Baseball got caught in commercial web early on

May 10, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

IT WAS GREAT to hear that movie ads for Spider-Man 2 will not sully baseball's playing fields, thus averting another national crisis and keeping the sport free forever more from the evil clutches of corporate advertising.

Right.

C'mon, who are we kidding?

Was putting a Spidey image on the bases and on-deck circles really that big of a deal?

You would have thought it was a picture of Osama bin Laden they were talking about, from the hue and cry that erupted.

You would have thought they just named Saddam Hussein to throw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game.

("Ladies and gentlemen, we direct your attention to the American League dugout, where former Iraqi dictator and all-around monster Saddam Hussein is now making his way out to the mound for our opening ceremonies ... ") So corporate advertising on the playing field is suddenly a reprehensible notion?

Look, we have entire ballparks named after corporations -Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Coors Field in Denver, SBC (Southwestern Bell Communications) Park in San Francisco, to name just a few.

We have three-story-tall scoreboard signs in every stadium that push Coke, Legg Mason, Southwest Airlines and Bank of America.

We have rotating ads for Verizon Wireless and VISA, MasterCard and Intel flashing behind home plate, JumboTron screens that bring you the Fed-Ex Play of the Game, radio and TV broadcasters who cheerfully announce another Rolaids Call to the Bullpen.

We have ballplayers walking around with Nike swooshes on their uniforms and Under Armour and Starter logos peeking out from under their jerseys and Puma logos on their spikes.

But a Spider-Man ad on the bases is sacrilegious?

The image of a webbed superhero in the on-deck circle makes a mockery of the game?

Someone explain the logic of this to me.

The fact is, corporate advertising established a beachhead in baseball long ago, back in the days when cars had running boards and outfield fences were decorated with ads that advised sluggers: "Hit this sign, win a free suit."

Decorating the bases with an ad for a Spider-Man movie is just the logical extension of what's been going on for years.

When it comes to corporate advertising, the toothpaste is out of the tube. And it ain't going back in.

"It's inevitable, but awful," former commissioner Fay Vincent said when baseball first proposed using bases as mini-billboards for Spider-Man 2.

Well, if he thinks that's awful, wait till he sees what's down the road.

He'll want to jump off a bridge.

Not only is it inevitable that the bases will carry ads, it's inevitable every other part of the playing field will, too.

Does anyone believe pitching rubbers won't someday flash ads for NicoDerm CQ and Michelob Ultra?

Or that there won't be ads painted in the outfield grass for Celebrex and Dr Pepper and American Express?

Or that home plate won't someday glow with a tasteful, three-dimensional ad for T-Mobile ("Get more from life") in the company's trademark pink-and-gray color scheme?

And how long will it be before major leaguers themselves turn into walking billboards, too, just like NASCAR drivers and Tour de France cyclists?

Look, boxers are already shaving the names of dot.com companies into their scalps and advertising casinos and auto dealerships on the waistbands of their trunks.

Why shouldn't baseball players get into the act, too?

Oh, sure, there's a lot to be said for the elegant lines and classy script of the Orioles uniforms.

But would it hurt to break up all that white space with patches for Coors Light, Big Mario's Pizza, The Sun and Chevy Chase Bank ("Banking on Your Terms")?

And the ornithologically correct oriole on their caps - OK, that's a nice touch, too. No one's disputing that.

But let's not get hung up on it, either.

Would it kill the team to take the field occasionally with caps that feature the Slomin's Shield?

Or the little Burger King crown?

Oh, I know the traditionalists will probably howl.

Just try to keep an open mind, is all I'm saying.

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