone, and that has sometimes gotten him in "trouble" with others.
Ozzie said that he only speaks the truth and has never lied, and while he may have a few regrets over comments that he has made over the years, nothing he has said has been proven to be inaccurate.
His original plan was to stay in Chicago "forever", but that when the White Sox told him of the Marlins interest that he only had two hours to make a decision. After speaking with his family he made the decision to accept the job with Florida and remains thankful to the White Sox organization for allowing him to move on.
He has no regrets about his time with the White Sox, saying that while they had ups and downs, he gave the team everything that he had.
As for doing television, Ozzie had been courted by networks for some time but decided that he was only interested in working the World Series, something that he is thankful to have the chance to do. He is not worried about having to "bite his tongue" on the air, joking that the real reason ESPN wanted him is because he "talks a lot of ****."
Ozzie's love of the game is unquestioned and is ultimately the only reason he continues to do what he does, whether it be on the field or television.
What Are the Keys to Facing Albert Pujols?
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How do you attack the best player in the game?
John Kruk's take was simple: Don't do what the Milwaukee Brewers did. If he was managing a team that was trailing St. Louis, he would walk Pujols every single time he came to the plate.
Curt Schilling's take was both surprising and informative: "It's easy to pitch to Albert Pujols. You never throw him the same pitch twice and never put the ball in the same spot twice."
As with any hitter, a pitcher's fastball will set up his other pitches. But if the pitcher does not have any other "plus" pitches, then his location must be perfect, because Pujols will crush anything that is even slightly off.
Schilling went on, pointing out that getting the players in front of Pujols out is even more important than getting Pujols out himself. "Generally, a solo home run is not going to kill you."
Are Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton as Well Known as They Should Be?
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John Kruk believes that they both are, pointing to the fact that they are both former MVP award winners who are regarded as two of the best players in the game.
Neither one can be classified only as a "slugger"; rather these are both complete players who can change a game with a swing of the bat or a play with their glove. He believes that only Miguel Cabrera may be as complete a hitter as Hamilton and Pujols.
Personally, I think Robinson Cano should be included in that discussion as well.
Schilling thinks that outside of Boston and New York, Pujols does receive the attention that he deserves. If Pujols played in New York, he would be looked at the same way that fans look at Derek Jeter.
Hamilton, on the other hand, Schilling does not believe is as well known as he should be and that there really isn't much that he can do to change it.
He thinks that if Hamilton played in a larger market that he would be looked at the same way people look at Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady.
While I agree that Hamilton would be more well known if he played in a bigger market, I'm not sure if he would ever be able to reach Kobe/Brady levels of exposure and brand recognition.
Playing in Texas, the Dallas Cowboys always have been and will be the focus of the state. It would take a PR and marketing machine that focused on nothing but Josh Hamilton to overtake the exposure that the Cowboys have, and even then there is no guarantee that they would be successful in doing so.
As Schilling said: "If you asked 10 people to name two players on the Rangers and two players on the Cowboys, more would be able to name two Cowboys."
Hamilton may never be able to reach his full marketing potential playing in Texas, and part of me thinks that it's probably better for Hamilton to fly under the radar then to constantly be in the spotlight.
Does It Bother Starting Pitchers to Be Removed for Matchups?
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Schilling explained that any starting pitcher worth his contract walks to the mound with the mentality that "these nine innings are mine", and if they do not have that ingrained in their mind that they are setting themselves up for failure.
He went on to bemoan how quick managers are to pull their starting pitchers for a match up situation early in the game, stressing that it degrades the importance of the starting pitcher.
To finish, he said that it has gone from "How many innings can my starter go?" to "How many innings can my starter take from the bullpen?" and that is not the right way to look at it.
I can't say that I disagree with him; the over-reliance of teams on their bullpens has become an issue.
Parity in Baseball
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All three men believe that there is parity in the game and that player development and scouting are the foundations for success, pointing out that a team's bankroll does not win over excellent talent evaluators.
The core fundamentals of the game have never changed, and the teams with the smartest people handling the draft are those who generally come away with the best draft classes, regardless of where in the draft they were picking.
Schilling mentioned how important Spring Training is in the development and acknowledgment of young talent: a manager who is able to walk from the main field where his major league roster is playing over to another field where his Triple-A players are working out to another field where his Double-A players are is one who has a better understanding of the players available to him in the pipeline and can make suggestions and requests to the GM as the season progresses and needs arise.
Kruk agreed, adding that today, you had better have young guys who can play—the days of babysitting young players are over, it's either produce or get out of the way, pointing to the pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis 3B David Freese and OF Allen Craig as players who came up through their respective systems and have become important pieces of their teams.
Does Nolan Ryan's Prediction Put Extra Pressure on the Rangers?
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For those who did not hear, Texas Rangers president and former MLB great Nolan Ryan announced Monday that he expects the Rangers to win the World Series in six games.
Neither John Kruk or Curt Schilling thought it added extra pressure on the Rangers players or coaches, with Kruk noting that "Ryan couldn't say that he thought the Cardinals were going to win!"
Both agreed that it helps to have the resume that Nolan Ryan has. As Kruk said: "It's Nolan Ryan. He can pretty much say whatever he wants."
As to whether it gives the Cardinals extra incentive, neither thought it would be a topic of conversation amongst the Cardinals players.
Hanley Ramirez and What Ozzie Has in Store for Him
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Yesterday, Ozzie Guillen tweeted that he had a great conversation with his All-Star SS, Hanley Ramirez.
Of course, inquiring minds wanted to know what they talked about.
Guillen kept it close to the vest, saying that it was a personal conversation and that aside from how Hanley was feeling, they didn't really discuss baseball at all.
When pressed on where he sees Ramirez playing next season, including a position other then shortstop, Ozzie said that he expects a lot from Han-Ram but doesn't necessarily care where he is on the field, as long as he gives him four quality at bats in every game.
John Kruk started to push for Ozzie to move him to 1B, joking that Gabby Sanchez simply wasn't all that good.
Ozzie responded that perhaps he would bring Kruk with him to Florida as his bench coach and Schilling with him as his pitching coach, only to say it wouldn't work because there would be too much booze in the clubhouse if they both came with him, taking from the duo's earlier comment that when they both played for the Phillies in 1993 that there were more then a few beers that had been cracked open in the clubhouse.
Ozzie Guillen the manager may have his detractors, but the man himself is actually very affable and quite funny.
Why Did the Cardinals Beat the Brewers?
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Both Kruk and Schilling agreed that Milwaukee's pitching and their inability to play competent defense were the two biggest factors working against the Brewers.
Schilling pointed to Zack Greinke failing to step up his game against a deep Cardinals team as a major problem and noted that you cannot give away as many outs as the Brewers did.
Kruk pointed to big-time performances from guys you didn't expect them from, such as David Freese and Yadier Molina, as keys to the Cardinals victory.
Take nothing away from the Cardinals victory over the Brewers—they simply outplayed them.
Tony LaRussa's Impact
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Ozzie Guillen considers Tony LaRussa to be the best manager in baseball and a certain Hall of Fame inductee. He believes that LaRussa's ability to instill confidence in every player on his team has been a key to his success.
Schilling pointed out, and everyone else agreed, that the role of a manager has changed. The best managers are no longer those with the highest baseball IQ, but rather those who manage people better then everyone else. It has essentially become a hybrid position, half dealing with strategy during the game and the other half babysitting a room full of grown men.
Kruk also pointed to a move LaRussa made in Game 6 of the NLCS when he allowed his left-handed specialist, Marc Rzepczynski to stay in the game for two innings and face both left-handed and right-handed batters, even though he had struggled mightily against right-handed batters.
Doing so gave the 25-year-old reliever the confidence to face any batter in the future, eliminating any doubt that the pitcher may have had entering a game. Little things like that, said Kruk, are what sets Tony LaRussa apart from other managers in the game.
What Gets Them Excited During the World Series?
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Now in his eighth year covering the World Series for ESPN, Kruk remarked how much he enjoys seeing different teams vie for the championship each year.
He looks to see how players handle the pressures that come along with playing in the fall classic, including how they handle the media and their pre-game routines.
In the 1993 World Series, he recalled his first day in Toronto at the Skydome, where he took the field to find what seemed like nine million people walking around and how it was difficult for him to find a spot to stretch and get some swings in.
Little things like that, he said, are what let you know that it's "not just another game."
Schilling admitted that he still feels like a player, but that he does not miss the grind of a full season. Being a former player, he finds it difficult to criticize current players because he has been in their shoes before and understands just how hard it really is to do what they do.
Going back to Bucky Dent in 1978, he noted how one pitch or one at bat can make or break a player's career, and that he would never wish making the last out of a World Series on anyone, saying that it is a heavy burden to carry and one that some players never shed.
Finally, Schilling explained that he never wanted to do television and that he was very happy running his company, 38 Studios and managing the 400 employees that he has. But he said that the people he gets to work with at ESPN make it easy for him and that it is fun to come to work every day. If it was a different group of people, he believes he would not be commentating at all.
38 Studios is his passion, and it is the reason that he will never pursue a career as a coach or manager in the future.