Walking out of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia after the final game of the NLCS, I was grabbed by Jim Bernard, a FOX Sports VP.
“Are you ready to wear the bow tie?” Jim said. “We’re getting you some in San Francisco."
Naturally, I was the last to know.
Yes, I was going to wear a bow tie during the World Series. Never mind that I had never worn one. Had no desire to wear one. Couldn’t tie one on my best day.
The order came from the very top, from FOX Sports chairman David Hill.
Victoria Trilling, the head wardrobe stylist at FOX Sports, bought me some fancy bow ties. Jim tied them for me before each game. Team guy that I am, I tried not to complain.
Then, shortly after the Series ended, Dhani Jones sent me an email.
“I want to talk bow ties,” Jones said.
Well, I was done with bow ties, at least for the moment. And I had no idea who Jones even was.
In a previous life, as a general sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun, I had a working knowledge of other sports. But now, after more than 10 years as a full-time baseball writer, that knowledge is pretty much gone.
Through the wonders of Google, I quickly learned that Jones was a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, an 11-year NFL veteran.
I responded that I would be happy to talk to him, but that I wore bow ties during FOX’s World Series broadcasts only because I was under orders.
Well, know how sometimes you reply to an email too quickly, without giving enough thought to your words? I felt that way immediately after responding to Jones.
So, back to Google I went.
Jones’ Wikipedia biography mentioned that he had founded a company that sells high-end bow ties. Maybe he wanted me to be a 5-foot-4 1/2-inch model? My wife, at least, was intrigued.
But as it turned out, Jones wanted to discuss a philanthropic initiative — the “Bow Tie Cause.”
This initiative is a collaboration between Jones and various non-profit partners. Jones designs bow ties that represent different charities. The bow ties are not widely available. Jones’ goal is to raise awareness, get people thinking, get people talking.
I was sold immediately.
I wanted in.
FOX had told me they would not ask me to wear a bow tie again until the next World Series. But wearing bow ties for charity? That was something different. Something that excited me. Something I wanted to do.
Starting Saturday, I will wear one of Jones’ bow ties on every one of our broadcasts this season, including the All-Star Game, American League Championship Series and World Series.
No longer will I be embarrassed to wear a bow tie.
I will be honored.
Why was I so uncomfortable wearing a bow tie in the first place? You mean, other than my natural aversion to dressing like Pee Wee Herman?
You have to understand: When I entered sports writing in the mid-1980s, newspapers were the primary outlet. The prevailing ethic, even among many columnists, was to let the story speak for itself. Your personality showed only through your words, if then.
Today almost the opposite is true. The number of sports media outlets — in print, on the Web, on television — is staggering. Writers are not simply writers; quite often, they’re personalities.
It’s, uh, a little different.
Hardly anyone wrote in first person when I started; my bosses at FOXSports.com encourage me to write in first person. And television, well, television is something else entirely.
Few sports writers were even on television when I started. Now, thanks to pioneers like Peter Gammons, many of us are. Television is not like writing for a newspaper or a website. Television is a show. Personality – or at least, presentation – is critical.
It took me a long time to understand this. I still fight it at times, to be honest. The story speaks for itself, right? What comes out of my mouth – provided that I deliver it in a clear, reasonably compelling manner – should be enough.
Well, David Hill obviously had something else in mind.
I hated the idea of wearing a bow tie, hated calling attention to myself. My wife didn’t like it, either. She picks out all my clothes; I’m red-green color blind. We agreed — the bow tie looked stupid. My two teenage daughters, fashion mavens both, thought the whole thing was ridiculous.
Which is why, the first time Joe Buck asked me on air about the bow tie, I said, “My wife and two daughters are playing the entire Series under protest.”
Truth be told, I was, too.
Only recently, while preparing to write this column, did I ask David Hill why he wanted me to wear a bow tie.
“Because I wanted you to stand out,” he replied. “And I felt that the bow tie was perfect — a throwback to the days when spectators wore ties to the ballgame. And I felt that because you were a baseball man through your very bones that the bow tie was appropriate. And it worked!”
Yes it did.
People went nuts on Twitter. Fans at the Series wanted to take pictures of me. I received texts from players during games. To my surprise, much of the response was positive.
One of our FOX cameramen captured the Giants’ Tim Lincecum wearing a bow tie as he walked into the Rangers’ ballpark for Game 5, continuing a practice he had started earlier in the season.
For a brief moment, I actually felt cool.
The story of the “Bow Tie Cause” is even cooler.
In 1999, Dhani Jones’ senior year at Michigan, his best friend, Kunta Littlejohn, was diagnosed with lymphoma.
The next year, the New York Giants selected Jones in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Jones, who is from Potomac, Md., had never lived in New York. Littlejohn felt compelled to offer him some advice.
“If you want to be anybody, you’re got to rock a bow tie,” Littlejohn said.
Jones responded as 99 percent of the male population would.
“Man, you’re crazy,” he said. “I’m not wearing a bow tie.”
At the time, Littlejohn was in remission but facing a challenging time in his recovery. Jones said he began wearing a bow tie in “quiet support” of his friend.
Today Littlejohn is in full remission, and Jones is the father of a cause.
His company has produced bow ties that represent a number of nationally known charities, from Livestrong to Ronald McDonald House to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. More bow ties are in development, including one for Stand Up to Cancer, MLB on FOX’s charity for 2011.
And so we begin.
Each Friday on FOXSports.com, we will display the bow tie I will wear on that week’s broadcast, along with a description of the charity and how to get involved. For the postseason, we plan to conduct polls on which bow tie I should wear for each game.
Funny how it all comes around. I didn’t want to wear a bow tie because I thought it would distract from my work. Jones’ mission, though, aligns perfectly with how I perceive my job.
My goal with every column is to make people think. Jones, through his bow ties, wants to achieve the same thing.