In-season holidays are a little weird, because while everyone is off spending time with their loved ones, the baseball players are technically still working their normal schedule. We understand this weird little contradiction, and so the BP staff are offering you a compromise: analysis, and baseball, but not actually baseball analysis. Instead, we've decided to pen a few words about baseball commercials: the ones we love, the ones we despise, the ones we cannot fathom, but at any rate the ones that have stuck with us.
Grab a cup of coffee, some headphones, and join us on a little adventure.
This commercial hits all sorts of classic comedy beats: we get to laugh at a man’s (Alec Baldwin’s) inflated sense of self-worth, an unexpected situation takes another unexpected twist, and there are one or two remarkably well-delivered punchlines. But there’s also a second level, perhaps unintended by writers Mike Schur and Charlie Grandy.
At the nine-second mark, John Krasinski opens the door, but as he does he is laughing and saying “yeah” as if there is another human being offscreen. Baldwin delivers a punch, but notice that this person–if they even exist–says or does nothing. This indicates one of two things: either Krasinski was speaking to a sociopath incapable of displaying concern, or that there was no one else in the room at all. Krasinski, lonely, was talking to a figment of his own imagination.
Then there’s Baldwin. At the 39-second mark, Krasinski remarks “Wow. Your commitment level is so high,” while rubbing his aching, angled jaw. Anyone who would run across town to punch a “friend” in the face after a hard-fought loss must be committed to their team, right? But earlier, Baldwin admits to leaving the game in the sixth inning, hardly indicative of his commitment to the Yankees, but rather indicative of his commitment to punching John Krasinski in the face.
Each man appears to be using baseball to create a human connection, and there are hints that this is something they long for. Krasinski is so desperate for someone to talk to, he invented one, and remains upbeat despite being assaulted. Baldwin made a flimsy excuse–really, a close game in the sixth inning?–to dart across New York and stop in on a friend, leaving a bruise and tens of thousands of dollars in his wake.
It is a bit of the joke about Pagliacci the Clown, humor hiding pain. It is the façade we build in order to protect our weaknesses, our loneliness, our hearts. It is baseball.
The year is 1986, or perhaps the not too distant future. Earth is a dystopian wasteland where the only form of entertainment pits children against each other (perhaps to the death?) in baseball-esque feats of athleticism, complete with lasers, glowing orbs, and electric guitars. A mysterious crusader in red chillingly recruits a ringer (played by future Hall of Famer Pete Rose, in a star making turn as, um, Pete Rose, or a lifelike synthetic equivalent) to join the battle and lead the kids’ revolution in an attempt to break from the shackles of their sugary beverage overlords. It’s Thunderdome meets Space Jam (well, minus the Looney Toons). Directed by The Wachowskis.
This commercial was created in 1974 by copywriter James Hartzell of Campbell-Ewald/Detroit and it answers four very important questions: What’s America’s favorite sport? Favorite sandwich? Favorite Pie? And favorite car? Why it's Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet, of course!
Curly-haired Ed Labunski is the first image you see in the ad and that’s because he composed the music for the song, which is both joyous and celebratory. Back then, the sport of baseball brought everyone together and so did hot dogs, apple pie, and apparently, Chevrolet cars of all makes and models. Everyone from kids to adults are shown playing baseball. They even show some still shots of players and umpires from MLB games.
It’s a patriotic ad in the sense that it takes us on a nearly one-minute journey and shows us a tapestry of America’s citizens enjoying four seemingly disparate concepts. The ad also shows us shots of landmarks like the Empire State Building and Golden Gate Bridge but it isn’t jingoistic or overtly patriotic in the way modern commercials tend to be. The closest thing to an American flag is a vanity plate that reads, “USA-1” which briefly flashes on the screen near the end of the ad.
The commercial also settles a years-long debate as to whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich. (Spoiler alert: People in the 1970s say the hot dog is a sandwich but people in the 1970s also thought leisure suits were cool, so can we really trust them?)
A series of questions and comments:
- What decade is this guy from?
- How did they get Cheech Marin for this commercial?
- No defining moment has ever included Wil Nieves.
- No, really. Who?
- Stop saying Wil Nieves.
- Can we blame Wil Nieves for Wil Myers or nah?
- That second pitch is 100% not a fastball
- Wil Nieves had a career 61 OPS+
- The Nationals won 59 games the year of this commercial, before you ask.
- And the year before.
- Wil Nieves was not in the majors for 12 years at the time of this commercial.
- He had appeared in 2002 (six years before this homer) and then went back to the minors until 2005. The commercial recorded in 2009, but was about a game in 2008.
- So again I ask, who the hell is this guy talking about.
- Do not say Wil Nieves.
The accordion’s optimistic lilt is too cheery, even when tempered by Moyer’s daddishly hokey “Oh la la!” This is what commercials do; they promise hyperbolic results with the ease of pulling back a café chair. But consider the fraud: Moyer’s metric radar gun came from France when imperial-eschewing Canada is a mere 188 kilometers from Safeco. And there is the kilometric measurement itself: “97,” the first pitch returns. “99,” blinks the second—60.2 and 61.5 miles per hour. Moyer’s tosses, at their most stultifying, settle in at the low 70s.
The enormity of the lie, then, indicates not fraud, but fantasy. In the magical world of Mariners’ commercials, you can be as slow as you want to be.
-Holly M. Wendt
In 1980, Latinos made up just 6.5% of the US population, with a full 30% of that population living in California. The TV station KMEX first began airing Spanish-language programming back in 1962, pre-Univision, and was one of the first stations in the country to air spots created specifically for a Spanish-speaking market, like the one above.
A family playing baseball and having breakfast in the park runs into Fernando Valenzuela at the peak of Fernandomania, and invites him to share in their Corn Flakes, which just happens to be Fernando Valenzuela’s favorite cereal. He sits down and the jingle kicks in, a Spanish version of the English tagline “When you sit down to America’s favorite cereal, the face on the package is you.” It reads slightly different in Spanish (you have a familiar face with you) but the marketing intent remains the same. Eat Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and you too can be part of the American story, can see your face here. “Mexicans grabbed onto him with both hands to ride to the moon,” Vin Scully once noted about Valenzuela. For the thousands of Latinos in the LA area, Fernando Valenzuela made the face on the cereal box familiar.
– Kate Preusser
With how little Joey Votto is striking out and how much smack talk he is dishing out, it seems duly appropriate for me to dig back into the well of the widely adored This is Sportscenter commercials and unearth this gem. If you were ever wondering where Votto practices his insults, opportune moments to sarcastically wish Karl Ravech luck in a facial hair contest against the boldly mustachioed mascot, Mr. Red, have been instrumental in the development of his craft.
Devotion to the art of budget acting is quietly displayed by Mr. Red’s commitment to actually wash his gloved hands. Whether that was intentional or a product of beautiful, unscripted acting gold, revealing the secrets on set only dismantle the purity of the 30 second spot. If only Roger Ebert were alive to give us his opinion on Votto’s chances to star in a remake of “The Natural,” we’d have a better bearing on one of the All-Star’s first Emmy-worthy performances.
I struggle with this ad.
In 1941, Orson Welles wrote, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane. By 1980 he was famous for two things: voice-over narration and advertisements like this, actually a clever parody of his work with the Paul Masson winery. It's also terrifyingly pathetic, a sell-out of a sell-out.
Welles needed money; he always did. Fallen from grace in Hollywood, the man was always trying to finance another piece, a comeback; for years, it was The Other Side of the Wind, filmed over six years in the seventies, whenever he could afford the film. His final movie, F is for Fake, was so strange and its critics so little bent to charity that it was widely panned; no one was interested in giving him the benefit of the doubt. And so he read copy, fought with advertisers, drank and waited until he died.
It's one thing I find comforting about baseball: that its victories aren't preyed upon by social relativism or fashion. One wins or loses. Welles himself stopped winning, in part, because people decided they didn't want him to.
The Other Side of the Wind, through years of collation and crowdfunding, will be released in 2018, 23 years after his death. I hope we decide it's good.
The year is 1980, and somewhere, the director at a marketing agency somewhere is entirely too pleased with himself. He’s taken his own beloved childhood memory, a cheeky baseball burlesque joke predicated on using interrogative pronouns, and turned it into yet another way to sell things to the masses. Will the kid he wants to buy candy bars care about the history behind the confusion about the name “Whatchamacallit?” Of course not. Maybe their parents will, though, which is good, because parents have the spending power.
The kid – let’s say it’s you! – (if you’re an imaginary boy between the ages of eight and 12, because sexism was even more alive and well back in the 80s) doesn’t have to get the deeper layer within the casual banter. No, you don’t care about any of this. All that will happen for you is the next time you’re in a grocery store with mom, standing in the checkout lane, you’ll inexplicably want the candy with the funny name (and maybe some baseball cards, the ones with the bubblegum.)
Judging by the cuts and staging of this commercial, Bo Knows Everything Except Cinematography. But hawking rad cross-trainers requires little production. Nike sensed this reality and developed a zen divergence from direct product placement, in favor of selling a feeling: Without getting into any issues about whether Bo can REALLY know, it is arguable that the multisport phenom has a better sense of humor than either football or baseball acumen.
The busy pacing of the ad distracts the viewer from the sense of plot, but it must accurately portray the star juggling two professional sports schedules. Notice that Bo the golfer incepts Tiger Wood’s stacked demeanor and nails Wood’s signature wardrobe to the exact color. Or the questions that Football Bo asks Baseball Bo, “You ever been to LA?” It would have been hilarious if Baseball Bo said, “No, but I’ve been to Anaheim.”
What is especially clear about this ad is that Nike Knows Branding, as the commercial does a great job selling his cross-trainers without more than a couple of cuts to the shoes. Bo Knows Bo is Selling Bo, an aura of phenomenal physicality that screams, “Wear these shoes and you too could train to become a 13 WARP ballplayer.”
I spent 17 years of my life living in Rhode Island, a 15-minute drive from the Hurd Auto Mall in Johnston. Despite its proximity, I have never patronized the famed Chevrolet dealership depicted in this commercial. Yet as a frequent viewer of Red Sox games on the New England Sports Network, I am intimately familiar with the jingle of "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Hurd Chevrolet," a song that creates the unlikely association between three stereotypical pieces of American culture, and a car dealership in the country's smallest state.
So famous is the Hurd tune that their advertising team uses this particular commercial to suggest that people are singing it while going about their daily activities, such as jogging in place in a parking lot, standing awkwardly in a park, or pointing at fish in an aquarium. As much as I do not relate to the hobbies on display here, I can most certainly vouch for the Hurd jingle being unsettlingly present in my life. In fact, if asked to sing to word "baseball" (which I usually do unprompted), I have no doubt that it would be to the tune of "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Hurd Chevrolet." They may may not be able to sync up a backing track to the actors singing in their ad, and they may never get a single dollar from me, but the people of Hurd Chevrolet have created a piece of culture – terrible, parasitic culture though it may be – that I carry with me everywhere I go.
The Saturday before last was Jay Buhner Bobblehead Night at Safeco Field. The longtime Seattle right fielder, now 52 and still impressively bald and fit, was on hand for the occasion and threw out an impressive frozen rope for the first pitch that recalled his glory days.
Then he sat on the sidelines as Yovani Gallardo was pummeled into some alternate state of matter by Avisail Garcia and the White Sox for 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings, then dined and maybe enjoyed a cocktail while would-be Sunday starter Dillon Overton was pounded for two more homers as he wore it for 4 1/3. Nary a glint of light was enabled to come to the aid of infielder Mike Freeman, who was forced to atone for his first inning error by pitching the ninth, before he was DFA’d after the game, a 16-1 loss for the Mariners.
In these trying times, the cliché has never been more true: evil triumphs when good men–especially men whose ability to help has been well-documented–sit and do nothing.
For those of you on the East Coast, ARCO is what BP calls itself out here. And when they’re not lubricating the Gulf of Mexico, or weaseling out of financial responsibility for cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico, they’re making some of the most awful damned commercials ever known to man.
This year, because ARCO likes to bombard West Coast MLB.tv subscribers with ads at a mind-melting pace, they decided to do a baseball-themed commercial to fit that. Like most ARCO advertisements nowadays, it stars “Hanna,” a talking dashboard hula doll thingy who can be summed up as “basically The Travelocity Gnome if you paid approximately 20% of the wages for script writers who have 0% of the talent.”
Hanna’s owner/boyfriend/father/human is saving so much money on gas thanks to ARCO that he takes her to her first baseball game. She buries herslef in peanuts, gets autographed, catches a ball, meets “a new friend” (a generic-looking bobblehead), and fails to land a single joke.
Hey, ARCO, if you’re reading this? Since it’s already obvious that you’re trying to spend as little on marketing as possible, just… don’t. Zero baseball fans are filling up at ARCO because of Hanna.
The signifiers here invoke the carefree and timeless: the bleachers on a lazy, sunny day; the Blues Brothers’ R&B syncretism; high-waisted shorts; cold ones. Hell, “Cub Fan, Bud Man” is an explicit “Soul Man” rip off, right down to the chord change that introduces the bridge. Harry Caray himself became a signifier of the Cubs’ “have a good time despite the miserable team” reputation, a lord over the boozy, sleazy fiefdom of Wrigley Field.
And yet, Harry doesn’t quite get the Jake Blues schtick down. He’s a little too stiff, a little too idiosyncratic, whereas John Belushi oozed charisma and even a little sexiness with his dancing. No, I think Harry is getting at something else entirely. Wait a second…
Harry Caray is a rude boy.
If a sport is known by the company it keeps, it may behoove baseball to start hanging out with another crowd.
This ad has been aired, on and off, since George Brett’s rookie season. (Brett is 64.) It posits that baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet are inextricably linked. This is not good company.
The jingle, even before getting to its “melody,” dives headfirst into controversy, offhandedly referring to hot dogs as a sandwich. Stick to sports!
Let’s start with the hot dog. A Farmer John’s Dodger Dog has 240 calories, 200 from fat. You get 40 percent of the daily value of saturated fat and 57 percent of sodium in each dog. Adding a processed white flour bun brings the total to 410 calories of the 2,000 or so you should consume each day.
Apple pie? It’s as American as England, Holland, France, Italy, and Germany, all of which had recipes for apple pie before the American colonies were established.
And Chevrolet…It ranked 15th of 29 models ranked by Consumer Reports for reliability, and shares of its parent, General Motors have lost 5% of their value this year.
Maybe Roger Goodell’s looking for new friends?
On an official brand YouTube account and from just seven years ago, the eternal blur of this commercial suggests that there are details they don't want us to see. And they're right. Because we're going to talk about Evan Longoria's relic of a shirt.
It's puke-green, but of the type that would make you rush to the hospital instead of thinking you're just expelling some unwanted virus, with long cadet blue sleeves. Of the fashion trends that will cycle back in 2030, I desperately hope the baggy t-shirt with different colored long sleeves is not one of them.
Then there's the matter of its graphic, a thin ring that's either red or orange – whatever it is, the intent is probably to suggest fire. As we say in 2017, however, the shirt is anything but lit. It's doubtless that the stylist on set chose the shirt to convey an everyman image to Longoria, despite the whole message being that this cap levels the playing field. So there's dissonance in the message, but even more dissonance in aesthetic sensibilities. What saves the commercial, though, is how it is recalls the iconic mid-2000s "We Takin' Over" music video; except, you know, the prize is an errant cap.
Maybe you remember this one. Dick’s managed to show in one minute all the stuff that happens in baseball when ‘nothing is happening’.
I got my PhD in baseball by sitting on my back porch on summer nights listening to the Phillies. Four houses down and around the corner, Mr. Matruder sat out on his porch as well. As the game unfolded, he explained to me everything that was going on behind the scenes. He told me how the players were repositioning themselves as the count changed, how the managers had options to bunt or hit-and-run and how the pitcher and catcher were working to try to set up the hitter. Given the same situation today, I’m sure my parents would have him arrested for spending three hours a night talking to an eight year old.
For all the talk about baseball not having enough action, I've always wondered why they have not thought to hire ‘docents’ to take small groups of kids to games and point out the nuances to help them understand the game (and the game within the game).
When I started in on this assignment, I assumed I would just pick the one good Mike Schmidt commercial I could find. Turns out, the man was a golden god of weird ads, from early dish-era cable ads (PRISM!) and 7-Up All Star shorts, Schmiddy ran the gamut during his years in Philadelphia.
But there’s something so deeply distressing about this Chevrolet ad from somewhere between 1979-1990. The thrumming techno underneath resembles the soundtrack complementing the more disturbing moments of a Cronenberg film. The premise of the commercial — Mike Schmidt is going to whale on a pick-up truck with a baseball bat just to see what happens — should have come out of a too-on-the-nose satirical magazine, not an actual advertising firm. And the moral of the commercial is obtuse at best: you can hit the exact center of the weird polymer grill of your Chevy with as much force as you want and not break it. The rest of the truck, well, use your best judgment.
But the weirdest moment is Schmidt’s central line: “The lawyers told me I couldn’t hit a Ford like this. Know why?” Then a brief pause as he smiles fiendishly, points the bat at the camera and says “You know why!” If anyone’s darkest desire is to know what Mike Schmidt would look like just before he caves in your skull with a bat for not buying Chevy Strong? Well, here you go.
We hope you've enjoyed this little tour through, if not the lifeblood of baseball, some of its various spiritual lampreys. If you enjoy this material and would like to support it, consider creating or upgrading your subscription to this site. If we reach 100 new subscribers through the month of June, Craig has promised to release a video covering "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet."