[Vision2020] The People's Choices
thansen at moscow.com
Fri Sep 1 12:58:16 PDT 2006
>From the "Life of Reilly" column of this week's Sports Illustrated -
The People's Choices
By Rick Reilly
In Schaumburg they can't sit in their Barcaloungers and bitch about the
Velveeta-brained manager who has the local minor league baseball team in
last place. Because, in Schaumburg, they are the manager.
The fans of the Schaumburg Flyers, in the independent Northern League,
decide who plays where. And they decide the pitching rotation. And the
And, right now, the fans have managed to manage the Flyers into dead last
"It's just so stupid," says catcher Ryan Walker.
This is one of those ideas that seemed like it might fly and has now turned
into the Hindenburg. In the first half of the season, when the Flyers were
managed by Andy McCauley, Schaumburg finished in first place. For that they
got automatic entry into the postseason.
But then, on July 11, MSN, the Microsoft-owned web portal, and LivePlanet, a
production company, launched FanClub Reality Baseball. The players hate it
worse than broccoli. The manager hates it but puts up with it. The fans
don't seem to know diddly about baseball but vote on the fan website anyway.
The voting opens at the end of each game and closes three hours before game
time the day of the next.
In the second game the fans put the centerfielder at first and the catcher
at third, where neither had played in years. "I go out there [to first], and
I've taken no ground balls," recalls Eric Cole. "I've got no cup, and I've
got no first baseman's glove. Nice."
Little did they know, some of the guys on that night's opposing team -- the
Gary (Ind.) Railcats -- were voting too. Oy. Schaumburg lost that game and
hasn't stopped losing since. They had dropped 13 of their last 14 games
"This has no place in baseball," says pitcher Dan Jackson.
It gets worse. FanClub also produces a weekly Internet reality show. So that
means a 20-person film crew shoots the team doing everything from blowing
saves to blowing noses. And the producers like drama.
"They started a brawl," says pitcher Chris Andel, though the production
company denies it. According to the players, the editors spliced together
two quotes about the Kansas City T-Bones from pitcher Blake Williams into
one them's-fightin'-words taunt. "They made it look like Blake was talking
complete s--- about them," Andel says.
Next thing you know, it wasn't FanClub, it was Fight Club. And in the middle
of the fracas between the Flyers and the T-Bones, Williams was screaming at
the cameraman, "You started this!"
That's showbiz. And for all this, how much extra are the players paid?
"I'm done," says Williams. "This whole thing has been an embarrassment to
our team and our league and to our owner, whatever his name is."
Uh, his name is Rich Ehrenreich, and he says he's only trying to put fans in
the seats. He's damn good at it too. He says attendance is up 15% (to 4,600
a game) since the fans took over. This is the same guy who signed Nigel
Thatch -- the Budweiser TV character Leon -- to pitch, even though the only
thing Leon can pitch is Bud. He eventually traded him for 60 cases of ...
(wait for it) ... Bud.
He's also the guy who once signed then 96-year-old Ted (Double Duty)
Radcliffe to a one-day contract. And auctioned off the Flyers' webcast
play-by-play job to the highest bidder. And signed Ted Williams's son, John
Henry, at age 33.
Rich ain't exactly your baseball purist.
"Look, the American people decide who sits in the White House," he likes to
say. "I think they can handle a baseball lineup."
The question is, how far is too far? Picking the lineups? Pinch-running?
Showering with the players? Which comes first in minor league baseball --
the players' right to play the game with integrity or the owners' right to
"What some players don't get," says Keith Quinn of LivePlanet, "is that
they're getting great exposure." What Quinn might not get is that scouts
almost never write in their reports, "This kid looks great in backlight."
And this is just the beginning. The fans will manage the Flyers' upcoming
playoff games. And LivePlanet would love to do an entire league of teams.
Uh, Tank? We're going to have to ask you to slug your manager. This is
Ehrenreich plans for the fans to click more, not less: Bunt here?
Hit-and-run? Walk this batter? LivePlanet and MSN, meanwhile, hope to sell
the show to cable next season, perhaps to ESPN or HBO.
Now starting at shortstop -- Tony Soprano.
(At least he'll be good in the brawls.)
Seeya round town, Moscow.
"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"
- Thomas Jefferson
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