THE APPEAL OF baseball, for those who fall for it in any meaningful fashion, is its traditions.
For example: What a nice sight at Camden Yards before last night's game. The grounds crew out there raking the infield, manicuring the pitching mound, chalking the batter's box and those thick, plush foul lines.
Then came the finale of that hallowed ritual: the installation of those fresh, white bases.
The key phrase here is "fresh, white bases." It's not "colorful bases adorned with logos from Columbia Pictures to promote a movie about an action hero whose plot has absolutely nothing to do with the national pastime."
Just when we were beginning to accept and tolerate the gimmickry of interleague play, baseball intends to unveil Spider-Man 2 logo-stamped bases and on-deck circles June 11-13 at 15 major league ballparks.
And we thought All-Star games that end in ties were a bad idea.
"This does nothing to impact the play of the game," Bob DuPuy, major league baseball president and chief financial officer, said in defending the unprecedented use of bases as mini-commercial billboards.
"The base doesn't know that it has a corporate name on it, nor does the foot that hits the base."
But what about the eye? What about the mind? What about the image of that beautiful white bag soiled and besmirched by something other than Miguel Tejada's scampering little footprint?
One time, during the 2001 playoffs, San Francisco Giants pitcher Jason Christiansen wanted to wear his cap with the initials "DK" etched on the side. This was to honor Darryl Kile, a former teammate who had died of a heart attack.
Sorry, said baseball's discipline czar, Bob Watson, who told Christiansen he could not wear the hat. There are strict baseball rules about altering the uniform.
This even though Christiansen wasn't on the active roster and was merely going to be sitting on the bench in the dugout.
Can't honor a dead teammate. But now there will be spider web cartoons on the bases.
It isn't enough that Barry Bonds and the Giants come to Camden Yards for the first time - ever. Now we need sports-entertainment synergy between the movie industry and baseball to invigorate the imagination and turn the turnstiles.
That lovely ritual of preparing the field will never be quite the same.
Poor baseball. Even when it tries to do something right, it usually gets it wrong. Think of contraction as Bud Selig's way of solving revenue disparity between large- and small-market teams. As if the Twins or Expos deserved contraction more than the Brewers.
In a spring that has seen ballpark attendance rise, there's no reason to doubt baseball would like to grow its popularity among a new generation of fans. But selling ad space on major league ballpark bases?
Baseball doesn't need Spider-Man 2 logos to be hip and multi-generational. Better to start playoff and World Series games before 8:30 p.m.
The way baseball currently showcases its most meaningful games, thrilling young stars like Josh Beckett or Dontrelle Willis, Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui are doing their thing around the time chariots turn into pumpkins.
This generation of kids doesn't skip school to see the Yankees and Giants in the postseason, they skip REM sleep.
There's already been too much goofiness added to baseball. Catcher cams, microphones in the dugout, miked coaches, dead center-field cam, virtual manager polls ... all that stuff was foisted onto the game in order to broaden its appeal.
But what makes for fan interest better than Alex Rodriguez hitting 350 homers faster than anyone else in the history of baseball or 41-year-old Roger Clemens going for a new, significant strikeout plateau and a 6-0 record to start the season?
Spider-Man can't entice younger fans if A-Rod and Jeter can't.
Roger Rocket throws more weird stuff from his burly palm (baseball bat barrels at Mike Piazza) than Spider-Man.
Likewise, baseball does not need the paltry $3.6 million it gets from Columbia Pictures for the ad campaign. At least it shouldn't need it. Baseball teams aren't 113-pound Kentucky Derby jockeys starved for food and a little extra income.
The books aren't good for a lot of baseball clubs, but there's little that the $50,000 payout will do to help the 13 teams scheduled to get that sum. Not unless Pedro Martinez is willing to sign for about $14,999,950 less than he wanted from the Red Sox.
In another tip of the balance sheet to Boston and the Yankees, those two juggernauts are reportedly due twice as much ($100,000) as the other home clubs during the three-game stand.
That's why the winner in this ill-advised foray into the modern world of cross-pollinating audiences is Columbia Pictures.
Baseball could even decide not to use the logo bags and still collect the $3.6 million. Look at all the exposure Spider-Man 2 has already gotten, just for being the first that baseball will allow to defile its pristine bases.
Spider-Man is already richer and wiser.
As is too often the case: cartoonish.