Peddie's hirings baffling

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

On the day he was hired, after all the questions had been asked, Rob Babcock looked around the press conference room, plopped into a chair and sighed.

"Is it always like this?" the new Raptors general manager asked aloud, looking like he had been through a ringer.

"No," he was informed.

"It's usually worse. This is the honeymoon phase."

On the day he was hired as general manager, John Ferguson unintentionally established a modern- day record for bafflegab. Officially, it went down in the books as most words spoken without actually saying anything of meaning.

One season and one lockout later, Ferguson still is trying to figure out how to play the game within the game. But at least at times he's trying. Which puts him just slightly ahead of Babcock, who unknowingly enables his second-guessers with his own lack of clarity.

This isn't a media problem. This a communication problem for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

This is a billion-dollar company that deals with the public daily and keeps hiring front men who aren't at all comfortable being very public.

The thread in both these hirings is the forever stricken Richard Peddie, who gets blamed for more than his share as CEO of MLSE, but in this case deserves some grief.

Peddie, who has been around sports and media long enough to understand the interdependence of the two, has seemingly gone out of his way to hire inept communicators who lack media savvy, which leads to fan disbelief.

Ferguson doesn't have any kind of public command that fans can attach themselves to with any vigor. Babcock is similarly disabled. And at times, both men have seemed either shocked or overwhelmed with the external demands of their jobs.

Which begs the question: In a city with four daily newspapers, a national wire service, three national all-sports networks, and their own television stations and internet services, why hire neophytes?

And if the hiring of general managers who trip over their own words is intentional -- the attitude being the less said the better -- isn't that by itself a condemnation of the fans and of this market?

Peddie hired Babcock, who hired Sam Mitchell. Anyone familiar with Mitchell will tell you that his single largest complaint as an NBA coach is not the way his team plays defence, which it should be, but the amount of time he has had to devote to media responsibilities.

Mitchell, for the record, hates the daily give and take and isn't particularly adept at it. Yesterday morning he thought he was being funny when he gave some grief to Fan 590 morning show host Gord Stellick on his promotional stint on the rightholders station.

It never looks good on anyone to fight with just about the nicest man on earth, which Stellick happens to be. But Mitchell was only being himself. He thought he was being funny. Instead he came off as rude and small.

And when you coach a lousy team with tickets to sell in a market that remains unaccepting, playing the wise ass on the sports radio morning show isn't a way to help yourself or your organization.

RESORTED TO E-MAIL

The Raptors themselves were so frustrated by their inability to get their message out through mainstream media earlier this season that they sent individual e-mails to season ticket holders, with Babcock explaining everything from the Vince Carter trade to the drafting of Rafael Araujo.

It was a clumsy attempt at clear communication.

But this is what happens when you expose the unlikely to a heavily concentrated media centre.


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