OpinionJuly 2, 2004


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Webslinging the Bases?

By William Veres & Patrick Martin

Baseball fans love to argue. Whether it’s balls and strikes or All-Star snubs, there’s not much we enjoy more than a good debate.

One seemingly minor topic which sparked off a firestorm of protest this year was the planned placement of advertisements for the movie Spiderman 2 on bases. Great idea, siad some. Sacrilege, cried others. In the end, the league was forced to backtrack, and the promotion was canceled.

To mark the premiere of Spiderman 2 in movie theaters, we asked two of the Cafe’s most respected members, Patrick Martin and William Veres, for their takes on the issue. Enjoy.
 

William Veres:

The following is not quite a real interview, but real quotes nonetheless, heard from the powers that be, on the subject of our beloved national pastime…

05/05/04, 9:41 am (AP) ‘Ads for Spider-Man 2 will be placed atop bases at major league ballparks during games from June 11-13 as part of a promotion announced Wednesday.’

It’s early morning, Cinco De Mayo. Ol’ Bud Selig, the crafty veteran, thinks he is going to slip a curve by all of us baseball fans while we are sipping our ‘Tropicana.’ I mean honestly, Bud. What were you thinking? That we would be hitting the ‘Coors’ early today…?

MLB: ‘This is a unique chance to combine what is a sort of a universally popular character and our broad fan base, including the youth market we’re trying to reach out to.”

OK, fine, I am all for reaching out to kids, Bud, but don’t you think you are going over the top here? I mean, it’s the bases on the playing field during the game, and the rules say you can’t do that. Honestly, Bud, you are not doing too well with the kids. You called their All-Star game a tie, you allow their idols, juiced up and all, to skirt the rules. How is that ‘mandatory’ testing going, anyway? Oh, and I am pretty sure that all the kids in Montreal, Puerto Rico, DC, Portland, and, yes, Milwaukee, despise you too. How about you just build a few Cal Ripken sanctioned ballparks and call it a deal. It’s the bases Bud!

Wednesday Afternoon:

Bud: ‘I reluctantly agreed to the promotion because I have tremendous respect for Jacqueline Parkes, MLB’s marketing and advertising vice president.’

Really?!? Hmm, well I have never heard of her, but we might as well go get her two cents on this issue. I mean, she now has the power turn our bases into movie billboards, right? And apparently she can sell our national pastime’s rules to the highest bidder. Two and a half million is chump change for some of these movie companies. Heck, that’s stunt-man pay.

Jacqueline Parkes: ‘It’s the future of how we generate excitement inside the stadium and about the game itself.’

‘Enron,’ I mean ‘Minute Maid,’ errr, check that – Houston, we have a problem. Apparently, Bud has given this lady decorating privileges on the playing field. I know Martha Stewart is busy and all, but how long before Juan Pierre goes head first into a Tampax ad because we need to attract more women? Depends undergarments to bring seniors? Where do we draw the line? What could possibly be next?

Parkes: ‘The bases also will feature pink ribbons Sunday as part of a Mother’s Day promotion to raise breast-cancer awareness, and they will have blue ribbons on Father’s Day, June 20, to raise prostate-cancer awareness.’

Again, Jackie – mind if I call you Jackie? The bases? I mean it’s wonderful that you would remind me to check Mom for breast cancer before I fall asleep and all. That’s fine and dandy, but I’m not sure I want to think about some guy shoving his fingers in me on Father’s Day, of all days. Thanks Jackie. You just made ‘MY DAY.’ It seems you just may be a little out of touch with reality, but you are starting to get away from the issue here. Bases. You are putting things on the bases, and the rules say you can’t. The history of our game says you can’t. I realize that the NHL sold out a long time ago; how else could there be professional hockey in Tampa Bay. And I realize that NASCAR will slap a sticker anywhere for the right amount of money, but here in baseball we have a rule. It’s not like it’s one of those ‘unwritten’ rules, either. Look around. Do you see anything there now?

MLB: ‘Any criticism of this, really, is misplaced. It doesn’t detract from the game. It adds to the entertainment value. We’ve been accused over the years of not marketing enough to young people.’

Misplaced?

It’s my backside, and I am pretty sure what I want placed there. [insert Travis Miller joke here ] And what entertainment value does this add? I can’t even see it! It’s only four inches tall! I’d gamble I couldn’t even see it from the dugout, much less the stands. Genius, pure genius, I say!

Speaking of ? Have you heard about this Mr. Vincent? I mean you used to run baseball, and coincidently, you used to run Spidey’s movie company, Columbia, too.

Fay Vincent: ‘I guess it’s inevitable, but it’s sad … Maybe this is progress, but there’s something in me that regrets it very much … I think the bases should be protected from this.’

Fay Vincent on Bart Giamatti: ‘Wherever he is, Bart is spinning. It’s a good thing he’s not around.’

Peter Ueberroth: ‘I don’t think it makes any sense at all. It’s a clutter.’

Well Jacqueline, Fay doesn’t like your Idea either. And checking in with a few of the other guys, dead and alive, they seem to be ’spinning.’ And it appears you have pissed off a few politicians too. Now you’ve done it. Now you are in trouble. There are sure to be congressional hearings next week.

Ralph Nader: ‘It’s gotten beyond grotesque … The fans have to revolt here. Otherwise, they’ll be looking at advertisements between advertisements.’

U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt: ‘Little Leaguers deserve to see their heroes slide into bases, not ads.’

Soooooooo, Thursday early afternoon…

Associated Press 5/6/2004 ‘Major League Baseball reversed course Thursday and eliminated that part of its marketing deal for Spiderman 2.’

So after a year of putting this whole decorating package together, Columbia balked nearly 30 hours later because of a poor reaction on the internet! Not baseball!! Not the ‘Network Associates’ at MLB!!? Certainly not BUD!! But yet he was standing to make 50,000 towards the bottom line. Well Wendy’s bottom line anyways. (it helps if you just don’t close your eyes, the image disappears). I mean the Brewers are in a financial hell hole. Fifty grand would be sweet, a drop in the proverbial bucket, but what was Bud’s reaction?

Bud: ‘We need to keep the focus on the field right now. We’re going ahead with the promotion. We’ll take the (logo) off the bases. If it bothered some people, frankly it isn’t worth a great debate about it.’

Bud: ‘I’m always interested in some of the critics. I don’t mind concerns being raised by fans and others who care for the game, but it’s the public demagoguery that aggravates me.”

Bud: ‘We lost, okay? Shut up and move on.’

One last question for you Bud,

AP: ‘Will baseball still be getting the same amount?’

Bud: ‘Yes!!’

You see. This whole bases predicament had absolutely nothing to do with bases. It had to do with poor management, and cash. It has to do with a history of poor management of cash. It has everything to do with a history of strong arming, first ownership of the Brewers, then the owners themselves, and even many a city legislator, until he gets what he wants. Currently that happens to be cash, and lots of it. He wasn’t concerned about the history of baseball. He wasn’t concerned about the game itself. He wasn’t even concerned about the fans’ perception. He saw dollars. Cold hard cash, and he went for it. He was more concerned with using baseball as his own ‘Bank One.’

Bud Selig, I dub thee the ‘Graft Commissioner.’

Hell Bud, for 2.5 million, I would have had a full blown Spiderman tour. He could operate the train at ‘Minute Maid’ park, and then he could scale the roof. (50 grand, cha ching) Another day, have him slide down a rope towards home plate and sing ‘take me out to the ballgame’ at ‘Wrigley’ Field. (50 grand, cha ching). Heck, have Spidey slide down the slide at ‘Miller Park,’ and then for an encore he could even save the sausages from those villain ballplayers. That’s an easy 75 grand right there Bud, and Wendy would even get more under my plan. All the better. Where is my application?

So now we get masks. Want to guess as to how many of those end up on the field. I say close to 50%. Now, while I agree it may be inevitable, these decorations on the playing field or players themselves, I would like to think that our bases are safe for at least another 30 years.

Why?

Because of the fans and a rule.

And any man walking down the street can tell you about the aforementioned rule…

‘The customer is always right.’
 

Patrick Martin:

A Chat with Bill

Not long ago, I was in Montreal to watch a game between the Expos and Giants with my old friend Bill Veeck, and I just happened to bring up the Spiderman 2 advertising debate.

You all remember Bill Veeck, don’t you? He was the baseball pioneer that turned around the fortunes of the White Sox, Indians, and St. Louis Browns in the 1940s and ’50s. He was the last common man to own a major league team, but sadly, he is best known for putting 3′7″ inch Eddie Gaedel, the man with the smallest strike zone in the history of professional baseball, up to bat in a game. His other stunts included giving away free live pigs and cases of beer to fans, and once presenting one of his managers with a birthday cake out of which jumped the reliever that the team so desperately needed.

I pushed some debris off of my seat and handed Bill a Moosehead and a hot dog as the sound of an Edgardo Alfonzo foul ball echoed throughout the Big O.

“You given any thought to the Spiderman thing?” I asked.

“It’s nothing new,” he started. “Baseball’s been around a long time, and people are afraid of change. I remember when I brought in Satch Paige and Larry Doby. People were afraid of change then and they are afraid today.”

“Well there’s good change and bad change,” I put in. “We all agree that bringing blacks into the game was a good change; what’s so good about advertising on the bases?”

“Look around you, Sonny Jim.” He swept his arm around the stadium, “Attendance is dropping and the average age of a baseball fan is now 45 years old. Don’t forget that this is a game first and it should be fun. I’m an old man, and I know that this spider thing is fun. Forget about putting him on the bases, he should be playing left field!” And he chuckled quietly to himself.

“Kids these days would rather watch a giant put a basketball through a hoop or a muscle man catch a football than watch Joe Everyman hit a baseball.”

“Should we let MTV produce a World Series show?” I asked tongue in cheek.

“MTV, is that a triple-A league? Lemme ask you this: when was the last time you won a pig at a game, huh?”

“Never won a pig,” I responded, “but I saw Randall Simon club a giant sausage last year.”

“Did you get to eat it?”

“Well, it wasn’t a real sausage, and he got arrest?”

“Never mind,” he cut in, “that’s the problem with this game – it’s gotten boring. Bring on this spider and all of his friends, we need them to get the youngins back and interested. We need more of these Jimmy Damons in the game. He should never have cut off his hair. If I was running that club he would grow his hair until the Sox won a World Series. It would be so long that he could wrap it under his crotch and tie it in a bonnet on top of his head.”

“Aren’t you getting a little off topic?” I politely asked.

“Put a sock in it sonny, maybe you’ll learn something,” he fired back, waving a finger in my face. “You know who is to blame for this boring baseball?”

“Who?”

“That Billy Beane and all of his cronies. That’s not baseball, that’s boring. Taking walks ain’t part of the game. Swing the darn bat! And why stop running? That’s the most exciting part of the game and he’s taking it away. Baseball is all about speed and power. I feel sorry for the young fans today because the league doesn’t care about them. If it takes some spiders and a few events to bring the young fans back, you would be stupid not to do it,” he sputtered. “Tie game in the All-Star Game, Lord help us all,” he muttered under his breath.

“Let me put it simply,” he summed up. “Baseball has a proud tradition of being innovative and entertaining, but it has gotten scared of change. The major leagues are stagnant and afraid of fun. They should put that movie on the bases because it’s fun, because it’s different, because young people will like it, because that’s something that we would have done in my day when we weren’t afraid of change. Come on, let’s go.” He stood up to leave.

“But Bonds is going to bat next,” I protested.

“They’ll walk him. It’s too much fun watching him bat. Come on, I hear that there’s a minor league team around here giving away tickets to anyone who can throw a strike to their first baseman. I think that I can still put some mustard on my heater.”
 

Patrick Martin and William Veres are always eager to provide opinions on controversial subjects in the Cafe Forums, where they post as Mookie4ever and wrveres.

Are movie promotions on bases a sacrilege against everything the game stands for, or just good marketing and a bit of fun? Chime in on this touchy subject!

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