Don't blame manager

fans at fault

Paying customers get more to choose between than fries and popcorn

Sports Plus

March 18, 2001|By Andy Knobel | Andy Knobel,SUN STAFF

At some point this season, manager Ron Kittle of the Schaumburg Flyers will walk to the mound to pull his starting pitcher. He'll look to the bullpen and bring in ... well, he'll bring in whichever reliever the fans tell him to bring in.

In a promotion reminiscent of an old Bill Veeck stunt, the independent Northern League baseball team said last month that it will occasionally interrupt games to seek fans' advice on pinch hitters, relief pitchers and the like.

Kittle, a former Oriole, will decide when to poll the crowd. After the public address announcer offers options, fans will applaud for their choices. Kittle will be obligated to go with the player earning the loudest ovation, as measured by an applause meter on the scoreboard.

The promotion is dubbed "You Make the Call."

"This idea is for anybody who has sat in the ballpark and second-guessed the manager. That probably applies to 99.9 percent of the people out there," Rich Ehrenreich, the team's president and managing partner, told the Chicago Tribune.

In previous Flyers publicity stunts, fans have fought with water balloons and heaved garbage cans down the field.

But even Kittle had to roll his eyes at this latest scheme.

Still, he said he would not hesitate to turn to the fans, even in a close game. Kittle promised to seek their input at least once every homestand.

"If they do the right moves, I might use it every night," he quipped.

What diehard fan hasn't sat in the stands, beer or peanuts in hand, and questioned the manager's decisions? Bill Stringfellow of Barrington, Ill., has. He attends at least 30 games a season and often debates Kittle's strategy with other fans. He loves the idea of incorporating fans into the game -- up to a point.

"If the bases are loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, I'll shoot Kittle if he does this," he joked. "We'll let him make the call in that situation."

Signs of spring

Veeck, the late, great father of baseball promotions, once used a similar scheme when he owned the St. Louis Browns.

During "Grandstand Manager Day," he had fans applaud signs with such questions as "Should we walk him?" and "Infield in?"

Fans determined the team's actual strategy by holding up placards marked "YES" on one side and "NO" on the other.

The Browns broke a four-game losing streak with a 5-3 victory.

"Dad didn't view himself as the owner of the ballclub; he felt the fans were the true owners, and he catered to them," said Mike Veeck, recently named creative consultant for the Florida Marlins. "He saw himself as a caretaker of the club, a curator of the curiosity museum."

Let's go to the replay

Mike Veeck recently told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that his favorite promotion in the minors was Mime-O-Vision Night. Instead of using instant replay, mimes stood on the dugout and re-created plays for the St. Paul, Minn., crowd.

"Fans were stunned by the stupidity of it," he said.

Thomas Edison Seance Night came in second. After a game in Fort Myers, Fla., a medium tried to reach the spirit of the famous inventor. As the medium mystically asked Edison where he was, one fan yelled, "I'm over here!"

One promotion Veeck plans for Marlins games sounds almost as revolutionary as sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat for the Browns -- as Veeck's dad did in 1951.

The idea: Traditionalist Tuesday. No loud music. No loud announcements. Maybe no loudspeaker at all. "Crazy," said the San Francisco Chronicle's Tom FitzGerald, "isn't it?"

Customer is always write

Pat Williams, an executive with the Orlando Magic known for his bizarre promotional schemes, was influenced by Bill Veeck.

"When Williams was a minor-league general manager at Spartanburg, S.C., in 1966, two young pitchers named John Parker and John Penn were assigned to his club," Tom Cushman wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"So Williams held a `Parker Pen Night.' Contacted the company, which provided the pens given away at the gate." `What'll you do for entertainment?' Veeck asked when told about the plan. That, Williams hadn't considered. `Has to be the Ink Spots,' Veeck said."

Great shakes

The biggest promotional craze of the past few years has been the bobblehead doll giveaway.

On Feb. 16, the Philadelphia 76ers distributed 5,000 nodding Allen Iversons to kids 14 and under. The dolls were in such demand that one was already on an Internet auction site an hour after tip-off.

"People were even renting kids, offering free tickets if you brought a kid with you and gave up the bobblehead," said Dave Coskey, 76ers' senior vice president.

One fan was ejected after threatening an employee. Another refused to accept his doll when he noticed it didn't come with that Iverson trademark: an earring.

Hi Yo Silver, Away

During the thrilling days of yesteryear, the Blue Jays had Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger on television, make a promotional appearance.

Said Texas Rangers manager Bobby Bragan: "It's not very often we get to see the Lone Ranger and Toronto in the same night."

Who was that masked manager? Ron Kittle, perhaps?

Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.

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