No, today’s post is not really about sports, despite the headline and this photo. And it has nothing to do with play-by-play on the radio, the pennant races, or who will be swapped and traded at the MLB trading deadline at 4pm est today.
It’s about celebrity, and civility – and how they impact on fans – and all of us. To put this in perspective, let me go back in time to a decade that Gen Xers love and revere – the ’80s.
I know most of you working in today’s media environment will find this hard to believe. But there was a time when local newspapers covered – often aggressively – the radio scene.
As a programmer here in Detroit at WRIF, there was a full-time music/concert/radio reporter on the staff of our two major dailies – The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. Gary Graff and Jim McFarlin were those two reporters, and they were both competitive and aggressive. Gary and Jim kept radio stations on their toes, and the price you paid for some nice ink now and then was the constant scrutiny by these inquisitive journalists.
These are different days. Both Jim and Gary have become authors, and have developed many other interests in and around music – and in life. In Jim’s case, he’s penned numerous books, including many he’s ghost-written for others. Jim is a blogger, he’s done radio and TV, and even spent some time as both a standup comic and a PA announcer for the Detroit Pistons.
In recent years, Jim’s become a healthcare advocate, especially in the fight against kidney disease. And he’s a contributing writer for the “Live Now: Rethink Kidney Disease” website. The article below appeared on Jim blog, “JK – Just Kidneying.” It’s all about a local Detroit hero, legendary Tiger Alan Trammell.
Trammell was among six former players inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame last weekend. Flashier sluggers like Vladimir Guerrero were in this class, as were more fiery hurlers such as Jack Morris.
On the contrary, Trammell was a quiet, workmanlike player who spent every year of his long, successful career playing for the same team, the Tigers. Their ’84 team started the season with a 35-5 record, and won the World Series that year as effortlessly as any MLB has ever pulled off.
As Jim McFarlin reminds us, Trammell played with class and humility. And as I read his article about the Tigers’ star shortstop, I thought about many of the radio personalities I’ve had the honor of working with – those who get it and those who perhaps could take a lesson or two from Detroit’s #3. Jim’s five insights about Tram apply directly to the “sport” of radio.
Play ball. – FJ
Remembering The Day That Alan Trammell Changed My Life
On Sunday, July 29, at about 2:32 p.m. or so EST, Alan Trammell will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But Alan Stuart Trammell has been a Hall of Famer in my book for a long, long time before that.
Not just because he is undeniably the greatest shortstop in the history of my beloved home (state) team, the Detroit Tigers. Not only because of his .285 lifetime batting average, 185 home runs, four Gold Gloves or six All-Star appearances. Not because he spent his entire 20-season career in Detroit, or because he led the squad that brought a World Series championship to Motown in the Roar of ’84, capturing Series MVP honors in the process.
No, Alan Trammell will always be a hero to me because of a brief, easily forgotten, on-field exchange at least 35 years ago that impacted me so dramatically that I believe it altered my basic outlook on life.
Perhaps I should explain.
But first, please understand that Trammell and his double-play partner, Lou Whitaker (whose omission from Hall of Fame consideration is nothing short of criminal, IMHO) were my Boys of Summer. We were young, ambitious men at the same time in life. I still vividly remember that iconic (in Detroit) photo of the fledgling double-play combo, side by side and grinning like kids at a carnival, just called up from Toledo and preparing to make their major league debuts together on Sept. 9, 1977.
Tram and Sweet Lou were more than just extraordinary ballplayers I followed every day of baseball season on radio, TV or in person; they were contemporaries. We grew up in Detroit together. So when my friend Larry Kaplan, who was then one of the city’s best-known freelance photographers, told me he had wheedled an extra media pass for Tiger Stadium and asked if I wanted to join him on the field during batting practice, of course I said no.
Are you kidding?
At the time I was working as the pop music critic for The Detroit News, which at the time was the largest evening daily newspaper in America. I had interviewed countless rock ‘n’ roll icons face to face, been backstage at hundreds of concerts, but nothing had geeked me up quite as much as this opportunity. Now I was grinning like a kid at a carnival.
The shifting sands of time have pounded my brain to the point that I cannot remember the date or the opponent, but I recall it was a day game and I’m guessing it happened sometime in 1983, the year before the Tigers magical championship run. I completely remember the look and feel of the Tiger Stadium grass beneath my feet, the tingling sensation all over my body. Sportswriters do this every day. I felt like I had been granted special access to the Taj Majal.
The first player we saw on the field was Trammell, casually waiting his turn in the batting cage. Kaplan walked me up to him and asked me, “I guess you know who this is, huh?”
I was trying to be cool, but if I’d had an autograph book with me I totally would have made a gushing idiot out of myself. I was so awestruck it never occurred to me to ask the photographer with cameras around his neck to take a picture of the two of us. I may have stuttered.
Then came the moment. “Jim is the rock critic for the News,” Kaplan explained.
Alan Trammell’s face brightened. His eyes opened wide. “Rock critic? Really? So, do you go to all the concerts? Do you go backstage? Do you get to talk to the musicians? Who have you seen lately? Who do you like?”
Suddenly, my hero, my baseball idol, is peppering me with questions about my job and how I did what I did. I was shocked! I’m sure I blurted out answers as best as I could, but this unexpected role reversal caught me totally by surprise. After a few moments, Trammell and I shook hands and Kaplan walked me away.
I think I needed the assistance.
That encounter, while just seconds long, left me with some valuable insights I’ve kept to this day:
- No matter what your job may be, there is somebody out there who thinks it’s really cool.
- Don’t take your work for granted.
- Be gracious to others, especially when you can detect that they’re nervous.
- Even a momentary encounter can change somebody’s life – for better or worse.
- Strangers may only meet you once in life. Strive to leave a great first impression.
Back then I’m pretty sure my ego was inflated beyond all logical proportions. For a guy from little Spring Lake, Michigan, to work his way up to becoming music critic at a major daily newspaper, in his home state, and a person of color at that…I probably believed my feces had no odor. But then for a man I believed could be justified to feel that way, to treat me like he did for those few moments…decades later, I’ve never forgotten it. I still use those principles today as I travel the country on speaking engagements and stand as an advocate for kidney disease prevention, peritoneal dialysis and organ transplantation.
As big a baseball freak as I am, I never have had the urge to travel to Cooperstown, New York, for a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I seriously thought about going this year, but I also work as a wedding officiant these days and accidentally scheduled a vow renewal ceremony in Chicago this weekend.
Jack Morris, the dominant right-handed pitcher of his era and a longtime Tiger as well, also is being inducted to the Hall of Fame on Sunday. It’s a well-deserved honor. But even Morris admits now that back in his heyday he was kind of an ass. Wonder how my outlook on life might have changed had I met him first?
No, if I was in Cooperstown this weekend it would be for Tram and Tram alone. I am there in spirit.
Thanks for the memories, Alan Trammell. All the memories.
Next week, I’ll be on the road in Chicago for Don Anthony’s 30th Morning Show Boot Camp. And I’m excited to present AQ – the first radio study to focus on air talent. I’m not expecting this research will produce “best practices” for DJs, hosts, and personalities, but it will open a lot of eyes, providing insights about some of the MVPs working inside North American radio stations. – FJ
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