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 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.
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.