Thursday, July 24, 2008

Getting it Fixed

-As we keep pumping 4-dollar-a-gallon gasoline into our much-less-than-efficient vehicles in this country, I keep wondering if all the talk about finding another way is ever going to turn into a real workable plan. It seems if anything is left up to Congress, it tuns into endless wheel-spinning, snorting and cussing. When you think about how many dollars have been invested in oil-industry infrastructure, and how many billions of dollars those companies stand to lose in a switch to some other fuel, one has to believe change would require some catastrophic event, an oil war, or economic paradigm shift. A mandate from the people to their members of Congress, with an "or else" behind it just might get it done.

So where is there a vision that takes what we have now and transitions us into a really workable non-oil economy? And can someone with enough clout get behind the idea and push it to the masses in a way that might get a majority of us excited? Those are the questions that kept rattling around in my head.

Then, I get an e-mail the other day from a friend who tends to stay in touch with e-mails. Some are worth a little time, some a lot. This one really intrigued me because it linked me to the plan being put forth by T. Boone Pickens. I won't go into all of his ideas because you might already know them, or you might not want to read them all here. But, I looked over the website that he's developed to get his ideas out. I'm sure some economists and politicians who will pooh-pooh the plan. Anybody who would be gored ecomically or politically will try to poke holes in it. But this guy..meaning me.. right here and right now, seems to think it has some merit. We're sending bazillions of dollars overseas every year to buy oil and fight wars. Can't we agree on taking care of ourselves inside our own borders with a plan like this?

Pickens is an old oil man who knows a little about how the business works...and doesn't work. So that adds a little credibility to the mix too. He's starting to get some national play in the media...and some attention in Washington.

Check out the Pickens Plan here. Might be something worth a little of our national conversation at the least.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sporting Around

-I tend to think the Cardinals will do SOMEthing to try to rectify the horrible bullpen situation before the trade deadline next week. But, I'd be surprized if it's any sort of "eye-popping" deal. By the way, George Sherrill, the Orioles closer that so many hope the Redbirds will find a way to land, is a one-time performer for the Evansville Otters who compete with the Gateway Grizzlies in the Frontier League.

-Sad to hear the situation at Channel 4 sports. Poor Steve Savard. He and Doug Vaughn are saddled with having to compete with 2 and 5 when his company is insistent upon hiring so-called "back-pack journalists". As you may know, this is a person who goes into the field and shoots, edits and presents his own video on the air...a practice popular at small-market stations. This is appealling to today's bottom-line oriented managers intent on eliminating jobs and combining two union positions into one. They don't seem to care, or understand, what it might do to the on-air product. I haven't seen the new back-packer on 4 yet...but someone who did told me he's not up to major market standards when it comes to on-air presentation. Gee..who woulda thought that?

-Rumors continue to circulate that Brendan Shanahan might wind up playing for the Blues this season. He's still saying he wants to return to the Rangers, but considering they have very little room under the salary cap to sign him, that might not happen. I, for one, would love to see Shanny back wearing The Note. He'd be a good mentor to some of the youngsters who we'll see a lot of this coming season. He'd have to make up with Keith Tkachuk though.

-What did Brett Favre expect the Packers would do...just let him walk away? First the guy cries a river announcing his retirement. The Pack says...OK it's on to the Aaron Rogers era. Then old number 4 decides he'd like to suit up for another year. Not happy with maybe not being the starter anymore, Mr. Favre starts whining publicly about GBay not wanting him anymore. You can't blame the team if you ask me. They're just trying to A) move on..and then B) protect their assets. People who say they should just let him go play someplace else...need to take a class in basic economics.

-Now Chris Duncan has a bulging disc in his neck...Now Colby Rasmus has a bum knee. Are the Cardinals the most injury-plagued team in pro baseball or am I crazy? I mean, they had a guy who's career ended on a foul ball that hit him in the eye last year. They had a pitcher killed in a traffic accident. They've got more pitchers on the DL than most teams have pitchers. Whatever happened to Josh Kinney and Tyler Johnson who were instrumental in helping win the World Series in '06? People forget that the bullpen is made up of the pitchers that are able to throw....and that ain't many.

-I see where the Rams were 22nd among the 32 NFL teams in the power rankings of at least one on-line pundit. To me, the big thing this year will be if they can A) stay healthy and B) protect Marc Bulger. The Rams had an unbelievable injury pile-up last year that no team could have overcome. And if Orlando Pace can stay on the field they will be much better as an offensive line. When you have a confident Bulger, you have a good chance of winning. But he tends to get jumpy and hesitant when the big boys up front aren't up to snuff.

-I'm kinda surprized that the Grizzlies have been able to hang on to catcher Charlie Lisk this long. He's a big (6-4, 230) catcher who hits for average (currently .303) and has good power (16 HR in 50 games and .595 slugging %). He also calls a good game and throws out runners with regularity. He was selected to the Frontier League all-star game a few weeks back which tends to get you noticed by affiliated baseball. He seems to have all the tools and would be a good guy for some MLB club to offer a contract.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The World as We Knew It

-I've been walking around for the past few days with this feeling of uncertainty. A few butterflies in the stomach...a bit of a dull headache. Feels like nothing is on solid ground.

I'm sure it has to do with two things: Anheuser-Busch becoming Anheuser-Busch/InBev and the U.S. economy's inability to recover.

-First, A-B/InBev. When will the St. Louis corporate community stop taking kicks to the crotch? Let's see...The May Company, TWA, Monsanto, McDonnell-Douglas...all no-longer locally-owned companies. This is the roster of what St. Louis was most proud of not very long ago. But the A-B buyout by InBev trumps all of the others ten times over. A-B was our largest, by far, source of civic pride in multiple ways.

We watch those Super Bowl ads every year and know that A-B, right here in our own backyard, is responsible for them. When we saw the Clydesdales proudly prance on opening day, or at the Rose Bowl parade, or anywhere else, we swelled with pride for our hometown company. The Budweiser signs on the outfield walls at almost every ballpark in the major leagues constantly reminded us of the company's dominance, and its connection to our area. Cruising by the brewery and office complex on I-55 was always a comforting experience..."Hey, there it is...always has been...always will be...St. Louis's pride and joy." Now all of that is, at the very least, tainted.

The worst-case scenario would be one where InBev relocates operations elsewhere. That seems, at least in the short term, unlikely. But the whole thing smells badly to someone who has always known A-B to be "the St. Louis beer company". That's all of us folks. As long as any of us have been alive the brewery has been there just south of Soulard bringing a major corporate presence to our city and our country. I can't imagine a city being more identified with, or by, a company than St. Louis with A-B.

Maybe the InBev deal is going to be fine for the shareholders, but there seems to be no way for it to be a good deal for the employees and the region as a whole. Will the local charities have to call Brussels to continue receiving support for their programs? Will Stella Artois signs start popping up at the stadium? How do you pronounce that anyway? Who will be the final decision makers on marketing and advertising? Will the aggressive policies remain? Lots of questions to be answered. And in the early days of this deal all I can do is take another Maalox.

-As to the economy. We've gone through some rough stretches before, but were they this bad? Gas prices out of sight. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in trouble. Major banks going belly up. GM downsizing and going deep in debt to remain solvent. The U.S. auto industry in general taking it in the shorts. Foreclosures and bankruptcies at an all-time high. (Am I wrong, or didn't this all come along after Alan Greenspan's retirement?) Whatever the impetus, it's not a very comfortable situation for anyone in business, or anyone who depends on business for a living. I think that's everybody, outside of government workers. Whether it's a recession or not (and it appears most experts now believe it is), it had better start getting fixed soon or there will be some really interesting stories that our great-grandkids will tell one another about life in the early 21st century. Perhaps similar to those we heard about our great-grandparents of the 1920's and 30's?

One thing's for sure, it's a very difficult time to remain an optimist. Pass the Maalox again please.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Random July Thoughts

-Do you suppose Jesse Jackson's jealousy was coming out when he made the ridiculous and stupid comments about Barack Obama? I'm guessing the Reverend saw himself as the first minority president and is having a hard-time with it. Didn't know the mic was on....come on Rev. You're always around a mic.

-Tony LaRussa wants Mo to make a trade to keep the Cards in the race. Easy to say. Not so easy to do. Good luck on that one boys.

-Are you as unexcited about the Olympics (now less than a month away) as I am. I hope NBC isn't counting on me to get back their multi-billion dollar investment.

-Now it appears InBev and A-B are trying to settle things in a friendly way. This, after lawsuits and threats of hostile takeover actions. I'm guessing it will soon be settled...and in a way that those of us in St. Louis will find distatestful....maybe the right word is "skunky".

-I kinda think the Rams will be quite a bit better than most of us expect. I've seen at least one national writer that's picking them to win the NFC West.

-I'm thinking that our economy will be fixed when somebody does something that makes a little sense regarding all those things that are causing it to tank. But you can bet that if it happens it won't be until after the November election.

-No big free-agent signings for the Blues....not that I expected any. I'm hoping they continue the lean-and-mean course and play the new kids. Let's find out which of our future stars really are.

-So, will it be BuschBev Stadium?

-I guess when you hit that many homers your manager doesn't mind that you're never on base any other time because you've struck out. Speaking of Ryan Howard, of course.

-New business open in West Belleville. Smoothie King at Firehouse Crossings on Frank Scott Parkway. Operated by local entrepreneur Adam Dohm. Tried one of the many possible combinations of smoothies this morning....mmmm.

-Poor Mark Mulder. I feel badly for the guy. I guess the millions of dollars will help to ease the pain. But it's one of those deals where you know the guy is always going to be saying "what if" when he looks back on his life and career.

-Who will be the VP candidates? Mitt Romney with McCain...and in a surprize, Hillary with Obama. You didn't know I was psychic, did you?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Who Stays? Who Goes?

All of the recent trade activity in the NL Central has gotten me to thinking about what might be going around in the noggin of Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and his new front-office braintrust. One doesn't have to be an expert to realize that these folks will have some interesting, and important, decisions to make soon about who will patrol the outfield at Busch Stadium III in the next one to ten years. There is an abundance of young talent that will need to be sorted out and settled on and, in some cases, moved on. Obviously, the people patroling the meadows this year will not be the same next least not the entire top 5 or 6.

There has been too much said about the can't-miss status of Colby Rasmus to expect him to be working at Memphis again next year. Rasmus, and apparently more so his father, expected he would be working in St. Louis this season. That still will probably happen come September. But, his chance at getting here sooner faded with his sub-professional start in Tennessee. Nonetheless, all of his apparent talent, judged as star-quality by almost everyone who knows anything about the game, will have to be allowed a fair shot by next season's start.

The exciting potential of "Mighty" Joe Mather has become apparent to the masses at the big-league level already. And he appears to be a sure bet for the majors on a regular basis soon too. Whether it will be in a Cardinals uniform seems to be the only question.

The enigma that is Chris Duncan needs no further discussion here. He has the raw power that Tony LaRussa is so in love with...but it takes too many games off. And he plays the outfield like Beckham might...Victoria that is. He appears to be cut out for DH duty, and maybe some first base, with an AL squad.

You have Skip Schumaker who is serviceable, reliable, and likeable. But you have to wonder if he will develop anything close to star player status. The guy can play. But how much above average?

There's Nick Stavinoah who has put in some time as DH during the inter-league games in June. He's listed as an outfielder on the depth chart. But that puts him in a tremendously tough spot to expect any playing time at the major-league level...unless it be as a bench player.

Brian Barton has been fun to watch at times. Great speed, occasional power, OK defense. But it appears his status as a Rule 5-draftee is the only thing keeping him at the major-league level. Next year might figure to be one started, and perhaps ended, at Memphis, unless a trade takes him elsewhere.

So, is Ryan Ludwick a cornerstone outfielder for the future? His all-star selection would tend to make you think so. He's got awesome power when he squares the bat to the ball. He's reliable defensively. He's got a great personality and obviously appreciates his time in the majors after career-threatening injuries of the past. It would be nice to think that what we're seeing in '08 could continue to '18. For some reason I wonder if the front office has bought many shares in Ludwick Inc. for the future.

Then you have Rick Ankiel. Even after his amazing catches and power surges you have to wonder if what you're seeing is a mirage simply because...well, for crying-out-loud...the guy was thought to be a pitcher! And was! Here's an obviously amazingly talented athlete who does things with his bat that noone would have ever expected. He does things with his glove that most humans can only dream about. And his arm...well, not even human...that's X-Men stuff. He may be the most solid lock for the future of anybody at this point. But, then you see the stat that he's among the worst in MLB in batting average with RISP in late-inning situations. Does that go back to the mental approach problems of his pitching meltdown? I'm just a fan...not a sports psychologist...but I've got to wonder.

All-right Mr. Mozeliak...what's your plan? Do you package a few of these guys (Duncan? Schumaker? Mather?) to solidify the pitching staff...particularly the bullpen? Do you sit tight this year and see who emerges in spring training '09 and then make a move? Do you try for the blockbuster (OF Matt Holliday and LHP Brian Fuentes from the Rockies for Outfielder A and B, plus pitcher C and infielder D) to try to trump the Cubs and Brewers this year?

My thought-- Nobody expected this year's Cardinals to win the World Series. Probably nobody still does. So Mo doesn't have a lot to lose by sitting tight. He does have a lot to lose if he makes a bonehead trade that costs the team a major chunk of future assets in return for nothing substantially superior. It may be frustrating this season to see the Cubbies and Brewers pull away in August and September. (Of course, that may not even happen) But, if it does, Mr. Mo will still have a lot of cards to play (no pun meant) come the off-season. Expectations will be much higher in '09. Let's see how Ludwick, Ankiel and Rasmus (my projected starting outield for next year) do then.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Demo Crapola

-I'm a business person. How do I reach the most people who have the most money available to spend on my product or service?

Alas, the basic question that most business people ask themselves when planning out their marketing efforts. Should those people automatically buy into the standard ad-world mentality that the 18-35...or even the 25-54...age group should be the default demo when they can't decide for themselves? Well, of course, it's a changing world. And the decision process should change with it. But you'd never know it from some of what you read.

I point to a recent article in Variety, referenced by Mike Anderson on his site, that indicates the average viewer of network TV is now 50. The piece seems to infer that being outside the standard target of 18-49 is a disastrous occurence for the networks that will have to be dealt with in order to sell advertising. The Variety analysis also points out that the median age of U.S. households is now 38. Well, sure there are generally two adults and 2.3 kids in households with parents under 40. Many households of people older than 40 are empty nests. So should the advertiser be trying to reach the average household, or the average person?

Well, if you want to believe that any message that reaches someone older than 49 is a waste of good ad dollars then go right ahead. But don't try to convince me that you're a sane person. Let's ask ourselves a few questions, and try to answer them honestly...

-Do you believe more people are financially secure who are older than 50, or younger?
-Do you believe more people are in a position to purchase something of significant value at the spur of the moment are older than 50, or younger?
-Do you believe that the baby boom of the late 40's through the early 60's was real, or fiction?
-Do you believe all baby-boomers have given up on life and withdrawn from society, or not?

Well, you get the point. If you are marketing anything to anybody you had better take into account that the baby boom was real and that a great percentage of the disposable income decisions made on any given day are made by people in that age group. In the 2000 census (the last official government survey of the population which is now 8 years old) it indicated that the largest increase in any age category was the 49% jump in the 45-54 age group because of the baby-boom influence. As I said, that fact is now 8 years old. So where do you suppose the largest increase will occur in the 2010 census? Sure, some of the boomers will die off before then...and at a higher rate than younger age groups...but not nearly enough to compensate for the enormous dominance brought to bear by the sheer numbers of boomers.

It seems to me that if you want to sell something...and lots of that had better not get too enfatuated with appealing to the twenty-somethings and get a little more interested in the 50 or 60-somethings.