March 12, 2022

For those of you who follow baseball in the U.S., you are aware that after a long and arduous labor negotiation, the 2022 season will take place. 

For those of you who don’t follow baseball, this post will still be relevant because I won’t be focusing on the negotiation or the intricate details of baseball. 

And if you’ve been in my online family for any length of time, you know about my love of baseball, including being an umpire (the most hated man on the field). 🙂 

However, it’s been difficult to watch these negotiations when juxtaposed to current events in Ukraine. 

Both can be viewed as intense battles…but the baseball dispute pitted billionaires against millionaires in what they thought was a life-or-death struggle which it was not…just look to Ukraine for what that really looks like. 

What will happen in Ukraine is far from resolved. 

All the money in the world will not be part of that resolution. 

But it was part of the baseball resolution. 

I would trade peace in Ukraine for a cancelled baseball season…however, be that as it may, the national pastime (i.e., baseball) will have a season. 

Whether you are a fan of the sport or not, I wanted to share a post I wrote in the midst of COVID in 2020…with some updates…to shed some additional light on a true humanitarian who happened to be a millionaire who played baseball. 

And I believe the lessons we can learn from him are timeless…and also timely, given all of the humanitarian efforts going on in Ukraine. 

I titled the 2020 post, “Heavy metal, COVID baseball and unlimited contribution.” 

There’s still some heavy metal involved, “COVID baseball” is hopefully a thing of the past…but unlimited contribution lives on in all of us. 

While I am not a huge heavy metal fan, Metallica’s Enter Sandman is one of my favorite songs because it always reminds me of one of my heroes, baseball pitcher Mariano Rivera. 

And it’s also a great tune to put on repeat 8 times to get through 45 minutes on the treadmill. 

The song was played every time Rivera entered a game—gave him his nickname for life (he IS “The Sandman”) …and I think after you learn more about him, youmight become at least an occasional heavy metal fan (although ironically, he is not…more on that below). 

And you don’t need to be a baseball fan to appreciate Mariano Rivera. 

I am reminded of Rivera whenever I watch a baseball game…or spin around in my office (again, see below). 

With the labor agreement being resolved in baseball this past week, my thoughts turned to Rivera once again. 

I began thinking about “The Sandmen” of direct marketing of the past…and who we could nominate as “The Sandmen” of the future. 

I’ll get to that after I talk about Rivera a bit, explaining the original Sandman. 

The literal translation of Rivera as a “sandman” is that he was a pitcher who “retired” most batters who faced him. 

Those batters he dominated had the utmost respect for him…as did the fans who rooted against him. 

How did he do that? 

Or better yet, why should we be like Mariano Rivera, The Sandman? 

I’ll give you five reasons for starters:

1) Competition is coexistence 

He epitomized this concept that has ruled my life in business for 40 years–and the lives of the folks I choose to follow in business, mentors and non-mentors alike. 

He had one unhittable pitch—most pitchers need three or four pitches (e.g., fast ball, curveball, changeup, slider etc.) to get batters out—and Rivera threw that one pitch over 90% of the time. 

It was his “cut fastball”—every hitter knew it was coming—yet they couldn’t hit it. 

It looked like a straight fastball, but just when the batter tried to hit it, it dropped straight down, which made it virtually impossible to get the “good part of the bat” on the ball. 

If you don’t know baseball, all you need to know is that his one pitch was totally dominant. 

And the kicker was that he made himself available to anyone who wanted to learn how to throw the pitch—just for the asking. 

Why would he do that? 

Watch this 8 minute video for the multi-dimensional answer…and it is also a beautiful way to live one’s life, combining fierceness with generosity…a devastating combination. 

There’s still a lot more I want to tell you about Mariano than I could do in 8 minutes of video.

2) He was really good at what he did 

Dare I say he was the best at his position in the history of baseball? 

When I wrote about him three years ago, it was to honor this particular achievement, as written in The Washington Post, in January of 2019:

Mariano Rivera…became the first player in history elected unanimously to Cooperstown [The Baseball Hall of Fame] on his first try.

Every last one of the 425 votes cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had Rivera’s box checked, giving him a distinction — unanimity — that every other baseball great, from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Ken Griffey Jr., couldn’t manage.  

If you know how the Baseball Writers vote for the Hall of Fame, you also know how silly they can be by NOT voting Ruth or Williams unanimously in the past…not to mention Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle et. al. 

But they couldn’t help voting unanimously for Rivera which is very telling. He shouldn’t have been the first…but he was.

3) He was a man of faith 

This is not a reason in itself to put him on a pedestal…but it is instructional as to how he used that faith to fuel him. 

Every off season—and in the seasons since his retirement–he spends an enormous amount of time giving back to his homeland of Panama, with money and deeds, building fields for underprivileged kids and giving the next generation of the youth in Panama to get a chance to “be like Mariano.” 

With no ego. 

He is always humble and self-effacing. 

And on the Metallica thing…when asked whether he was a heavy metal fan, he smiles and says “no.” 

He explains that a more appropriate entrance song would have been a church hymn…but the friendship and warm relationship he developed over the years with Metallica is indicative of who Rivera is.

4) He was “THE Closer” 

I mentioned that he was a pitcher…but his specific role was that of a “closer”—the last pitcher to enter the game when his team is ahead in the last inning–to get the final three outs. 

While it’s arguable that Rivera is the best pitcher of all time, he is absolutely the best closer of all time. 

There is no argument and no one even comes close. 

Getting the three toughest outs and doing it better than anyone (i.e., getting the most “saves” in history—652—the statistic that measures this phenomena) puts it in numbers that boggles the mind, even among baseball sabermetrics experts. And he had a success rate of approximately 90% over 19 seasons. 

He was the ultimate closer…no one else ever (very rarely) followed him in the game once he entered a game. The game ended one way or another based on what he did—no one else would be requested or needed. 

Most entrepreneurs live their life this way as well, don’t they? 

The buck stops with them…as it did for “THE Closer.”

5) He was (appropriately) the last player to wear the number “42” in all of baseball 

The painting below, which sits behind me in my office (and has appeared on over 200 podcasts!)  is Mariano Rivera running onto the field to save a game…and if you put your ear up to this picture can’t you (almost) hear Enter Sandman playing in the background?  If you can’t, just click here and listen.

Why is he the last to wear the number 42? 

In 1997, the number 42 was “retired” throughout the entire sport of baseball (i.e., no one could ever wear that number again). 

This was to honor, for eternity, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball with courage, integrity and honor in 1947…and he wore the number 42. 

Robinson was a role model to Rivera (and to everyone who plays the game today). 

The dozen players who were wearing number 42 in 1997 were grandfathered and allowed to keep that number until they retired. 

It’s appropriate that Rivera was the last of those 12 players to wear the number just like it is appropriate that he was the first player to be voted unanimously into the Hall of Fame. 

Not just because he was such an amazing talent, but that he was the most caring and benevolent player the sport has ever seen this side of Jackie Robinson. 

Let’s take the Rivera discussion into direct marketing, shall we?

Sandmen of the past 

In terms of direct marketing, who do you think had these “Rivera traits” which led to their success? 

  • Belief that competition is coexistence and teaching your best stuff to everyone is the ultimate gift you can give.
  • Skills that surpassed all others—in something that they could do better than anyone or knew everything about—and to be emulated and celebrated for that something while acknowledging others in the process.
  • Faith—religious or otherwise—that enabled them to be a giver, a coach, a teacher, and a great friend to all—with no ego
  • To take ultimate responsibility when the game is on the line…with expert decision making (and skills of course), usually ending with a win or a save.
  • To have emulated others that came before them so they were paying it forward despite all they had to offer themselves—and then encouraging the next generation to do the same.

There are many marketers I can think of who fit the bill…and I will stick with folks who are no longer with us so I don’t insult anyone who can get mad at me:

Gene Schwartz, Martin Edelston, Clayton Makepeace, Gary Halbert, Joan Throckmorton, Dick Benson, Gordon Grossman, Fred Catona, Rose Harper, Lee Epstein, Jim Rutz, Bill Jayme…and of course there are many others.

Those are a few that touched my life.

Now here’s the part where you can contribute:

Do you have special people from your career, no longer with us, who would “qualify” as being Mariano Rivera-like?

They don’t have to be perfect…just stellar in the categories above.

If I get enough participation, I will publish a full list of everyone’s nominations in a future post.

Just email me with the names of your “Riveras.”

Put “My Riveras” in the subject line.

Remember this quote from the movie Coco when you send me your nominations:

“When there is no one left in the living world who remembers you, you disappear from this [the nonliving world]. We call it the final death.”

Here’s your chance to keep the legends and mentors from your career alive by remembering them and nominating them as a “Rivera.”

Sandmen of the future


That could be any one of you.

I encourage you to live by the principles above—and whatever else that works for you in the same spirit.

If you do that, I am assuming you will be voted (unanimously) into the appropriate Hall of Fame, literal or figurative, in whatever endeavor you participate in regularly.

I will also encourage you to be the world’s best at something–developing that “one pitch” that differentiates you from everyone else.

And then contribute to everyone else by sharing it and teaching it.

Use it as your connection to everyone else.

And…remember…you can do all of this by still making your one pitch unhittable.



P.S. The response to my post asking for title suggestions for the Breakthrough Advertising Study Guide was overwhelming…literally hundreds of ideas…and we should have the final title nailed within the next couple of weeks.

Thank you to those who participated…you will be rewarded with your free copy once it’s published.

And for those who didn’t participate, that’s OK…you will still have exclusive access to this phenomenal treasure.

P.P.S. Those of you who were expecting my annual “umpiring as customer service post” with the start of the baseball season upon us …and those of you who have never read it…take a read here.

Maybe you’ll hate me less (as an umpire) once you read it. 🙂

Just like the lessons from Mariano Rivera can be relevant to direct marketing, so are other lessons from baseball, and believe it or not, umpiring.

Click here to read “When life imitates direct marketing.”

P.P.P.S. If you are a fan of the original Saturday Night Live (SNL), and the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” you might have recognized the subject line today.

And I need to give credit where credit is due.

The actual quote is, “Beisbol been berry, berry good to me,” and it’s from none other than Chico Escuela, a fictional baseball player made popular by Garrett Morris, one of those original SNL Players.

I tried to get a video of Chico but I couldn’t find one…however, I found this one-minute video with another SNL star, Bill Murray, interviewing a “teammate,” which adds to the legend of Chico Escuela…it’s pretty funny.

Chico has been berry, berry good to baseball…and subject lines. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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