Posts Tagged ‘2013’

The Trade That Shocked the Hockey World

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

1975 was a year of shocks in popular culture.  M*A*S*H killed off Henry Blake, the lovable, goofy, and semi-competent lieutenant colonel in charge of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 4077; Jaws injected fear into filmgoers thinking about going to the beach for summer recreation, lest they be shark attack victims like the ones portrayed on screen; and the Boston Bruins traded Phil Esposito to the New York Rangers.

Esposito going to New York was not, to be certain, a global event.  Or even a national one.  For Bostonians whose devotion to sports knows no boundaries of faith, though, it was an upset of the natural order of things.  Sure, Esposito started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he flourished in Boston—milestones include two Stanley Cup wins, a perennial NHL All-Star selection, and two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, which honors the player most valuable to his team.  Not since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season had betrayal pervaded the city, from Beacon Street to Boston Harbor.

“I’m crushed.  I thought I had found a home in Boston,” lamented Esposito, quoted by Tom Fitzgerald in the Boston Globe.

Esposito emerged as a New York City icon, much like his fellow Boston transplant.

Boston sent defenseman Carol Vadnais to the Rangers with Esposito, who played center.  In return, New York let go defenseman Brad Park, center Jean Ratelle, and Joe Zanuss—a defenseman for the Providence Reds, the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Boston Globe sports columnist Leigh Montville ascribed the term “garbageman” to Esposito because he scored goals that were neither flashy nor dramatic, thereby igniting a touch of scorn.  But when Esposito journeyed down I-95 toward his new home, scorn gave way to unease.  “One difference already has surfaced here,” wrote Montville.  “The people—the same people who were cold toward Esposito and his records—now seem worried.  They see a big hole in the scoring totals.  They see a lot of goals that aren’t going to be scored.  They see a lot of things that might not be done.

“That is the way it is with a garbageman.  You never miss him until he’s not around.”

Esposito led the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup—the marauders of Madison Square Garden lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

Still, decades later, the trade causes angst for Esposito.  Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons chronicled Esposito’s viewpoint in 2013:  “I didn’t choose to leave Chicago.  I didn’t choose to leave Boston.  I signed a contract in Boston for less money than I could have gotten from going to the WHA.  I could have made millions doing that.  And you know how they repaid me?  Three weeks later, they traded me (to the New York Rangers).”

Retiring after the 1980-81 season, Esposito transitioned to being an assistant coach for the Rangers—his post-retirement duties also included general manager, head coach, and analyst for televised games on MSG Network.

Esposito spearheaded the founding of the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with his brother, Tony, a fellow NHL standout; in 1992, the Lightning débuted in a 7-3 victory against the Blackhawks.  Phil Esposito and Tony Esposito are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted in 1984 and 1988, respectively.  Notably, the former’s biography page on the Hall of Fame web site depicts him in a Boston Bruins uniform.  And so it is in the memories, imagination, and Bruins lore for fans of a certain age.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 18, 2017.

Now Pitching for the New York Yankees

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

There is another kind of pitching in baseball, one that has nothing to do with curveballs, strikeouts, or a catcher’s signs.  Pitching products is a cornerstone of the National Pastime.  As a spokesman, a baseball player uses his fame, personality, and excellence on the baseball diamond as currency of credibility in endorsing products.  The New York Yankees organization, in particular, boasts a deep roster of product endorsers.

Products.  Promotion.  Pinstripes.

Joe DiMaggio, for example, encouraged people to save at The Bowery Savings Bank.  It was, quite simply, a New York City baseball institution aligning with a New York City financial institution.  Appearing in television commercials from 1972 to 1992, DiMaggio translated his confidence in his hitting ability to his confidence in the best place for New Yorkers to park cash.  Mr. Coffee also benefited from DiMaggio’s skills as a pitch man.

Another former Yankee endorsed a company in the financial arena during his post-playing career.  Phil Rizzuto brought his enthusiasm in broadcasting Yankee games to television commercials for The Money Store, an alternative to traditional banking based in New Jersey.  The Money Store specialized in loans.

Reggie Jackson promoted his eponymous candy bar, though he claims the genesis of the idea was steeped in humor rather than ego.  In the 2013 book Becoming Mr. October, Jackson explains, “When I was still playing in Baltimore in 1976, I said, ‘ If I played in New York, they’d name a candy bar after me.’  I said it as a joke.  That same year, I was in Milwaukee, and I said, ‘I can’t come here.  There are only two newspapers and I don’t drink.’  All in the spirit of fun.

“When I went to New York, all summer Matt Merola kept calling every candy company he knew, asking, ‘Do you want to do a Reggie bar?’  He called every company, and the last one he called was Standard Brands—and they took the bait!  I got $250,000 a year for five years and a furnished apartment at Seventy-ninth and Fifth.”

Yogi Berra used his trademark double-speak in a television commercial for Aflac.  Naturally, the Aflac duck is confused by Yogi’s logic.  But Yogi may be better remembered as the spokesman for Yoo-Hoo.

Derek Jeter has appeared in television commercials for Ford, VISA, and Fleet before it merged with Bank of America.  Babe Ruth promoted Red Rock Cola, Mickey Mantle cried for his Maypo, and Lou Gehrig hawked Huskies cereal.  Mariano Rivera is synonymous with Acura.

Certainly, the Yankees ball club is not the only source of celebrity athlete endorsers.  It is, however, an unparalleled source.  And the string of commercialized Yankees includes portrayers in pinstripes.  Taking advantage of his title role in the 1948 film The Babe Ruth Story, William Bendix donned a Yankees uniform for a Chesterfield cigarettes magazine advertisement.

Advertising allows a product owner to align the product with credibility.  The Yankees offer credibility backed by excellence.  They make the buyer feel an emotional bond with the product based on the supposition that if a member of the most storied team in baseball endorses the product, then it must be worth having.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 2, 2014.

Harold Parrott: The Lord of Public Relations

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

In the 2013 movie 42, T.R. Knight plays Harold Parrott, the publicity chief for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Parrott, a former sports writer, was well suited for the task of handling his former brethren from the press box.  He knew their pressures, their deadlines, and their editors, in addition to a readership starving for information, analysis, and scoops on a daily basis.

Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, selected Parrott to head publicity for the team.  And it was no small task.  Besides the usual responsibilities, Parrott handled the press during Rickey’s breakthrough hiring of Jackie Robinson to be the first black player in Major League Baseball during the 20th century; Moses Fleetwood Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884—the AA, long since defunct, is considered a major league by baseball historians.

Robinson’s emergence shook baseball to its core.  And Parrott, Rickey’s conduit to the sports press, needed to deflect questions, shape answers, and protect the team.  Robinson, especially.

In his 1976 autobiography The Lords of Baseball, Parrott recalled the Brooklyn squad’s first trip to Cincinnati, largely cited as a pivotal event sourced in Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Robinson before the game to show hostile fans at Crosley Field that he, a Kentuckian with southern values, good and bad, embraced #42 as a teammate, a friend, and an equal.  Parrott may have been the trigger for Reese’s gesture.

“There had been a sack of mail for Robinson at our hotel, and I went through it the morning we hit town,” wrote Parrott.  “Three of the letters contained threats that Jack would be shot in his tracks if he dared to take the field.  I handed these over to the FBI, which got pretty excited about it and searched every building that overlooked the ballpark and would afford a sniper a shot at Number 42.”

Parrott continued, “Usually I didn’t show Robbie the hate mail, most of which was scrawled and scribbled like the smut you see on toilet walls.  But this time I had to warn him, and I could see he was frightened.  I passed the word to Pee Wee, who was the captain, and to a couple of the other solid players on the club.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the Queen City, right across the river from Kentucky.  But all the folk from the hill and still country were flocking into town for the big event.”

When Rickey succeeded Larry MacPhail as Brooklyn’s General Manager in 1942, Parrott was a sports writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  In a five-part series, he introduced Rickey to Brooklyn.  Parrott’s October 30, 1942 article “Meet Mr. Rickey: ‘The Brain’ Is Perfect Frame for Brooklyn Baseball Scene,” Parrott described the incoming legend from St. Louis, where he spearheaded front office management of four World Series titles for the Cardinals:

“Characters?  Say, buddy, we’ve had ’em!

“But we haven’t had ’em all.  Not yet—not until we’ve had Mr. Rickey.  Branch Rickey Sr., Mr. Baseball himself.

“He follows MacPhail, and ordinarily they’d call that bad theater.  Coming after the Dodger Dynamo onto the Brooklyn stage is like following Toscanini with a tin horn.  Or would be for almost anybody I can think of.

“But Rickey—well, he’s a card!  He may not make Brooklyn fans forget MacPhail—but I guarantee he’ll make ’em remember Rickey.”

Parrott was right.  Rickey’s selection of Robinson ushered in a wave of talent from the Negro Leagues.  And Parrott, the wordsmith, was at the center of it.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 1, 2014.

John Stamos

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

RemingtonJohn Stamos launched his career in 1980s daytime television as Blackie Parrish on General Hospital.  In turn, Stamos became a heartthrob.  And he’s never looked back.

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