Our founder, John Maroon, reflects on lessons learned during a tragedy three decades ago that remain important today. Written March 22, 2023.
Today I received a text from an old friend, Tom Caraccioli, reminding me that it is the 30th anniversary of the tragic spring training boating accident that the Cleveland [Guardians] organization suffered, claiming the lives of young ballplayers and dads Steve Olin and Tim Crews and nearly ending the life of Bob Ojeda. I was part of the [Guardians] PR team at that time, a 27 year-old just learning what PR is all about. Through the confusion and pain I learned many valuable lessons that stay with me today at Maroon PR …
1. Leadership … I watched the team’s manager Mike Hargrove and his wife Sharon keep a young team together, an organization treat athletes like family and give them space to grieve and young men step up immediately after losing friends. Mike called a team meeting the morning after the accident and everyone wept together and openly. Sharon did the same with the spouses. It was people caring for people. Our GM, John Hart gave all of us simple instructions, be patient and kind. Our PR chief and my boss, Bob DiBiasio coordinated efforts in such an impressive manner and grieved when he could while burying his pain when he needed to.
2. Empathy … It was incredibly challenging. One minuet we were all enjoying the only off-day of the spring and the next we were dealing with the worst kind of loss. The media was descending on Winter Haven, FL … the reporters wanted to be respectful and still had a job to do and story to tell as a City hung on every word. They needed to speak with a player but were treading lightly. I went to Carlos Baerga who was just 24 years old, and asked him if he would address the press about the tragedy. He said, “If I do this will they leave the other guys alone for a bit?” I said yes and he immediately put his pain aside and agreed. What a moment. After that we set up a series of brief press conferences with various teammates who were open to sharing their thoughts. We all had a job to do but needed to empathize with the pain everyone was experiencing on different levels.
3. Professionalism … All of the people I mentioned above along with the press were forced out of what they thought their jobs were. They adjusted, remained calm, remained empathetic and showed compassion to all involved while not shunning the jobs that needed to be done.
Looking back on that awful day I realize how much those lessons shaped me and how I do my job to this day.
Sports Illustrated Vault 1993: The Ripples from Little Lake Nellie