Les' Blog

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Inherit the Wins?

Jul 15, 2014 -- 12:44pm

Once upon a time, there was a bad hockey organization called the Chicago Blackhawks.  They weren't always bad.  Back in 1961, they actually won the Stanley Cup.  But that felt like ancient history to hockey fans in Chicago.  In fact, the puckheads in that great city had all but given up on the local team.  The state of the franchise was reflected in low attendance, poor TV ratings, the low placement of hockey news in local sportscasts and poor merchandise sales.  The Blackhawks had one of the coolest logos in all of sports, yet team jerseys were rarely seen on Michigan Ave., State Street, Lake Shore Drive or in suburbia.  

Why had the 'Hawks become irrelevant?  One man was to blame.  Bill Wirtz.  Wirtz had owned and run the franchise for more than four decades.  But he was stuck in the 1960's.  He didn't want to spend money on marketing.  He didn't want to put his team on free TV.  (He refused to televise home games, fearful that fans would stay home to watch and not attend games in person.  He completely ignored the fact that most Chicago Cubs games---home and away---were on free TV and Wrigley Field filled up anyway.)  

And then in 2007, something good happened.  Well, good for Blackhawks fans, bad for Wirtz.  He died.  Bill Wirtz passed away in 2007.  Taking over the franchise was his son, Rocky.  Now, Rocky loved his dad, but didn't love the way daddy ran the team.  So, Rocky decided to make some changes.  But Rocky didn't know much about the hockey biz or running a sports franchise.  So, he asked for help.  He went to the co-tenant of the United Center, where his Blackhawks played.  He went to Chicago Bulls owner/Chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf.   And he asked Reinsdorf for advice.  Reinsdorf, as savvy a businessman and team owner as there is in sports, advised Rocky Wirtz to "hire a president and let that person run the organization."  Well, Rocky did just that.  He also hired a new marketing director, somebody with vast sports marketing experience in Chicago.  And Rocky put the Blackhawks games---yes, even the home games---back on free TV.  And what happened?  Fans started returning to the stadium. 

The Blackhawks would actually lead some nightly sportscasts.  Blackhawks jerseys and caps, once again, could be seen all over town.  Revenues increased, the team signed some free agents, the scouting department had some good drafts and voila!---In 2010, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 40 years.  And they won it again in 2012!  A moribund franchise was revived.  

 

So, why do I tell this story?  Well, let's compare the Blackhawks saga to that of our local baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.  An inept owner acting as president.  He's turned off the fans.  He refuses to seek out or listen to advice.  He refuses to change what's not working (and that includes the front office).  Oh, and he has a son who works for the organization.  

 

Now, I'm not suggesting that Dick Monfort should cede control of the team to his son, Walker Monfort.  First of all, Dick seems to be in fine health, so I assume he's not going anywhere anytime soon.  And frankly, I don't know his son at all.  In the team directory, Walker is listed as the Director of Corporate Sales.  And I know he's had a few other jobs in the organization.  So, he's learning things from the ground up and that's a good thing.  But I've never met him.  I just see him around the park, periodically.  I don't know if he even played Little League baseball.  

 

But I do know this.  Something has to change with the Colorado Rockies.  This owner just doesn't get it.  And he's 60 years old, so I doubt he ever WILL get it.  Our only hope for good baseball, for a sensible accounting at Coors Field might be Walker Monfort.  Again, I don't know the kid.  I don't know if he's the second coming of his father (Heaven forbid!) or if he's a savior, as was Rocky Wirtz in Chicago.  But very soon, I'm willing to take a chance on the latter.  Because things can't get any worse or any more embarrassing with daddy in charge over at 20th & Blake.   

The NBA Was Feeling This Draft

Jul 10, 2014 -- 12:02pm

The recent NBA draft received its highest TV rating ever.  Why?  I think the answer is real simple.  We know who these guys are!  We've been following them for a while now and we know they're good.  That hasn't been the case in recent years.  In the 2013 draft, there was little talent and there were lots of foreigners---guys we'd never heard of and had never seen play.  In 2012, it seemed like every kid taken was a college freshman or a sophomore.  We never got to know them at the college level.  But this year?---Lotsa seniors drafted early, including the nation's leading scorer, Creighton's Doug McDermott, and a kid who won 2 national titles at Connecticut, Shabazz Napier.  For a few years now, we've watched 'em grow up and we've watched 'em throw it down!  

 

Last time the NBA draft got such high ratings?  2003, when familiar names like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were picked, along with a ton of college juniors and seniors, including Dwyane Wade.  

 

For so many reasons, the NBA wants its future employees to stay in college longer.  The other side has some good arguments of its own, however.  The opposition likes to say, "not allowing these young men into the league sooner is restraint of trade.  This is America.  If people want to work for a living at 18 or 19 years old, they should be allowed to do that."  They like to say, "if an 18-year old can serve in the military, he should be able to play pro ball."  And another of their points is, "lots of these kids don't care about getting a college education anyway.  Why force them to go to school or sit for a year or two?"  All good, salient points.  

 

But I don't blame the NBA for abhorring the "one-and-done" scenario.  More mature college players make better players, better players make for a better product and a better product garners better ratings, for the draft AND for the league. 

If the NBA forces the issue, if it tries to keep these kids out of the league until they're, say, 20 years old, it'll have a fight on its hands.  But conceptually, it makes a lot of sense.  In fact, it's a slam dunk.  

 

Les' Commentary---I (Don't) Get a Kick Out of This

Jun 17, 2014 -- 9:30am
Every four years, the World Cup soccer tournament is staged and every four years, it provokes debate.  Actually, debate is too mild a word.  It sparks outrage.
People spew venom at one another.  Soccer fans ask (or, rather, whine), "why isn't the game more popular in the United States?  The rest of the world loves it! There's a reason it's called the "beautiful" game.  Stupid Americans."  
 
And then the other side argues,"it's boring.  There's no scoring.  1-0?  2-1?  Some games even end in a Zero-zero tie.  Oh, sorry, nil-nil."  And you hear comments like, "I stopped liking kickball when I was 8 years old."  Or "I'd rather clean out my garage than watch soccer."  Okay, fine.  You don't like it.  We get it. 
 
But why do we have to argue about it all the time?  Look, I love liver and onions---weird, I know---but I don't think you're an idiot because you don't.  In fact, if you don't like liver and onions, that's great!  There's more for me!   
 
My point is, everybody has different taste.  In food, in clothing, in cars, dating, music, sports talk shows---everything.  Trying to force your taste down someone else's throat---that doesn't usually work so well.  
 
So, if you like soccer, great!  Go watch soccer!  And if you don't, go clean out your garage!  I just don't wanna hear about it anymore.  

Reflecting back on the 2014 NFL Draft

May 15, 2014 -- 9:35am
Just wonderingdid you correctly guess who the Broncos would take in the first round?  I'm guessing no.  I'm guessing your guess was just as bad as my guess and everybody else's guess.  And boy, were there a lot of people guessing---locally and nationally.  The TV and radio guys, all the writers, all the bloggers.  Everybody's guessing and just about everybody guesses wrong just about every year. 
 
To validate my point, all you have to do is look at all the mock drafts that were out there.  I looked at, probably, a dozen of 'em.  They all had somebody different going to the Broncos.  Every one, a different name.  Not even John Elway, the man in charge of the team's plan, had Bradley Roby dropping all the way to the Broncos pick, despot the fact the Broncos held numerous practice drafts inside the Dove Valley offices.  On Thursday night, after the pick was made, Elway said, "We didn’t have Bradley in any of our mocks and so for him to show up at 31 we were thrilled to have him show up at 31 for us.”
 
Speculation ran wild in the weeks leading up to the draft.  And things ratcheted up even more right before the first round started.  One report had the Broncos trading up.  Another report had them trading back.  Still another said the Broncos would stay right where they were slotted, at #31.  All guesses, most wrong.  Oh, and then there was the laughable report that the Broncos would trade up to take a quarterback.  Really?  With this weak-ass QB class?  Really?  A QB in the 1st round when they have the record-setting Peyton Manning and a recent 2nd round pick in Brock Osweiler?  Really?  What dispensary did THAT reporter stop at before filing THAT report?  
 
NFL draft day is nothing but a gargantuan, gossipy, guessing game.  Nobody really KNOWS anything, but everybody's weighing in.  We've become a nation of fantasy general managers which, I guess, is entertaining.  Just remember, next year, when the hype machines start up again and all these FAKE GMs are making their predictions and talking like they actually know what the REAL GM's are thinking, remember---that draft we call "mock" is nothing but shlock.  Fun maybe, but really, we're all just guessing.  And usually guessing wrong.  

Mother's Day and Mookie

May 12, 2014 -- 4:13pm
My mom passed away three years ago.  So, when Mother's Day rolls around every year, I don't do a lot of celebrating.  However, I do
tend to reflect on who she was and what she meant to me.  This year, for some reason, I reflected on how my mom might have influenced my sports broadcasting career.  On the face of it, she really didn't "influence" me at all.  Oh, she supported me by showing up to all my baseball games.  And she always encouraged me to do my best when it came to journalism.  But she wasn't much of a sports fan.  Hell, she wasn't a sports fan at all.  The subject rarely, if ever, came up in my house growing up, it was never a point of discussion at the dinner table and she never wanted to "talk sports" with me even after I became a sports broadcaster.  
 
What little my mom knew about sports came from TV and crossword puzzles.  She knew the name Alex Karras because, every once in a while, the New York Times puzzle would have a clue that read, "_____ Karras, former NFL'er and star of Webster."  Inevitably, she would shout out to me, "Les, who played football and now stars on TV?"  I knew she was either talking about Alex Karras or Dick Butkus.  So, she knew who Alex Karras was.  (And she knew Butkus because we were from Chicago.)  Same with A-Rod.  He's been in a lot of crossword puzzles, too.  But I'll bet she never knew his full name---just his nickname.  
 
She was aware of one other athlete.  Mookie Wilson.  She had no clue who he played for or about his involvement in the infamous Bill Buckner game, but somehow, someway, she had heard the name and she got a real kick out of it.  She used to ask things like, "is his real name 'Mookie?'"  
"No, mom, his real name is William." 
"Then, how'd he get the name 'Mookie?'"
"I don't know, mom." 
"Well, that's a funny name."
"I know, mom."  
 
She really became infatuated with the name.  It would come up quite frequently---especially when somebody we knew was about to give birth or had just given birth and the name of the baby became a hot topic.  "They should call him Mookie," my mom would say, trying to elicit a laugh from me.  And I laughed.  Because it was funny to hear my mom say the name and because she thought, at that moment, she really was talking sports with me.  
 
I'm just glad that name wasn't on her radar when she was giving birth to me. Otherwise, we'd have a whole lot of people listening to the CJ and Mookie Show here on 102.3FM.  
 
I guess, all that's left to say is, Happy Mother's Day, mom, wherever you are…Love, Mookie.  

It's Always About the Money

May 01, 2014 -- 9:04am
So, the NBA wants Donald Sterling to s ell his L.A. Clippers.  Keep in mind, Sterling didn't commit a crime here.  However, he was a member of a fraternity, he embarrassed that fraternity and now the fraternity is kicking him out.  Question, though…why did it take so long for the other owners and the league to BE embarrassed by this man---embarrased to this point?  Sterling has a long history of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and slumlord-like behavior.  Much of it is public record.  The NBA knew about it.  But you know what it took for the league and the other owners to act?  It took the threat of losing money.  
 
Sponsors started to pull out or threaten to pull out of their relationships with the Clippers and the league.  Season tickets holders were speaking up, threatening to boycott or to not buy again.  TV networks that televise NBA games were getting skittish.  And when the TV guys, who shower all that money on the league, get skittish, you know the commissioner's office was feeling the same.  
 
This reminds me of what baseball went through with the PED scandal.  Baseball loved it when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa got into their home run hitting contest.  But make no mistake, the owners and the commissioner knew why baseballs were flying out of park at a record clip.  They chose to ignore it because their game was becoming popular again.  It brought people back to the ballparks after the 1994 work stoppage.  It brought fans back to their TV sets.  But when word started leaking that a large number of players were juicing, when we started to realize the power was artificial and the players were obtaining PEDs illegally and the players were now bad role models, Congress stepped in and threatened to pull baseball's anti-trust exemption.  Then, and only then, did the owners and the commissioner decide to clean up the game.  It was the threat of losing money.  
 
And so it is with Donald Sterling and the NBA.  When his insensitivity, his racist attitude, his misogynistic tendencies reared their ugly heads AND THREATENED TO HURT THE NBA AND ITS OWNERS FINANCIALLY, that's when the league finally decided to do something about it.  Shame on Sterling, but shame on the NBA, too.  They knew what he was and they should have kicked him out of the club long ago.

An Outside Job

Apr 14, 2014 -- 10:25am
Despite the glitch in the weather over the weekend
 
Spring is in the air, temperatures are rising, it's a great time to go out and play.  I don't care if you're a kid or an adult---go out and play.  But I've noticed something around my neighborhood.  The baseball diamonds, the basketball courts, the playgrounds---most of 'em are empty.  Where are all the kids?  I know we're still procreating---so where in the world are all the kids?  
 
Unfortunately, I know where they are.  They're inside.  They're playing video games and watching movies and lying on their beds listening to their IPods and sitting on the couch texting friends.  
 
When I was a kid, my parents had to yell my name 10 times to come inside.  It was late, the street lights were coming on, dinner was getting cold, it was time to put away the bat and ball.  Nowadays, parents have to yell at their kids 10 times to get out of the house!  Put down that phone or that tablet.  Go outside!  Get some exercise!  
 
Seems the only time kids are playing ball now is when the parents have signed them up for organized leagues.  The kids don't initiate these games themselves.  They don't knock on the next door neighbor's door and say, "can Johnny come out and play?"  Now, I understand some of this is a safety issue.  Parents are paranoid about their kids wandering about the neighborhood unsupervised.  But a lot of it IS technology.  It's the kids' infatuation with everything technological AND parents using all these devices as babysitters.  After all, if Johnny or Joanna are sitting on the couch, quietly watching or texting or listening to their tech thingie, heck, mom and dad don't have to do any parenting work.  Nothin' to worry about here! 
   
No, nothing to worry about except your kid's obesity or undeveloped social skills.  
 
So, if you're a kid OR a parent watching this, stop!   Step away from the computer.  Go outside.  Go do something.  Anything!  Shoot some baskets,  hit a tennis ball against the wall, throw yourself some popups, run through the sprinkler.  You and the kids might be reminded, "hey, this is a whole lot more fun than staring at a screen."  You'll thank me later.  And so will your family physician.  
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