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Bonds’ ex-media expert pans Cardinals McGwire plan

Former Giants media relations director labels any plan “naïve” that keeps Mark McGwire from answering further questions about his past.

    As the entire baseball universe knows, former St. Louis Cardinals home run hero-turned hitting coach Mark McGwire conducted a series of planned interviews last month to discuss his admission of past steroids use.

    The Six-Minute Media Briefing (Dustin Mattison photo)Following a blueprint established by the crisis management firm headed up by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, neither McGwire’s explanations nor the process followed to grant media access met with positive reactions from many corners.

    Add Blake Rhodes to the long list of the unimpressed. Before you incorrectly write him off as just another angry member of the hordes, understand that he’s been there, having worn the shoe on the other foot.

    The 16-year former employee of the San Francisco Giants once served as the club’s Director of Media Relations. In that role, he guided Barry Bonds through a media maze he described as 40-50 deep every day during some very troubled times, including when the outfielder was under investigation by a grand jury. As most fans are aware, Bonds took the major league single-season home run record away from McGwire in 2001.

    Rhodes sees a similar media relations storm on the horizon for the Cardinals and McGwire this spring and is not positive about what has been done to date. In a Wednesday morning radio interview on KTRS 550 Radio in St. Louis, host McGraw Milhaven asked Rhodes to grade Fleischer’s work with McGwire.

    “I would give him a ‘C’ to ‘C-minus’… I don’t think that Mark was coached very well previous to doing his interviews. I don’t they put him in the best foot forward,” Rhodes said.

    Rhodes is now a vice president with Xenophon Strategies, where he leverages his experience in media and public relations, strategic communications, crisis management, brand marketing and special events.

    In an article posted on the company’s website entitled “Let’s Find Out if McGwire Is a Team Player – Some Strategies to Mitigate the Media Distraction”, Rhodes articulates a simple, two-part approach for how he believes the McGwire situation should be handled starting next week.

    The intent is to minimize disruptions to the remainder of the Cardinals family by making McGwire available at certain pre-defined times to answer the inevitable questions. As Rhodes explained to me, the potential distractions should not be taken for granted.

    “To reach the playoffs, there needs to be a focus on the task at hand on the field.  Quite frankly, with all of the media attention it will be hard to find that focus.  I know. I saw it first hand,” Rhodes said on Tuesday.

    His first recommendation is for the Cardinals to “hold a media conference in Jupiter on the day the pitchers and catchers report, Feb. 17.” The next would be for the club to allocate early afternoon time for press conferences with McGwire on the Cardinals’ arrival day in each road city throughout the regular season.

    For such a strategy to work, McGwire would need to put the team ahead of his own interests, Rhodes notes.

    Quoted in a Tuesday article posted at, St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak seemed to indicate the Cardinals aren’t on the Rhodes Plan. In other words, McGwire is apparently done talking about his past.

    “He’s answered more than 250 questions on this, and he reached out to multiple levels of media,” Mozeliak told Mel Antonen. “He’s not required to do any more. If (reporters) want to talk to him about players, hitting and the experience, that’s fine.”

    Other past steroid users caught in recent years, including New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte, held news conferences as spring training began to clear questions based on their off-season admissions. As a result, the press seemed to back off.

    In the Wednesday radio interview, Milhaven asked Rhodes his view if the Cardinals do in fact believe they can move ahead with McGwire only talking baseball this spring while avoiding further media questions about his past.

    “I think they are naïve if they think that,” Rhodes concluded.

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    Brian Walton

    Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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