Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Andy Dolich

Andy Dolich left the 49ers this week and that's too bad -- for the 49ers. Dolich is a Bay Area sports legend. He was a huge, underrated part of the A's glory days of the '80s and early '90s, when the marketing guru turned the Oakland Coliseum into a fan-friendly, fun place to watch A's baseball. Backed by his excellent bosses -- Walter Haas Sr. and son Wally Haas -- Dolich was an innovator. For instance, he quickly used Tribune sportswriter Ralph Wiley’s term, "BillyBall," as a marketing tool to sell Billy Martin's swashbuckling image and daring style of play to the East Bay ticket buyer. And it worked. Dolich also had innovations at the ballpark, allowing fans to sit in a booth at the Coliseum to "broadcast" a single inning of play. The "broadcast" wasn’t actually heard by anyone, but the fans could tape their inning at the microphone so that they could replay the inning whenever they wanted. Dolich and the A’s also started a Kids’ Zone, a county fair kind of area where fans could test their arm speed at the Coliseum during the game. This was before nearly any other stadium offered these kinds of attractions. Any parent with an antsy child knows how important these kinds of features can be – and they made the A’s game experience for kids and parents during the Haas era that much more enjoyable. Dolich also was a master at getting the local media to do stories on A’s players that focused on their off-field interests, allowing readers (and future A’s fans) to get to know and like A’s players. Along with the winning A’s teams, these kinds of innovations increased A’s attendance in Oakland, peaking with 2.9 million in 1990 – then a Bay Area baseball attendance record.

This kind of success made the 49ers’ hiring of Dolich a few years ago seem like a smart move. And it was. When Dolich joined the Niners in 2007, they were perceived to be a dysfunctional franchise under owner Dr. John York. It may have been a coincidence that the NFL organization started acting more self-assured and appeared much smarter once Dolich came aboard. But we don’t think it was a coincidence. Young Jed York took over and he likely leaned on the experience of a wise hand like Dolich. The team started making simple yet intelligent moves that honored the team’s incredible history. For example, on the eve of the 2009 preseason, the 49ers held a televised ceremony for their inaugural 49ers Hall of Fame. They inducted former owner Eddie DeBartolo and invited ex-players such as Steve Young, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice to reminisce. This allowed the team to wax nostalgic about the old glory days of the ‘80s and to bury any public perception about lingering family dysfunction between Eddie D. and his sister Denise DeBartolo York or Jed York (Eddie D.’s nephew). The whole ceremony looked and felt like vintage Dolich – it turned a potential negative into a definite positive in the public eye in a business where perception is everything.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, it’s been announced that Dolich is no longer working for them. No matter what happens next for Dolich, we know that he will be successful wherever he goes. It’s not hyperbole to say Dolich was one of the best front office employees in Oakland A’s history, and the East Bay resident will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Oakland fans.

Here’s to you, Andy Dolich.

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