Oct 26

A Yankees’ Postmortem

Today's guest blog is authored by Peppercom receptionist, raconteur and all-around good guy, Ray Carroll.

The World Series matchup has been set. And, while the average Yankees fans is mourning the team’s unexpected playoff exit, many are somewhat oblivious to three much larger loses.  This past season, a tyrannical boss, a legendary stadium voice, and an unofficial team mascot all relocated to the field of dreams in the sky.  Revered by many (and, in the boss’s case, despised by even more), the trio’s starkly contrasting personalities made each a Big Apple institution. 

Temporarily curbing my preference for the Mets’ blue and orange, and as a lifelong fan of our national pastime and the city itself, I feel compelled to pay homage and commemorate the lives of the ‘Pinstripe Three’.

The first is, of course, George Michael Steinbrenner III. As everyone knows, ‘the boss’ was a maniacal owner and domineering sports figure whose antics will never be duplicated.  His intensity and single-minded focus on winning resulted in adoration and hatred alike.  A curt and shrewd businessman, GMS was who he was. He held no punches even as his image plummeted.

GSM pic 1I’m interested to see if his surviving family members (most notably, son, Hank) can extend the winning tradition that George had returned to the franchise (note: prior to the boss becoming owner, the Yankees had languished for many years as an also-ran).  I give the Texas Rangers credit for superior hitting and outplaying the Yank in their just-concluded American League Championship Series. But, after witnessing owner Nolan Ryan’s laughter as his Rangers catapulted towards victory in the 9th inning of Game 4, I wondered how GMS would have reacted. One thing’s for sure. It wouldn’t have been pretty.

GSM pic 2 Praised and loathed by fans, George’s achievements are undeniable. His distinguished vision for success boasts seven World Series rings and the creation of Yankee Global Enterprises, LLC.  By departing the scene in 2010, the cagey businessman neatly dodged some serious estate taxes, saving his family one-half billion dollars.

The second great Yankees loss this past year came with the passing of Bob Sheppard. Sheppard was the orator’s orator who emulated the voice of god and exemplified 

1BobSheppard elegance from a century past.  For five-plus decades, he’d been the unforgettable stadium voice for the Yankees & New York’s football Giants alike (note: the Giants had played all of their home games at Yankee Stadium prior to the creation of Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey). Sheppard’s pronunciation was perfect and his elocution expressed pure class.   

 In fact, opposing players eagerly anticipated hearing their names introduced with Sheppard’s remarkable diction.  In an interview, Sheppard said he focused on the Three C’s: “clear, concise, and correct” – an outlook shared with PR.   Watch Bob remark on his time-honored career here.

Last, but certainly , not least, is Freddy Schuman (a.k.a. Freddy Sez). Unlike Steinbrenner or Sheppard, Schuman was a humble man who graced Yankees home games with a witty sign, spoon and shamrock clad pan.  His moniker derived from the signs he created for each and every game.  Freddy was a fixture at the stadium, and brought a great deal of joy to the other faithful in the stands.  As a matter of fact, Freddy rarely, if ever, missed a game. As sure as the Yanks’ were outfitted in pinstripes, so, too, was Freddy with his paraphernalia.

1FreddySez For two decades, Freddy was not only seen at every home game and championship parade, but also as an unofficial ambassador at the St. Patrick’s Day Parades (see: House of Pain’s Jump Around video – 3:34 mark). He also cheered local university basketball games and even starred in Nike commercial (here at 0:52 mark).  Freddy Sez was a living asset to the stadium. His memory was honored prior to ALCS Game 3, and his name and image illuminated on the center field scoreboard. 

The Yankees will pursue their 28th championship next season. But, they’ll have to do so without “The Boss”, “the Voice”, and “Freddy Sez”. For me, though, they’ll always live on as three of the New York’s sports scene’s most memorable and charismatic characters.

I’m confident the Yankees will be in contention next season, but will a loss of non-athletic influencers affect their team culture?  Will they absorb the multiple losses or begin a long downward spiral of soul searching?  What are your thoughts?  How do you think Steinbrenner, Sheppard and Freddy Sez stack up against some of New York’s other legendary sports figures of past eras?

 

Sep 15

Yet another September to (not) remember

As a long-suffering Mets and Jets fan, I'm agonizing through yet another painful month of  MetstoJetsFrame September. But, as a communications professional, I'm fascinated by the starkly different communications strategies taken by each squad.

Let's begin with the hapless Metropolitans. After three or four seasons in a row in which they claimed to be the National League's best team (but weren't), the 2010 Mets' communications plan was decidedly low key.  I distinctly recall outfielder Jeff Francoeur being quoted during Spring Training and saying something to the effect, “We really like the balance on this team. And, we also really like being underestimated by the experts. Some are even saying we'll finish as low as fourth place. Ha. We'll see,” he said with a smile. Well, guess what? The Mets are indeed mired in fourth place and Francouer is gone with the wind, having been traded to the Texas Rangers.

Now, let's turn to the hapless Jets. Led by head coach Rex Ryan and coming off a surprising run to the AFC championship game last season, the Jets have been bold and brash, predicting nothing less than a Super Bowl victory. Their trash-talking swagger was brilliantly captured by HBO's 'Hard Knocks' series and further exacerbated by countless articles quoting Ryan and others as saying that anything less than a Super Bowl win would be considered a failure.

Well, the offense failed badly in Monday night's season opener and the brashness and bravado went darker than a coal mine collapse in Chile. Further undermining the 'image' of these new, Super Bowl-bound Jets was a weekend story about player harassment of a female Mexican sportscaster.

It seems to me a communication strategy should be based upon facts and results, not projections of what might be. We sometimes come to verbal blows with clients in media training sessions over this very issue. They want to talk about soon being masters of the universe in their particular field. We push back, knowing a jaded media will laugh at such hyperbole.

It's a shame sports teams don't provide better counseling to coaches and players about messaging that sets false expectations. Naturally, there's a need to generate fan excitement and sell tickets but, at least with the Mets and Jets, the communications strategies seem to always parallel the end result. Whether it's a “…You just wait and see” or “…We're on a one-way ride to the Super Bowl,” neither team seems able to deliver on its communications strategy (or win a championship, for that matter).