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December 18, 2013

Baseball ProGUESTus

The (Ad) Age of Heroes: Judging the 2014 Hall of Fame Candidates by Their Commercials

by Michael Clair


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.

Michael Clair writes Old Time Family Baseball and contributes to The Platoon Advantage. Follow him @clairbearattack.

There are certain numbers that people associate with the Hall of Fame: 3,000 hits. Five hundred home runs. Three hundred wins.

They’re all meaningless.

The Hall of Fame exists for the true greats, the heroes that children millennia down the line will be able to point to and say, “Yes, Rabbit Maranville!” But, baseball, for all the enjoyment we derive from it, is patently absurd. Why should we measure a Hall of Famer’s worthiness by his performance in such a game when we could really measure it by something truly meaningful: his ability to move product?

Which is why we’re going to evaluate this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, not by using the traditional and flawed baseball metrics, but by the player’s ability to influence sales and reward shareholders. And then, because the Hall of Fame is all about passing judgment, we’ll break it down even further, noting the players whose commercials could one day gain them entry, the first-ballot guys, and that lone, special inner circle Hall of Famer.

Of the 36 players on the ballot, 15 of them failed to land commercial work (or at least YouTube evidence of said commercials), and therefore fail the very first test. Most shockingly, Jeff Bagwell and Alan Trammell, cruelly ignored by the BBWAA, were also ignored by the Madison Avenue elite. At least Trammell got to make an appearance on Magnum PI:

Beyond that, there were a number of players who made only team promos, like Richie Sexson and Larry Walker, or starred in cheesy local advertisements, like Craig Biggio for Southwest Lincoln Memorial and Tim Raines for New Jersey region pain manager Dr. Spiel. (Missed tagline opportunity: Dr. Spiel cutting Raines off and saying, “Enough with the spiel! Come see me!”)

Of special note is Lee Smith’s, umm, “advertisement” for sports bike safety for the Navy and Marine Corps, with his body apparently attached to a device that will explode if he moves more than six centimeters:

But while those players had decent careers and may have helped out a friend by shooting a promo one weekend, they aren’t legends.

Here are the Hall of Famers, the players with the requisite talent, sky-high Q rating, and non-intimidating face necessary to land major ad accounts. Though their advertorial work is superb, the deep ballot this year means they’ll need to wait another year before gaining entry.

Greg Maddux
Despite being arguably the greatest pitcher of his generation (complete with extremely non-threatening face!) somehow Maddux’s visage wasn’t plastered on every billboard or broadcast into every home. He never got a video game or even a Maddux-brand candy bar or beef jerky.

But Maddux, teaming with Tom Glavine, did make one classic commercial whose effects are still being felt today: Chicks Dig the Longball.

Perhaps, like The Modern Lovers or the Sex Pistols, Maddux decided to hang ’em up after one perfect creation, not wanting to sully his image. Or maybe he just wanted to focus his abilities on peeing on teammates during post-game showers.

Of course, like all aging stars, Maddux had to go back to the well one more time with the Padres, even making a Spanish version so that all peoples could enjoy it (if they spoke either English or Spanish, that is).

Sadly, we’ll never know what “Wear it, chicks dig pitchers” sounds like in Spanish, as Maddux didn’t attempt the line for the second version.

Tom Glavine
See Maddux, Greg.

Don Mattingly
Mattingly, the man with the golden mustache, actually got his start selling Nashville Sounds season ticket packages before the mustache grew in.

(image via Small Traditions)

Knees bent, back arched, glasses flipped, this was a man who not only embraced the action, he was ready to catch it.

But once the mustache sprouted, that’s when the endorsements rolled in, with Mattingly getting his chance to shine in a Nike commercial with Jerry Rice (awesome!) and Tom Chambers (also awesome?)

Even more impressive, when Mattingly’s career ended, he became an inventor. Move over Edison, Tesla, and that dumb guy who cured Polio, because Mattingly invented the V-Grip for Beast bats, the most important breakthrough of the 21st century:

Sadly, the ability to invent things and move product are two separate skills. So while Mattingly joins Toad Ramsey (credited with inventing the knuckleball and being the first to pour a shot of whiskey in a beer) as a great baseball innovator, that’s not what we’re judging today.

Rafael Palmeiro
Beyond starring in a Coca-Cola commercial in which he admonishes a child for trading him for a six-pack, Rafael Palmeiro is really known for one other thing. No, not winning a gold glove while being a DH. Or lying to Congress.

I’m talking about his Viagra campaign. In the days before outdoor bathtubs, Bob Dole and Rafael Palmeiro were how you sold erectile dysfunction pills to the American populace.

(image via Bonsai Potato)

Supposedly, Pfizer was considering Barry Bonds, Matt Williams, and Tom Glavine as the spokesperson for the campaign, but settled on Palmeiro. Presumably because of that mustache.

While those players were legends whose ad work stands the test of time, here are the ones who could really shift units. These are the First-Ballot Hall of Famers:

Barry Bonds
Despite his generally surly attitude, Bonds was such a big star that not only did he make an appearance in the greatest kids’ baseball movie of all-time, Rookie of the Year (sorry, Little Big League), but he landed advertising deals. Like this one for Charles Schwab, in which Hank Aaron implores Barry to retire:

While that ad would take on larger significance as fans tried to figure out exactly how Hank Aaron felt about Bonds breaking his record, this one, featuring Jason Alexander and Barry Bonds teaming up to sell popcorn chicken, is even better:

KFC manages to make some subtle baseball commentary as well, using bobbleheads to note Bonds’ grotesquely swollen jaw.

As a bonus for you pervs, here’s Barry Bonds eating Blizzberry frozen yogurt. It’s sensual. It’s seductive. It’s otherworldly.

Which is just the type of player Bonds was.

Roger Clemens
While Greg Maddux was largely ignored by the advertising world, Clemens was cleaning up. There was his spring training appearance for TSN in which he was apparently being timed using kilometers, and an AT&T commercial in which he doesn’t understand dropped calls. Clemens even had a Nintendo video game named after him (Craig Biggio appeared in the game as Blogio. I’m shocked that there’s not an Astros blog named CraigBlogio.com. Hopefully this article will change that.)

But Clemens’ best ad is a tossup.

You could choose to go with a Zest commercial in which Clemens appears freshly showered and in a towel, fulfilling a sexual fantasy you never realized you had:

Or you could go with the NESN ad in which Clemens throws a clip art baseball past a police officer.

Whichever you prefer, just remember that these commercials used to be acceptable content on your television. So the next time you’re complaining about that Miller Lite ad with Ken Jeong, remember that things used to be so much worse.

Mark McGwire

McGwire, with his enormous muscles, fiery red hair, and ability to turn anything into a home run, was the king of the TV commercial, commanding the American populace to accept him into their homes lest he tear the viewer limb from limb.

There’s the bizarre No Fear commercial in which a sadomasochistic McGwire happily lets himself be hit by baseballs, a fun This is Sportscenter commercial featuring his record-breaking home run ball, and even a series of McDonald’s advertisements.

(The McDonald’s ads are fitting not only because of McGwire’s “Big Mac” nickname, but because McGwire used roughly the same amount of steroids that are pumped into McDonald’s beef. Zing! BBWAA writers will love that joke.)

But the highlight of McGwire’s career has to be the Lycos advertisement in which a lucky fan could win a trip to the “UNLICENSED BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME,” all the while becoming best friends with McGwire:

For better or worse, in 1998, that was the American dream.

Edgar Martinez
I’m not sure what’s more impressive, Martinez saving baseball in Seattle or the series of commercials he did with Eagle Hardware. Each one is a work of art. My only complaint that they were never extended and turned into a television series like Geico’s Cavemen.

How great would it have been to bring Edgar Martinez into your house every week as the lovable, bumbling employee of Eagle Hardware, always making baseball bats instead of whatever his supervisor asked of him?

Customer wants a birdhouse? Boom, it’s a baseball bat. Boss wants a lamp? Wham, it’s a baseball bat. Martinez is the Ron Swanson of the baseball community.


My personal favorite of the series is, “Tool Talk,” the fictitious Tool Time program of Eagle Hardware:

Sadly, Martinez never gives a Tim Allen “Hur hur hur.”

Jack Morris
Jack Morris is so much the epitome of baseball that the two ads he did were both to sell more baseball. In the first, he’s seen as part of a 1982 Tigers ensemble bribing umpires:

But by 1986, Morris—the Greatest Man of His Generation as Tom Brokaw would surely call him—is handling his own commercials, staring down a similarly mustachioed White Sox player.

If you’ve ever wondered why Morris “pitched to the score,” it’s probably because he got tired of pitch sequencing.

Simple fact: Jack Morris is baseball.

Hideo Nomo
Though Nomo’s success in the majors was short lived, as he put together only five seasons with an ERA+ over 100 during his 12-year career, his commercial legacy lives on. From his Nike commercial (the ad that really highlights how terrible the Cubs’ mid-90s uniforms were)

to the time Nomo literally overshadowed entire stadiums, as in this Japanese beverage ad:

Even though Nomo’s career ended in 2008, the Fujitsu air conditioning department still called on the pitcher to use his distinctive motion to mercilessly strike out his (presumed) girlfriend during a beautiful, sunny day at the park.

Nothing says love quite like a darting 12-6 curveball in the afternoon.

Mike Piazza
The greatest hitting catcher of all time was also one of the most prolific pitchmen. During his heyday, Piazza sold Fox Baseball by gesturing at his light-wash-denimed crotch, made an extremely 90s PSA, pushed 10-10-220 (the one with Jan Hooks will make you squirm), and hocked Pert Plus with a mullet. He could do it all.

His strongest work, though, is the Mike Piazza Powerbat:

Here is a product not only endorsed by Mike Piazza, but also named after him. And yet, he’s so upset that the product works as advertised, his pride hurt that a group of children can so easily defeat the pitching machine that he created, that he surely threatened to beat up the child actors when the cameras stopped rolling.

The toy is also so completely a product of the late-90s offensive environment that no one would bat an eye when a mere child crushed a 400-foot home run.

Sammy Sosa
Good ol’ Slammin’ Sammy Sosa, arguably the most likable, or at least most energetic, of his era’s home run champions.

Sosa appears equally at home helping kids hit a laser baseball for some reason to appearing in a McDonald’s ad in which he’s overshadowed by a Mystic Knight (basically an Irish Power Ranger).

Most memorably, there’s High Heat Baseball:

Beyond the terrifying conclusion that there is little difference between real life and virtual reality (which supports the recent research into whether our entire universe is merely a hologram), Sosa continues to remind us that High Heat Baseball is so real.

It’s

So

Real

Am I me? Or am I merely a simulacrum of myself? And how would I know the difference? It’s this question that Sosa is obsessed with, which might explain his Pinterest page, too:

Frank Thomas
Did you know that when you work out, electricity actually flows through your veins, buildings crumble atop your head, and Frank Thomas’ face explodes out of your bicep?

It’s true, as evidenced in this Frank Thomas Reebok commercial:

Thomas, who also starred in a commercial for the Boys and Girls Club and hit baseballs past an elderly woman in the process, decided he wanted to do something more. Something higher minded. Something artistic. Enter the expressionist work that is Big Hurt Baseball for SNES and Sega Genesis.

Dissonant noise, heavy shadows, and an intriguing color palette highlight the ad that forces the viewer to include Frank Thomas among cinema’s biggest names, like Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, and Andrew Scheinman, director of Little Big League.

Even when Thomas’ playing days were over, his product promotion wasn’t. Thomas first put the thrust of his prodigious weight into ZizZazz, having to say that ludicrous name way too many times, before cross-promoting Big Hurt Beer and the Hostile Intent wrestling show in May of this year. You can tell it’s intense because the commercial was apparently filmed inside a cavernous bunker:

But while the previous players had great careers on the field and on TV, with their commercials on constant rotation in Valhalla, there can be only one member of the upper echelon. The cream of the crop. The Inner Circle Hall of Famer. For that, there is only one man:

Fred McGriff
That’s right, the Crime Dog. You may remember him from a little videotape known as Tom Emanski’s Defensive Drills:

If you were alive at any time between 1990 and, well, today, you have probably seen this advertisement featuring McGriff’s stilted delivery and puffy hat more than you’ve seen your own mother. When I close my eyes and go to sleep, this is what I see:

When I want to listen to music, I simply loop McGriff’s “I’m so impressed with the instructional videos of Coach Emanski, that I’ve given them my full endorsement.”

There’s a reason why this commercial will still be broadcast even after every human has been destroyed by alien laser beams. Because it’s beautiful. And it works.

Related Content:  Hall Of Fame,  Advertisements

4 comments have been left for this article.

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