“Here’s the Pitch: The Amazing, True, New, and Improved Story of Baseball and Advertising”
Roberta J. Newman
The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press, 352 pages, $34.95, released March 1.
The review in 90 feet or less
We caught up last fall with author Jane Leavy to talk about her critically acclaimed 2018 book, “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World Her Created” — the focus on Babe Ruth’s celebrity status and how he got it rolling for others> For a point, we got sidetracked onto the outcome of an interview she had with modern day sports agents Scott Boras and Leigh Steinberg. They were brainstorming about what the Yankees’ slugger would be best suited to endorse if he were around today.
“(Steinberg) said that Ruth would have to do ‘this and this and this…’ But he did that,” said Leavy. “He even had a foundation that didn’t survive but he would have taken up causes synonymous with it.
“I remember asking him what kind of endorsements would he have created for Babe as a brand. My thought was maybe a Cartier watch, because he was always late for everything.
“Leigh thought he would go for something like Rochester’s Big & Tall men’s suits. My thought: That wasn’t classy enough for the Babe. And Leigh said: That’s the idea, you bring class to the product.”
“I’d still rather see him with a watch,” she said.
Back in the day, as Newman points out this project that puts an critical and intricate spin on how things today need to be traced back to their roots, Ruth was all over the endorsement map.
Newman (right), a clinical professor in the Liberal Studies Program at New York University who has co-authored books such as “Black Baseball, Black Business: Race Enterprise and the Fate of the Segregated Dollar,” takes an elongated approach at a subject you know exists but probably have never taken the time to figure out why there is such a successful relationship between the baseball player and the endorsement deals they have come to add to their portfolios. It’s more than just an emotional or psychological connection to some level of hero worship.
As for Ruth, Newman digs into the issues he faced about companies who blatantly hijacked his image – and flat-out took his name – for their own financial benefits, because there were no laws to protect him (see: Baby Ruth candy bar). But that also came a a time when Ty Cobb was really the first to figure out a way to align himself with sponsorships.
From there, Newman goes the distance and takes us all the way up to the odd alliance of Rafael Palmiero and Viagra – remember that? – and how Palmiero’s eventual PED use makes this even more of a cautionary tale about why companies have to think twice about who they sign up and why.
There is a lot of over explaining and deeper dives into things than maybe we were prepared for – including 50 pages of index, references and a bibliography –but essentially it gets to the core of how and why baseball players became premium pitch men.
As Newman writes in the intro:
“I look at baseball’s celebrities and attempt to determine what qualifies the perfect pitchmen for specific products at specific historical moments, considering the ways in which variations of those qualities – the culturally constituted meanings – shine a light on the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Ultimately (this book) is about American identity, writ both large and small.”
Among the illustrations, there are 14 examples, including Cobb pitching cigarettes, Ruth pitching for Blue-jay Corn Plasters (to help your feet, not your farming needs), and a Yogi Berra spot for Puss ‘n Boots cat food.
So many others existed – Ted Williams for Yahoo! chocolate milk and his own line of Sears sporting goods could be a book unto itself.
More examples of the ads would have been a fun read and nostalgia trip alone as well.
Just think of yourself as a kid cutting baseball cards off the back of Kelloggs’ and Post cereal boxes, or Hostess Ding Dong boxes. It was such a natural connection for kids — sugar overload and baseball fever.
Add up all the ads, and you’ve got what’s likely the definitive project dedicated to hardball and hawking, where “Mad Men” meet yesterday’s Max Muncies.
How it goes down in the scorebook
A crisp double off the tin Abe Stark sign in right-center field that reads: Hit sign, win suit.