Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!
January 29, 2013
Pete Rose, Perpetual Pitchman
Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Pete Rose is a complex man. He’s baseball’s hit king, owner of perhaps the worst haircut in sporting history, a compulsive gambler, and (this is starting to sound like a Kenny Rogers song), a huckster, one of the greatest on this Earth.
During and after Rose’s peak, he’d sell anything possible, lending his name, face, and pageboy cut to anyone who would take him. Rose started out hawking men’s suits with Johnny Bench and has seemingly touched every American corporation along the way, including energy bars, board games, chili, and auto repair. He even came close to signing a deal with an online bookmaker in 2005 before realizing, oh wait, this is a terrible idea.
And if you’re into humiliation, Rose has no problem selling his pride or dignity, too—you can buy a signed baseball on which Rose has confessed to gambling or you can watch his new reality series, Pete Rose Hits & Mrs., an already endangered show that, as Will Leitch has pointed out, is mostly about Rose staring at breasts.
There are just so many choices. And Rose just sold so many things.
After reading a “How Stuff Works” article on effective sales techniques, watching Alec Baldwin’s “Coffee is for closers” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross, and from my own experience being the worst telemarketer at a non-profit theatre one summer during college, I think I’m in an expert-level position to judge the effectiveness of Rose’s more popular ad campaigns.
(image via LA Times)
Sales Technique: Desire
Notes: This advertisement for Jockey appeared in Playboy in 1977, and surely Jockey’s sales went through the roof. Because while most people read the magazine for the articles, when they flipped the page and saw a nearly nude Pete Rose, bowl cut cascading atop his brow, his hairy arms and legs shining against the simple backdrop, and his thunder effectively hidden in the patterned, brief-cut underwear, how could one stop from running to their nearby department store, cash in hand? Notice the sexual innuendo as Rose holds not one, but two bats. Well done, Jockey. Well done.
My lone complaint? Why not a bikini cut so we could see a little more thorn on the rose? (If you catch my drift.)
Pete Rose Batting Practice (click to expand)
(image via Tomorrow’s Heroes)
Sales Technique: Inspire consumer confidence
Notes: In the 70s, after leaving the Reds for the Phillies, Pete Rose knew he needed to inspire a new generation of batters, ones who could pick up his slack once he retired. Rather than traveling around the country looking for his rightful heir, a time-consuming task, Rose introduced the Pete Rose Batting Practice device from Turco, a small apparatus that was essentially cowbell, rubber band, and baseball. Rather than shoot a new commercial, one in which the product would actually have to be used, Rose released this comic book advertisement in which young Bobby wonders how he could ever become a great hitter. Well, the secret’s out: cowbell, rubber band, baseball. That’s all you need.
Sales Technique: Empathy
Notes: Compare the difference between the above advertisement and this one for Vitalis Dry Control (click to expand):
(image via eBay)
Gone is the brash young man who expects, nay, demands to have control over his hair and all those around him. Instead, he’s been replaced by an older, wiser Pete Rose, one who has seen the ravages of time on his own body, watching that helmet of hair turn from dirt brown to ash gray. Save for Grecian formula. This is a man who knows not everyone can be the hit king, but everyone can have a great head of hair.
Selling Technique: Manhood
Notes: Pete Rose, unable to ignore even the most mild of hecklers, is offering the one thing that can’t be bought or bottled: the feeling of being a man. And Aqua Velva, with its lack of “fancy perfumes” and “fancy bottles”—because dammit, this is America and that’s how we do things—is the closest you’ll ever get. The commercial then ends with four guys singing sort of near key because there is nothing more manly than an impromptu barbershop quartet.
Oddly enough, Rose would win the Aqua Velva award in 1979 for most consecutive games with a hit. He truly was an Aqua Velva man.
(image via 4192Cards.com)
Sales Technique: Man’s most primal of emotions, fear
Notes: The ad copy lures you in, reminding you of how important information is in today’s society, and of your duty to protect and prepare your children for the future. You then scan down the copy and find Pete Rose, his eyes vacant and soulless, his teeth bared and menacing. You know that if you don’t buy Encyclopaedia Britannica 3, there is a fair chance that Rose will break into your home and destroy everything you’ve ever loved.
Assuming this is what the ad team had in mind, I think they succeeded.
Selling Technique: The Flavor of Success
Notes: Rose doesn’t need to say anything in this one. Instead, all he has to do is sit back with a big, heaping bowl of Wheaties and let his on-field performance speak for itself. The songwriter and performer, using Rose as their muse, write lines of pure poetry like “Lots of hustle, that’s our Pete/That’s why he’s eating what the big boys eat.” The commercial, as all good art should, leaves me wanting more. What, I ask myself, are some other things that big boys eat?
And in case you were wondering if Rose actually ate Wheaties, he had to sign an affidavit claiming he did. And Rose would never lie about something as important as that.
Sales Technique: Dream of the future
Notes: In the world of tomorrow, one run by the Atari gaming system, the fantastical talents of Pete Rose, Pele, and Don Knotts will be joined into one awesome baseball smacking, soccer ball smashing, neurotic Superman. This is the world that Atari is offering.
I’m certain that on some cutting room floor there is the scene where, after the hidden TV umpire announces that Rose is out, Charlie Hustle dives head first into the television, representing man’s defeat at the hands of our new electronic gods.
Sales Technique: Kidz Rule
Notes: While Rose is featured in this one, the real star is the hypercolored world and magical, sparkly baseballs that can only be caught by backflipping infielders. Rose represents The Man, the one forever trying to get kids to go to sleep and do their homework. But the Kool-Aid Man, his Technicolor red innards always in view, knocks down the walls of the establishment, robbing Rose of a home run and letting the kids know just who’s in charge now.
Don’t worry if you’ve missed these themes: the song’s jingle lets you know that Kool-Aid is for “Hot kids just like you.”
Selling Technique: Respect authority
Notes: Note the harsh lighting, the gray backdrop, and Pete Rose’s gravelly voice, an octave lower than in the past, alerting you to how tough he’s gotten. That’s right, you’re in Pete Rose’s prison and it’s time to start talking, or else Rose is going to have to rough you up and, boy, is he going to enjoy it.
Gone is the plastered hair of Rose’s youth; now we have a puffy orb atop his head, one that can resist any and all attackers. Tegrin, unlike those “pretty shampoos” will not only defeat dandruff in hand-to-hand combat, it will take out the four major causes of flaking and itching.
Really wished they sat on a freeze frame of this, though:
Sales Technique: Penis Envy
Notes: What is there to say about this late period Pete Rose ad? It’s a dick joke. A 30-second long joke about how enormous Pete Rose’s wiener is. The only thing missing is the sound of a person in an off-camera stall farting.
Rose, like all great auteurs, was interested in telling one story that he wove through all of his advertorial work: the plight of the American male. Someone who was judged on the quality of his aftershave, the grace with which he accepted aging, or the tenacity with which he attacked dandruff.
And while media studies classes could endlessly analyze the dystopian future promised in Rose’s advertisements, the man knew how to move product. Whether as the happy-go-lucky man of the 70s, at peace while smiling like an idiot in his underwear, or as the grim-faced Rose of the 80s, whose hair becomes a literal helmet for protection against the uprising technopunks of the future, Rose could sell. He could hit and he could sell.
Pete Rose may have been an outfielder/first baseman, but in my book, he’ll always be a closer. And a visionary.