In Brown, Vaughn, O's Steinberg has big PR shoes to fill

April 13, 1994|By John Steadman

Too often their job is misunderstood, even by the men who hire and pay them. It's the position of public relations director for a sports franchise. The basic requirements are writing news releases, dealing with the media and attempting to turn a negative announcement into something that rings positive. That's where the touch of a magician comes into play.

Their diversified skills, for the most part, go unrecognized. It's unfair. Most owners of teams, sad to note, have little idea what they do. As with other behind-the-scenes support roles, they are overworked, underpaid and too little appreciated.

If there was a Hall of Fame for their specialty, performing with major-league competency for the media, the Baltimore Orioles would have two automatic enshrinees among the all-time performers at the position. Rarely has any team been fortunate enough to have men in their front office with the remarkable abilities of Bob Brown and Rick Vaughn.

Both are gone. Brown is living happily ever after as the editor of the highly readable and attractive Oriole Gazette; Vaughn is the new public relations director of the Washington Redskins.

The longevity of Brown, who also served as a traveling secretary for the club, was extraordinary. He could have returned to the position the day Vaughn accepted employment with the Redskins but decided he enjoyed putting out a newspaper, which is what he wanted to do when, as a youngster out of Amherst College, he was hired by the Washington Post.

The responsibility of succeeding Vaughn -- and, in a way, Brown, too, because he had the title for over 30 years -- now passes to Dr. Charles Steinberg, a dentist by profession, who served the Orioles in numerous capacities the past 18 years rather than confining himself to an office.

Vaughn left because he has two young daughters and for six months of the year spent little time with them. He was at the park day and night during the baseball season, which kept him away from his wife and children. A job in football doesn't make the same demands.

If a public relations director and staff were paid by the hour, there might not be any profit to report in the team's annual financial report. Too many owners misconstrue the effort, believing PR employees are supposed to see they are talked and written about in a favorable manner.

In Brown and Vaughn the Orioles had the best baseball has had to offer. They both played the game in college, related well to athletes and had an idea of what sportswriters and broadcasters required in serving as the conduit between the team, press and public.

It's a misnomer to call them public relations directors. The job started off, in days of yore, being referred to by the colorful tag of press agent. It was considered helpful for them to be on good terms with the reporters who covered their activities, be it a stage production, circus, movie, boxing match, auto race or dog show.

For an euphemism they were jokingly tagged "drum beaters" or "tub thumpers," meaning they were one-man, or one-woman, ad agencies. Press agents gained a bit more respectability when their job description next labeled them publicity directors and now comes the contemporary term of public relations director.

It was important, decades ago, they be able to stay out late in all the dives where newspaper people congregated and even have a drink or two, plus not be struck with a case of paralysis of the arm when the check arrived.

That's all passe. Being able to drink, or pay bar bills, has nothing to do with getting reporters to like them. The only thing essential today is performance, including credibility, reliability and, of course, sobriety.

Dr. Steinberg had a proficient teacher in Brown when he joined the Orioles part-time while a student at Gilman School, working as a summer intern during vacations. Charles decided then the only true aspiration he had as a lad and even later, while getting high marks as a dentist, was to someday be the Orioles' public relations director.

"The most important thing about him is he's one of the smartest persons I've known," said Brown. "He has all the qualifications. He'll be a success. I'm asked if he has the patience to endure the demands of the job and my answer is an unqualified yes. It's vital the Orioles have him because he assures continuity."

The press box doctor has well-trained assistants he inherited from Vaughn in Bob Miller, Lisa Waskiewicz and others. He's something of a first -- the only public relations director licensed to pull a tooth.

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