“Mets May Lead the League in Questions,” suggested the headline in a New York Times piece last week regarding the plethora of dilemmas facing general manager Steve Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine as they try and figure out just who’s going to be wearing a Mets uniform in 2001. And last weekend’s signing of homeboy John Franco notwithstanding, those questions still linger—and they’re not all about the pitching staff, either.
After all, the ink was barely dry on Valentine’s new contract when it was announced that virtually the entire Mets coaching staff was being taken apart and reassembled, with only first base coach Mookie Wilson guaranteed to return. Significantly, Valentine isn’t talking much about who’s going to replace hitting coach Tom Robson and bench coach John Stearns (both of whom were his guys), but he has publicly mentioned some interesting candidates as replacements for those he wasn’t that thrilled with—third base coach Cookie Rojas (off to Toronto) and pitching coach Dave Wallace (back to the front office). Valentine has approached fired Diamondbacks manager (and former Yankee skipper) Buck Showalter regarding the third base job (Phillips seems a bit reluctant about that one; they’d prefer a company man), and is seriously considering former Dodgers (and, interestingly, old Tommy Lasorda favorites) Charlie Hough and Orel Hershiser for the position of pitching coach.
Recent reports give Hough a narrow edge in that race. And of the two, Hough has the all-important coaching experience. But Hershiser, who retired as a player last year after a long, gutty 18-year career, clearly made an impression, both on the field and off, when he pitched for the Mets in 1999 (so much so that even if Hough gets the job, some room may be made for Hershiser elsewhere on the coaching staff).
Our favorite memory came one day when the media was filing into Valentine’s office for a routine pregame press conference, and Hershiser ducked his head in and asked permission to sit in. “I’m interning,” he said as he sat down next to us and studied our notepad as we scribbled away (“You can read that?”). “This is part of my management-in-training program—right, Bobby?” he joked. Guess so.
As sports teams continue to plaster their logos on everything in sight, it’s becoming clearer than ever that rooting for a team is one of the most inexplicable forms of brand loyalty. For evidence, check out HotNSaucey.com, an e-commerce site specializing in hot sauces, salsas, and nacho cheese, all imprinted with the logo of your favorite baseball or football team. The firm has struck licensing agreements with Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NCAA, giving it dozens of team-specific sauces and party kits for customers to choose from.
But here’s the catch: HotNSaucey.com’s products are all identical except for the team logo on the label, which would seemingly negate any sense of authentic team imprimatur. A Boston fan, for example, might not think a bottle of “official” Red Sox Hot Sauce is so special once he realizes it’s the exact same product as Yankees Hot Sauce, Broncos Hot Sauce, and Fighting Irish Hot Sauce. But David Quail, who cofounded the site in 1998, says that hasn’t slowed down sales. “People want to see their team’s logo, whatever it’s on,” he says. “And then you’ve got the people who want to collect a full set!”
The most interesting development may come next year, when Quail hopes to nail down a licensing deal with NASCAR. Since the drivers have all become identified with their respective corporate sponsors, the brand associations get trickier—will a bottle of Bobby Labonte Hot Sauce, for example, feature the Interstate Batteries logo? It’s just one more example of how the sports biz has become a huge meta-branding exercise. It could also lead to some bizarre brand matchups, since other prominent NASCAR sponsors include foodstuffs that make rather odd pairings with hot sauce, like M&M’s and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
• In case you still want to place a bet, America’s Line puts the odds of George W. Bush ascending to the presidency at 2-3; Al Gore is a longer—but not quite an actual long—shot at 6-5. . . . • Much has been made of the fact that the new Subway Series exhibit in Cooperstown has every little artifact imaginable—every one but the hunk of bat that Roger Clemens hurled in the general direction of Mike Piazza during Game 2 of this year’s World Series. It turns out that the owner of the handle of that famous piece of lumber is none other than sports broadcasting bad boy Keith Olbermann. . . . • We here at Jockbeat understand that the cliché is the sports journalist’s stock-in-trade. But we’re more than a little fatigued at all the political/electoral clichés that have found their way into football broadcasts, highlight shows, sports columns, and, yes, even the Village Voice sports section. We’ll be quite relieved when the presidency is finalized and we can go back to normal: with politicians speaking in sports clichés.
Contributors: Billy Altman, Paul Lukas, Ramona Debs
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman