By: Holly Horning
Every industry has its busy periods and baseball is no exception. For the PR departments of each team, that period is the first week of spring training.
You see, this is redemption time. Time to get rid of whatever negative feelings are still hanging out there after last season. Time to close the loop so teams can move forward.
Where else but in sports does Jonathan Papelbon wait 5 months in order to serve up an apology for choking teammate Bryce Harper? Ohh, the Nationals’ PR Department really earned their keep for that one.
It’s all about putting that final bow on the controversies surrounding players’ actions from the previous season. Players who behaved badly. Players who had bad seasons. Players who let their team down. Players with injury concerns. And players in need of a little lovin’.
In my other line of work, PR is part of my job. But over the years, I’ve also worked with a number of public relation departments so I’ve come to learn the habits – and the signs. And this week was textbook in the Tigers’ camp.
While issues tend to get addressed shortly after they happen, fans have long memories. And if your team didn’t do so well the previous year, those fans are even more focused on what went wrong the previous year. Make no mistake, the PR departments do read the social media threads on news sites in order to get the pulse of the people. And if they keep reading negative thoughts about certain players, then their dance cards start filling up.
So why now? It’s because the media is moving into training camps and nothing sells a story like controversy. PR departments know that the reporters are going to bring up the old stories. Especially when there is little else to report in February.
Putting the players out there to specifically address last year’s issues is the equivalent of ripping off a Band-Aid in one quick move. It gets it done, it’s over and now it’s time to move on. Media disarmed.
And this is a smart move. The job of public relations is to eliminate negative topics and burnish the reputations of their employees. So they talk to the player, point out the benefits, coach them if necessary and serve them up to the reporters. This process allows them to control the spin and craft the message.
But more importantly, it allows the team to get back to business. It allows them to focus on what they need to do. And putting a positive spin on controversial issues is good for ticket sales. It’s also good in enhancing the value of any players for a future trade.
And every team performs this spring ritual. Some have more to do than others. The Tigers are in the middle of pack this year – foregoing the historic “I got kids”, chin flicks and wife-beating jokes-gone-wrong. Yet, they managed to have a nice little conga line going earlier this week.
Believe it or not, there is a hierarchy in the order of players who are diplomatically and discreetly frog-marched in front of the media. It starts with the most egregious sins and ends with the guys who make you feel warm all over. Let’s start the procession, shall we?
For the Tigers, the lead-off man was Bruce Rondon, accused of quitting on his team. JaCoby Jones, with his drug suspension followed. Iggy and his dugout dust-up batted third.
In the middle of the order were the players who had disappointing seasons, primarily due to injuries. VMart, Miggy, Greene, Sanchez and JV made their appearances to reassure everyone they were feeling great. (Note to the Tigers: There’s now a need to address Sanchez again.)
The PR department saved the best stories for last. Inspiring stories. Players who were most admired last year – or should have been. Enter James McCann, Daniel Norris and Ian Kinsler.
In this case, it’s good to be last.