By Karl Cicitto
CT SABR member Bob Wirz is best known as the PR Director for two former Commissioners of Baseball. His career arc is rich. Bob has been a journalist, a BB HOF voter, a football, basketball and baseball broadcaster, a sports TV show host, a minor league and major league PR Manager, the owner of a Sports PR & Marketing firm and a family man blessed with a dear wife, four children and five grandchildren.
Bob’s memoir, The Passion of Baseball, is scheduled to be published in October.
I had the opportunity to do a Q & A with Bob on July 1, 2016.
You were the PR Director for the expansion KC Royals in 1969. What was it like to help bring MLB back to that city?
Selfishly, first of all, it was wonderful being in the major leagues after coveting that for so long. We knew there was a great opportunity in Kansas City because of the hijinks with which Finley treated the fans and his subsequent move to Oakland just as the team was becoming good. The A’s never had a .500 season in 13 years in KC. We knew we had an opportunity and we knew we had to build from the ground up. Because of all the success my Cardinals had enjoyed, people drove through KC to get to St Louis to see the Cardinals.
We had to work at building a fan base. In our preseason campaign we would always have a caravan that would for two weeks visit towns in MO, KS, NE, IA, OK to build interest. Sometimes Ewing Kauffman’s jet was available to us to go to Tulsa or Springfield, MO, and into towns that were clearly in Cardinal territory.
By the time I left to go to the Commissioner’s office we had not achieved great success in KC. We had achieved relative success for an expansion team, finishing 2nd in the division at least once. That was before the Royals got good for the first time. At that point, we kind of thought great success was coming. George Brett came up in 1973, which was the 5th of my 6 years with the Royals. Brett was very green and I was wondering what the scouts saw in the guy because he had a hard time. He really struggled from both a hitting and fielding standpoint. He was up and down in 1973 and in KC full time in 74.
1973 was when Royals Stadium opened. It was fortunate for me to participate in the opening and marketing of a new stadium and to help win over the fans. The very first game there was against Texas on a 39 degree night.
In those early years especially before Royals Stadium opened the Royals still had trouble drawing. Tampa Bay’s present attendance looks good compared to what we drew. But everything is relative. Other teams struggled in those years, too, including the White Sox, the A’s and Red Sox. I remember going to Fenway at the time and it was far from a sell-out as the team struggled. But I have wonderful memories from the opportunities during my time in KC. Being with the team helped put me on the map with the media. I connected with the big time columnists and all.
I later learned it is much more fun to be with a team than to work for the Commissioner. It’s the difference between having a team to cheer for and cheering for attendance figures, umpires and that the World Series will go 7 games.
That’s how it was when you worked in the Commissioner’s Office. You really felt that separation when the Commissioner had a dispute with one team and the local media usually sided with that team and opposed the Commissioner. Those were challenging times.
Bob, I want to throw some names at you and get your fast reactions.
An exceptional talent. A good friend. He and I started together in KC, although he had had some previous time with the Orioles. We were roughly the same age. There were a lot of jokes about us being the young guys in the office. You had a feeling from the start that John was going to go someplace in the game. A very good talent and very hard working, which is what it takes.
Joe was a wonderful human being and a lot of fun to be around. I don’t know how his managing skills are rated overall, maybe not nearly as good as his playing skills, but he was there that first year in Kansas City and was lots of fun. Trader Vics, a popular restaurant chain at that time, offered a certain dark rum that Joe liked. I remember going to Trader Vics with Joe on a road trip to Oakland. I also recall the day when Joe and Ted Williams, who was managing Washington, had a long, animated discussion before a game in Fort Myers. They were talking about hitting, and commanded the attention of everyone within earshot.
Great guy. He became a great personal friend. I could tell you a lot of stories about Lem. I’ll tell you a quick one. He managed the Royals before his off and on time with the Yankees. After the 1978 playoff game won with the Bucky Dent homer, I needed to fly to Kansas City for ALCS Game 1 the next night. I had to get to KC more for advance planning on the World Series than to attend the ALCS. I had gone to Fenway with Bowie Kuhn. We were able to watch the game without much distraction or work interruptions. But it wasn’t easy to find a flight from Boston to KC. The Yankees graciously invited me onto their charter. This was not something I really wanted to do because they’d be celebrating and I was unknown to everyone but Lemon, Lou Piniella and few others. Still, they encouraged me to fly with them and I accepted a seat in the back row. Well, about halfway to KC, Lem found out I was on board and insisted that I sit with him in first class, and I did so for the rest of the trip. He had maybe had a cup of tea or two by that time. He was a great human being.
When you began writing at The Daily Nebraskan in college, what did you discover about yourself and your relationship with writing and Sports in general?
Oh my goodness. (Laughs.) I don’t know, Karl. My whole motivation from age 8, as this book attempts to explain, was to be involved in baseball in some way. So, I developed into a sports fanatic, like many others. Most of my motivation in getting my education and various jobs was aimed at getting myself into the game of baseball. I know that’s not a direct answer to your question but it’s the best one I can give.
I asked because of your collegiate journalism experience. Perhaps writing for the college paper was your first opportunity to attend a game and write the story.
Well, that probably is true. The first serious times for me covering events and writing features would have been when I was at the University (of Nebraska). I don’t think I’d count the 5 cents or 10 cents per column inch (laughing) that I got in high school when writing for a local weekly. I consider both the writing opportunities at The Nebraskan and the radio broadcast work I did at the University as being all geared to getting some experience and figure out where I fit into the baseball world. I knew I couldn’t hit the curveball.
Nebraska ended Oklahoma’s 74 game winning streak in 1959. Where were you when Ron Meade intercepted a Sooner pass in the end zone to end it?
Right. (Laughs). Your research is remarkable. I don’t remember the details of the game but I remember exactly where I was. I was working part time at The Lincoln Journal. When Nebraska had home football games The Journal published a 4 page Extra wrapped on pink paper, believe it or not, that would be available on the streets virtually as people walked just blocks from Memorial Stadium back to downtown after the game. As a part timer and low man on the totem pole, I was on a head set for that game listening to the radio broadcast and writing a running summary. I did this for the Oklahoma game while my boss & Sports Editor, Dick Becker, was in the press box writing a one paragraph lead. Our first edition story was Becker’s lead followed by my running summary. I’ll probably reproduce a copy of that game story in the book. That was my little part of that historic event.
You were a Stan Musial fan?
Oh, of course. I saw my first MLB game on August 16, 1949 in Wrigley Field, Cardinals vs. Cubs. We were on a trip to see my aunt near Cleveland. Six of us traveled by car. I don’t think we had air conditioning. My Mom and Dad, my sister, and my aunt and Uncle drove from Nebraska to Cleveland, with a side trip to Niagara Falls.
Although Cleveland was the main destination, we managed to see a Ladies Day game, which were very popular events in those days at Wrigley. Musial was 2 for 2 with 2 walks, the Cards losing the game late. The reason I remember the date so clearly was it was one year to the day that Babe Ruth died, and the Cubs did a moment of silence to recognize his passing. It was a nearly full house and we had gotten there very early. In those days you could stay late after the game, and we did. I could virtually touch some of the Cardinals as they came out of their dressing room. My Uncle was approached by a number of people for autographs because he resembled the Umpire Frank Dascoli. What a red letter day that was for me to finally see my first major league baseball game. We went on and saw 2 games in Cleveland – one against the Yankees and one against Washington. I saw Bob Feller hit his first home run after returning from the War. I saw Satchell Paige pitch. The game versus the Yankees was on Gene Woodling Night. I still have the programs. The covers of those programs will be featured in the book, too, because of what they mean to me.
(Read the rest of the interview with Bob Wirz (after August 1) in The Wood Pile. You can purchase a copy of Bob’s book, The Passion of Baseball, this October at www.wirzandassociates.com or through his blog, www.indybaseballchatter.com It will also be available in e-book and print format on Amazon and the web-site of Barnes & Noble.)