Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2004

Commentary: On deck, a bad idea from baseball

May 9, 2004

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— At 10:30 a.m. CDT on Thursday, baseball commissioner Bud Selig told me that reaction to the plan to put movie ads on bases had been fairly positive. By 7 p.m., major league baseball had scrapped the bases-as-billboards part of the promotion.

You would like to say the decision was a victory for the traditionalists among us, but here are two scary truths:

MLB actually thought having ads for "Spider-Man 2" on its bases was a good idea.

MLB still plans to promote the movie with ads on on-deck circles during interleague play June 11-13.

We'll get to that in a second, but first let's enjoy the possibility that baseball heard your protests and did something about it. MLB's plan was to hype the movie on the bases, the pitcher's rubber and the on-deck circle in many ballparks.

We've grown accustomed to every square inch of a stadium's structure being a revenue source, but the field itself seemed sacred -- until Wednesday, when MLB Properties and Columbia Pictures announced their agreement.

The purist in most of us recoiled at the idea of movie ads being featured on major-league bases, in the same way we would recoil at the idea of the U.S. Constitution being brought to us by "Law & Order."

If you're like me, you were teetering between outrage and complete surrender over the latest installment in our ongoing national tragedy, "This Space for Sale." Then Thursday night came, and MLB seemed to cave in, either from pressure from fans and its clubs or out of recognition it had gone too far in its marketing zeal. Or perhaps Columbia envisioned people staying away from its movie.

Whatever the case, the bases and pitcher's rubber will be Spider-Man free. But the menace will be coming to an on-deck circle near you.

"The bases were an extremely small part of the program," MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said. "However, we understand that a segment of our fans was uncomfortable with this particular component and we do not want to detract from the fan's experience in any way."

If DuPuy believes the bases were "an extremely small part of the program" he's completely out of touch with the way fans think about the game. You have to wonder about a business that believed this was something most fans either would embrace or ignore.

The "Spider-Man 2" promotion wouldn't have led to the regular use of bases for advertising, Selig insisted, adding uniforms never would be used for ads on his watch. But it raises the question: Why do it in the first place?

If a superhero on a base is what it takes to get a kid to watch baseball, then I'm worried about baseball and I'm worried about kids. If baseball wants to reach the younger generation, it can begin by starting World Series games before the stroke of midnight.

Maybe we've been kidding ourselves, but baseball always seemed different. Quaint. Pastoral. Not in a hurry. Kind of hard to hold onto that ideal when Spider-Man is staring you in the face from the on-deck circle.

It doesn't always feel like our game anymore. Baseball listened Thursday. Will it listen the next time?

The people in charge of baseball have a responsibility to handle the game with care. Selig said he treated baseball as if it were Waterford crystal, and I believe he believes that.

"One can debate when and where you cross the line," Selig said. "I'm sensitive to that."

Consider the line crossed.

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