retail news in context, analysis with attitude

There is a wonderful independent documentary out right now entitled Knuckleball, which is a fascinating look at the unpredictable and idiosyncratic pitch that few major league pitchers have been able to throw with any degree of authority.

Knuckleball looks at four of them - the now-retired Charley Hough and Phil Niekro; Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox, who (spoiler alert!) was experiencing his last season as an active pitcher in 2011, seeking his 200th win; and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets, who was in his ascendancy as a knuckleballer in 2011 (and who may have hit his apex in 2012, when he won 20 games and is in contention to win the Cy Young Award).

The entire movie takes place during the 2011 season, and shows the unusual brotherhood that knuckleball pitchers share ... willing to help each other, and offering stories and lessons about how to use the pitch successfully.

Robert B. Parker used to say that "baseball is the most important thing that doesn't matter," and Knuckleball is a perfect example of getting the tone absolutely right - it is just light enough, just serious enough, and utterly fascinating. It is about mechanics, but more importantly, it gives us a good and sympathetic look at the men who are lucky enough to play the game.

There is, of course, a business lesson in the movie. One of the things that frustrates Dickey is the fact that people don't take the knuckleball seriously - it is viewed by some as an oddity, a trick pitch, rather than as a legitimate part of any good pitcher's repertoire. He's right about that, and it is a good lesson for any marketer.

These days, when so much competition is hardball, companies have to use every pitch at their command ... and have to command every pitch that they can. And it is important to have pitches (known in the business world as strategies and tactics) that other people have trouble understanding, that other people can't hit.

And another business lesson ... Like Arbitrage, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, Knuckleball has gotten a limited release in theaters, but also has been simultaneously released on the internet, via iTunes and Amazon and YouTube and other places, as well as on-demand on a wide range of cable systems. This release pattern - untraditional in terms of how movie companies have acted in the past, but becoming more common for small movies seeking an audience - demonstrates how smart companies are willing to re-examine how they do things and reconsider how they connect with customers. We're living in a new world, and old ways of doing business, of attracting and keeping customers, simply isn't enough. And to go back to a line we've tossed around before, in a time of fundamental change, incremental business shifts simply aren't enough.

About six months ago, I raved in this space about a book by political analyst Jeff Greenfield entitled “Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics.” The book was a fascinating look at what would have happened if JFK had been assassinated before he was even inaugurated (which actually did almost happen), or if RFK had not been killed by Sirhan Sirhan, or if Gerald Ford had recovered from a flub he made during a debate with Jimmy Carter. In each case, Greenfield used historical realities, offered minor twists, and spun some unexpected and compelling yarns.

During his publicity tour for the book, Greenfield says, he was asked consistently and persistently why he had not written about the Bush-Gore election, and what would have happened if Gore had won.

So he did.

"43*: When Gore Beat Bush - A Political Fable" is a short but intriguing look at what would have happened had history unfolded differently in the 2000 elections ... and there is a lot there for both Democrats and Republicans to chew on, as Greenfield gives the various scenarios an enormous degree of veracity. It is really worth reading, if you enjoy this kind of stuff.

And, another business lesson, along the same lines as Knuckleball - "43*" is only being released as an e-book, on Kindle and iPad and Nook, among others. It costs less than two bucks. And it is a great example of how content providers are finding new ways to reaching audiences, developing new economic models ... something that all marketers have to think about and act upon.

I have five wines to recommend this week. Some of them may be a little hard to find, because I got them from my basement wine racks. (I asked my sons to do a little inventory of what I had sitting in the basement, promising to pay them a buck a bottle when the spreadsheet got delivered ... it ended up being more than 150 bottles of wine, so I've had to promise Mrs. Content Guy that other than the wine clubs to which we belong, I won;t buy any wine until we've gone through the stuff we have in stock.)

We had a little dinner party last Saturday night - I made shrimp and lobster risotto - and here are the wines that everybody seemed to like...

• 2011 Casa Julia Sauvignon Blanc, from Chile
• 2005 Mosaic Cabernet Sauvignon, from California
• 2005 Mosaic Malbec, from California
• 2005 Francis Coppola Reserve Sonoma Pinot Noir, from California
• 2007 Blue Pirate Pinot Noir from Oregon

All were wonderful ... but I have to say that real surprise of the lot was the Blue Pirate ... I knew the other vineyards, but this one was a complete unknown. (I don't even know how it ended up in my wine rack.) But Mrs. Content Guy and several of our friends just loved it ... so go figure.

Enjoy them all. Thank me later.

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

KC's View: