Baseball stars super at pitching products
On Sunday, millions of Americans will gather around televisions to watch the Super Bowl, but many of those people will be more attuned to the action in between the coverage of the Patriots and Falcons.
Those folks are paying attention to the commercials – brief spots which command millions of dollars during the Super Bowl and also provide plenty of water cooler fodder the next day.
While Super Bowl ads might be the pinnacle of the industry, baseball is certainly no stranger to the world of advertising. Ad men were going mad promoting products using baseball and its stars long before the television show Mad Men glamorized the industry.
Before television, however, most of the advertising was found in print. An 1889 lithograph featuring Chicago’s Cap Anson and New York’s Buck Ewing quaffing glasses of beer from E. & J. Burke may be one of the earliest examples of ballplayers being paid to endorse a consumer product. Later print advertisements would depict Hall of Famers – and non-Hall of Famers – peddling everything from alcohol and tobacco products to cereal, cars, dog food, and men’s underwear.
As Americans began to consume more and more television in the mid-20th century, companies and advertising agencies began to realize the necessity to shift dollars from print to electronic media. Recognizable individuals such as major league ballplayers provided companies familiar faces to promote their products. Naturally, some advertisements were geared toward a player’s local market and others were shown to a broader, national audience.
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The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has discovered some of these spots in its audiovisual collection, often found between innings of recorded games.
Boston Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski, for one, took a few seconds following batting practice to inform viewers of his choice in aftershaves.
“I’ve been playing major league ball for a lot of years. I’ve seen a lot of ballplayers come and go – and lots of aftershaves, too,” Yaz noted, later delivering the brand’s slogan. “I’ve always liked Aqua Velva. … Buy ’em all if you want to, but you’ll find out there really is something about an Aqua Velva man.”
The Robinsons share the number of ways in which they are similar, as well as the reasons they drink Miller Lite, but Brooks cautions viewers, saying “I know we’re incredibly alike, but don’t be confused. We are not identical twins.” This prompts Frank to crack up on camera, trying to say, through laughs, “I’m at least two inches taller than he is.”
Cubs reliever Bruce Sutter and Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt appeared in the same commercial for 7-Up soda, announcing that “America’s turning 7-Up.” In one scene, after Schmidt taps his bat on home plate, the plate rises and out of the ground comes a bottle of 7-Up. Bloopers from the making of this ad show the number of failed takes it took before there was success in the mechanism working. Gary Carter did an appearance in a Canadian version of the 7-Up ad.
Not only do Hall of Famers appear in TV commercials for comestibles, but they also relate that they share the pain viewers feel and know how to best overcome it. At the end of his career, Nolan Ryan is seen working out but told the audience that Advil helps him relieve pain. George Brett promoted Ben Gay, which helped him relieve bouts of arthritis. Bob Gibson heralded the benefits of Primatene Mist bronchial spray and Primatene tablets.
Some Hall of Famers promoted various products. Ken Griffey, Jr., was a pitchman for Nike, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, and Visa. Johnny Bench once did a spot for the Yellow Pages and, more recently, has become a spokesman for Blue-Emu cream.
Baseball Hall of Famers have also been known to help networks promote programming. In one of numerous ESPN SportsCenter commercials featuring current and potential Hall of Famers, ESPN personalities are discovering a trail of petroleum jelly as Gaylord Perry walks through the network’s offices. Another ad has Derek Jeter discovering green fuzz in his razor. He asks around the ESPN locker room to see who has used his razor, receiving denials before the Phillie Phanatic walks through wrapped in a towel.
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum