Well, that was awkward………
You know what I’m talking about if you saw the infamous press conference on Saturday with Al Avila and Ron Gardenhire.
My first thought? That Al Avila keeps reminding us that he is the polar opposite of Dave Dombrowski in almost every way. Especially when he speaks.
But before we delve into this, a public service announcement…..
Dear Detroit Tigers Organization – For the love of God, please hire a media consultant to coach Al Avila. I speak as someone who has been doing this for over 20 years. In this day and age, and especially now that this pandemic has drastically changed how we communicate, there is absolutely no excuse to continue ignoring how you present this team to the world. Media coaches are SOP within MLB for teams’ top executives who make public statements.
Please, because otherwise, anyone who watches these not-ready-for-prime-time events will, instead, end up daydreaming about how they’d rather be having a root canal instead of listening to Al’s hemming and hawing. Your fans are already suffering enough as it is watching this team.
Ok, so now with the conclusion of my cathartic exercise, what is the best reason for a team to hire a media coach?
Two men who obviously were highly uncomfortable during the conference. Both in words and body language. Especially body language.
Over 30 studies have shown conclusively that a viewer’s impressions are primarily based upon someone’s non-verbal image – their visual appearance as well as their body language. The spoken word only accounts for 7% of what viewers take away. And no matter how much you emphasize things verbally, if the speech doesn’t match the body language, viewers will reject the speaker for not being credible.
Let’s ignore the spoken words for the moment and focus on both men’s body language.
First of all, Avila and Gardenhire were trying to distance themselves from each other as much as possible. Each one hugging the outside edge of the screen that it was almost comical. There was no love there to be seen, folks.
Avila kept his hands and arms in front of his body at all times. One hand gripping the wrist of the other and positioned lower on the body (the deadly “fig leaf” formation). It represents nervousness, defensiveness and lack of credibility. He also blinked a lot while talking which also indicates nervousness as well as a lack of credibility. Unlike Gardenhire, Al kept darting his eyes sideways towards Gardy which indicates insecurity and the desire to escape.
In contrast, Gardenhire kept his arms behind his back for almost the entire conference. This can be a sign of confidence but it can also mean that you are trying to control your anger. Uncharacteristically, Gardy kept his head down and avoided eye contact with the camera/audience the entire time Avila was speaking. This is in stark contrast to his usual demeanor. He also looked patently unhappy with his tightly-drawn and downward-turning mouth.
Microexpresssions are multiple facial expressions that occur within a fraction of a second. They are involuntary emotional “reveals” that expose the true emotions. And in this case, both Avila’s and Ron’s microexpressions tell a very different story than the Tigers’ official story does.
The most telling part of the video was seen at the very end. Normally, when saying goodbye to a beloved employee in front of others, you take the time to turn to them and wish them well. This requires strong eye contact followed by person-to-person contact such as a handshake, hand-to-shoulder touch or even a hug.
This is what would have been expected of Avila to initiate with Ron. Facing him directly and then either shaking his hand or embracing him.
Instead, both men kept their distance and staunchly refused to look at or even acknowledge each other. They could not have fled the stage any faster, turning in opposite directions and fleeing the stage.
Still believe that this was all of Gardy’s doing?
Let’s continue with the evidence.
Second, the timeline. Here’s what’s been documented:
2:00PM–2:30PM: Gardy does his daily presser with media. No signs, no hints, nothing unusual. He signs off to say he’s got to get back to his office and complete the lineup card.
2:30PM–3:30PM: Within this window, Al Avila goes to Gardy’s office for their regular meeting.
4:00PM: Avila is on the field telling people that Gardy is leaving.
4:15PM: Media receives notification that a press conference has been set for 5PM, 45 minutes later.
4:30 PM: Team meeting is called.
5:00PM–5:15PM: Press conference. Let’s note for the record that with Zoom conferencing, any credentialed reporter can attend. But the Tigers only took softball questions (that included fishing) from a smattering of local reporters. Some of them, including Johnny Kane, were called upon twice. No national journalists, who ask probing questions, were recognized.
5:30PM: – Shortly before 5:30, statements were published from Chris Ilitch and Al Avila.
6:00PM: A video montage tribute of Gardy as the Tigers manager starts playing on Comerica’s big screen just as the game is starting.
All a little too quick, don’t you think? Statements released within minutes. Video work, which takes days to produce, is presented within an hour of the announcement.
Even the local Detroit media was shocked. Journalists on the media call all claim unanimously that there was absolutely no hint that Gardy was even thinking about leaving. One even said it was “totally improbable.”
Another local beat reporter said that the whole video tribute and official statements released so very quickly were “highly suspicious.”
Both reporters dared not to write this for their newspapers. Instead, they tweeted their comments.
Jack Morris, on the tv broadcast, was also questioning the story. He said he was very surprised at the timing and then hinted that this came from the Tigers, not Gardy.
Still have your doubts? We’ve got more evidence.
First, we know the Tigers forced several of Gardy’s long-time coaches out after last year and replaced them with Leyland loyalists. Next, the recent comments by Gardy about players being switched positionally that painted an unhappy, albeit diplomatic, picture of who exactly was calling the shots.
Next, the stories of whether Gardy was going to receive a contract extension. Within the past week, other teams were finalizing contracts with their managers that were set to expire at the end of the month. It is extremely rare for an organization to finish the year with a manager left in limbo.
Then the timing of this past weekend. It was the Tigers last homestand of the year. And due to the pandemic, Al Avila does not travel with the team on road trips. So this was the only time this could be done.
This had to be the weekend to discuss Gardy’s future with the team.
Besides, his last win was earlier in the week. The 1,200th of his career. How convenient.
And then there is Avila’s claim to be surprised by Ron’s decision. During a time of Covid concerns and Gardy’s multiple statements about his worries for his health.
So fans are being told that despite this, the team didn’t touch base with him regularly to gauge his concerns? That they were “surprised” at his decision?
This doesn’t hold water.
And neither does the characterization of Gardy’s sudden decision.
We’ve known this man for awhile, even before he came to Detroit. He is not a human being prone to wild emotions, nor impetuous ones. He is thoughtful, stable and even-keeled in his decision-making. Except when it comes to umpires.
He would not logically have made such a sudden decision, on the fly, in the middle of a series, let alone less than 2 hours before a game. And before he had the chance to sit down and tell his coaches.
It just doesn’t fit his narrative.
It also doesn’t make sense for him to leave with just a week’s worth of games in the season left to play.
So what happened?
If you take all the evidence listed above, there’s only one scenario that makes sense.
In their Saturday meeting, Al Avila most likely told Gardy that the Tigers would not be extending his contract. Perfect timing as it was the last homestand and it would allow the Tigers to make the announcement on Sunday (or after Saturday’s game) and play their video tribute before the team left on its last road trip. A perfect little bow being tied.
Or so Avila thought.
But it’s likely that Ron thought about whether there would be any benefit to staying and traveling with the team one last time. He would be taking an increased risk for Covid exposure by doing this – and for a team that no longer wanted him. There really was no upside.
This, of course, also supports the historical evidence about the Tigers who try to avoid firing employees, at least publicly, at all costs. They don’t like the controversy. Dave Dombrowski was “released from his contract”, Brad Ausmus’ “contract was not extended” and multiple coaches “retired” only to resurface in other baseball jobs.
And the final bit of evidence? The sudden onslaught of local media articles (all conveniently published at the same time) that kept pushing and pushing the narrative that it was all about Gardy’s decision. Textbook reporting strategies followed by media saturation in order to squelch public questioning.
The Tigers foolishly thought that by getting these two together on video would show that there was no friction between the 2 parties and would support the narrative being pushed.
But what they did only reinforced that the Tigers were pushing him out and thereby forcing Ron’s hand.
Not only is this team the very last to adopt baseball’s newest strategies, they are also the last to adapt the newest communication strategies that support an effective, strong brand.
This is a demanding, technology-driven media world, even more so today. The Tigers may be a major league team but their tactics are strictly minor league.
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