business news in context, analysis with attitude

…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• The Associated Press reports this morning on the passing yesterday of Don Larsen, the New York Yankee pitcher who threw the only perfect game in World Series history against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Larsen was 90, and died of died of esophageal cancer.

The AP story notes that Larsen was a journeyman pitcher at best; he played for nine different teams and "was 81-91 lifetime, never won more than 11 games in a season and finished an unsightly 3-21 with Baltimore in 1954, the year before he was dealt to the Yankees as part of an 18-player trade." He was traded by the Yankees to the Kansas City Athletics after the 1959 season - a deal that brought Roger Maris to New York.

The night before bis perfect game, Larsen was out on the town, never expecting to pitch; his first start in the series, in Game 2, ended in the second inning. But "when he reached Yankee Stadium on the morning of Oct. 8, he found a baseball in his shoe, the signal from manager Casey Stengel that he would start Game 5." The rest is history, proving that even historically unremarkable performers can do amazing things if they are in the right place at the right time.

• David Stern, who became commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1984 and guided the league through a period of unparalleled global and economic growth, passed away yesterday at age 77. The cause was a brain hemorrhage he suffered three weeks ago.

In its obituary, Sports Illustrated wrote: "Under Stern, the NBA went from dozens of employees to thousands, from domestic to global, from secondary sport to multi-billion dollar entertainment. His tenure was marked by the rise of Larry, Magic and Michael, of Kobe and Shaq, of LeBron and Dirk, and the fact that you recognize each of these athletes by first name is partly Stern’s doing. He understood the power of brands, the value of self-expression, and the lure of personality.

"Forever ahead of the curve, Stern read Ad Age and Mediaweek back when his peers were reading the sports section. He oversaw the creation of All-Star Weekend, the inception of the draft lottery, the first Dream Team, and, later, the D League and the WNBA. He was an early champion of cable, the internet, and international expansion. His gift was to see not just around the first corner, but two or three."

• Don Imus, the "shock jock" who went from disreputability to politically influential during a 50-year storied radio career that eventually crashed and burned when he referred in 2007 to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, which was competing in the NCAA championships, first as “rough girls” and then as “nappy-headed hoes," has passed away. He was 79, and while no cause of death was announced, he had suffered in recent years from both prostate cancer and emphysema.

Imus had retired in 2018 from radio, and at the time I wrote here I was shocked because it was the classic case of a tree falling in the forest and no one hearing or much caring.

At the time, I wrote, in part:

"Imus, who helped to invent the 'shock jock' genre, first in Cleveland and then in New York, reinvented himself in the late eighties when he moved his show to WFAN in New York, the nation’s first all-sports station. The show began being syndicated all over the country. Then, in 1996, he began simulcasting his show on MSNBC, and for a decade was a high-profile place for politicians from both sides of the aisle as well as prominent journalists and athletes, to appear to talk about issues in a more relaxed context. His interviews often created headlines, because he asked questions that few others would think to ask. Imus used his celebrity to raise millions for a variety of charities, with a special focus on children with cancer, wounded veterans, and autism research. And, he even launched, with his wife, a line of environmentally 'green' cleansers.

"It all came crashing down in April 2007 when he referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, which was competing in the NCAA championships, first as 'rough girls' and then as 'nappy-headed hoes.' The comment generated outrage about what was then portrayed as a pattern of racism and sexism, but Imus was slow to apologize and realize that he’d put his career and business at risk. Most of the prominent people who appeared regularly on the show were no longer willing to do so - he was toxic.

"MSNBC dropped his show. (It was replaced by 'Morning Joe.') So did WFAN. And after a period of exile, Imus returned … with a lower profile, less prominent guest list and smaller syndication value. Later controversies garnered less attention, I think, because fewer people cared … There was a time when watching or listening to “Imus in the Morning: was a regular part of my day, usually on in the background while I wrote MNB.

"In 2007, though, I decided that there were better ways to go. Thus, in 2018, when the tree fell in the forest, I didn’t hear it, and I didn’t much care."

I concluded: "The Eye-Opening business lesson, it seems to me, is that no matter how secure your competitive position may be, one has to assume that it all is temporary and maybe even illusory. In fact, it seems to me that the right way to approach the conduct of business is to assume that it can all end tomorrow. It keep you sharp. It keeps you connected."

I'll stand by that judgement. There is way too much toxicity in the public discourse, and for my money, you can judge a civilization by its ability to tell the difference between legitimate satire and virulent attitudes that poison a culture.

KC's View: