Harry Caray had spent a decade working the broadcasts of the Chicago White Sox. In November 1981, it was announced that Harry was moving across town to become the lead play-by-play man for the Cubs.
The way I see it, Harry’s interest in the Cubs started a few years earlier, when he was in our town. I wanted to interview him for a long feature, and we wound up at the Scoreboard Bar, a small 3.2-beer joint in Bloomington and one of the first public places with cable.
The Cubs were on WGN that afternoon from Wrigley Field, and Harry looked on with what seemed to be jealousy.
On the day the Cubs hired him, I took a shot that Harry was having lunch in the Pump Room at the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago. He was there, a phone was brought to his booth and plugged in and I was golden for a column.
Joe McConnell was doing play-by-play for innings not worked by Caray with the White Sox. Harry’s departure would give Joe a more prominent role on the South Side.
What do you think, Harry?
“Nothing against him, but McConnell couldn’t sell a Budweiser to a man crawling across the Sahara and dying of thirst,” he said.
Which is a long way of getting to this point:
Tom Thibodeau couldn’t sell a front-row seat to an NBA game for half-price to Jimmy Goldstein, the familiar old superfan in the leather hats, jackets, pants and fancy boots.
From a distance, I couldn’t figure out why Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls in May of 2015. Following his imperious ways in the 14 months since being hired by the Timberwolves in April of 2016, I’m surprised he lasted five years in Chicago.
Thibodeau’s aloofness is a much greater problem here. He won big in his first two seasons with the Bulls, and the team had an established ticket base in a huge market.
In the Twin Cities, the Timberwolves have been out of the playoffs for 13 seasons, leading to a flimsy ticket base in a medium-sized market. They are No. 4 locally in meaningfulness with the pros, but throw in the Gophers’ major sports and the Wolves are farther down the pecking order for interest.
The personnel boss and the coach are the two most visible people with any sports operation. As basketball coaches, Richard Pitino and Cheryl Reeve gain more attention for their teams than does Thibodeau. As a personnel boss, he’s behind Rick Spielman, Chuck Fletcher, Derek Falvey, Mark Coyle and maybe Manny Lagos.
There’s no sports business in the Twin Cities that needs selling more than the Timberwolves. You don’t do that by being secretive to the point of invisibility.
The Wild has gotten enormous attention in the local media in the lead-up to the expansion draft. The teeth-gnashing finally reached a solution Wednesday, with Las Vegas signing Erik Haula and getting prospect Alex Tuch in a trade.
While this soap opera was occurring, Thibodeau continued his policy of having a blackout when it came to the Wolves’ workouts of potential draft choices. Previously, this had been one way to get reporters and TV cameras to visit between the end of the regular season and the draft.
The Wolves would work out two guys one day, another the next, and there would be a modest level of conversation over this in the media and perhaps the public. This was harmless fun for all, but it doesn’t fit Thibodeau’s egotistic view that he has no need to sell his product other than in the standings.
The problem there is his first season of trying to do that was a disaster. The opinion here is the Wolves were in better standing with the sporting public with Sam Mitchell as the coach at the end of a 29-53 season in April 2016, than they are today with Thibodeau after a 31-51 debut.
Mitchell’s vision was clear: Keep developing the young guys and create a Big Three of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine that might someday conquer the world.
Thibodeau’s vision remains clear as mud. It was supposed to involve defense, and the core players were as indifferent to that as when they were a year younger.
Thibodeau and Scott Layden, his equally secretive general manager, came out of hiding Wednesday to entertain media questions for an alleged preview of Thursday’s draft.
The boss said nothing of substance. He’s also done nothing of substance so far to sell the Wolves to the public, on the court or off it.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org