Making the pitch with catchphrases

The Houston Astros’ slogan for 2013 is “It’s a Whole New Ball Game.” After half a century in the National League, they are now in the junior circuit. And they have new uniforms!

It is easier to change uniforms than the players who wear them, so always be suspicious whenever your home team decides it’s time for a wardrobe makeover, especially when they show off same at a fashion show/media event.

Other than that, is it really a whole new ball game in Houston?

Well, I spent Labor Day weekend 2012 and Labor Day weekend 2013 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. At the beginning of the weekend in 2012, the Astros were in last place in the National League Central at 40-91. At the same point in 2013, they were in last place in the American League West at 44-89. Marginally better … but a whole new ball game?

The Astros officially were eliminated from the AL West race on Aug. 28. Even a bad team should have the decency to wait until September before passing that barrier. Another 100-loss season for the Astros—bet on it—would make three in a row (55-107 in 2012, 56-106 in 2011). The mediocrity of 2010 (76-86) looks pretty good by comparison. At this point, I’d bet on five 100-loss seasons before I’d bet on one .500 season.

If they wanted to recycle a time-honored (or should I say time-worn) phrase, the Astros would have been better served by using, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Better yet, how about a quote from former Astros coach Yogi Berra: “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

In fact, since Houston is in danger of becoming one of those dynastic bad teams, we could dredge up the old Washington Senators rallying cry of, “Washington! First in war! First in peace! Last in the American League!” and tweak it. Keeping in mind that Sam Houston’s place in Texas history is analogous to George Washington’s in American history, we could exclaim, “Houston! First in war! First in peace! Last in the American League West!”

Still, maybe that “Whole New Ball Game” slogan is just premature. The Astros’ top farm teams (Oklahoma City in the Pacific Coast League and Corpus Christi in the Texas League) both are in the postseason, so maybe help is on the way. In the meantime, the slogan merely invites snickers.

Of course, slogans are not mandatory. Some teams don’t bother with them, while some come up with a new one every year. But the Astros have plenty of company when it comes to advertising slogans that bear closer scrutiny. So let’s do a quick survey and see which slogans are on the money and which ones are way off—or just way out in left field.

In truth, if you pay attention to the theme of a team’s advertising, you can pretty well pick up clues as to the team’s prospects that year. If they are contenders or defending champions, that likely will be reflected in the slogan. And if they’re not … then you get something along the lines of, “It’s a Whole New Ball Game.”

The Mets, for example, have “Great Place, Great Times, Great Memories.” Translation: we’re going nowhere this year, and we know it. Other than the All-Star Game, it has not been a year to remember at CitiField, even if it is a Great Place.

The Pirates were prescient with their “Pride, Passion, Pittsburgh Pirates” slogan. Of course, after 20 years of sub-.500 ball (not just the longest such stretch in major league history but the longest in any professional sport in North America), you had to wonder how much pride and passion would be on display in 2013. As it turned out, the slogan was apt, as a winning record is all but assured, and a division championship, or at least a wild card, is a distinct possibility.

I can only wonder if the marketing whiz who came up with the slogan was inspired by The Pride and the Passion, a 1957 movie about the Napoleonic wars with Cary Grant as a British officer, Frank Sinatra as a Spanish guerilla, Sophia Loren as … well, Sophia Loren, and all of them upstaged by a giant cannon.

The promo slogan for that film was a classic from the good old hyperbolic days of movie advertising. “You have never seen its like—and may never see its equal.” Surely that could be adapted some day for a really good baseball team.

Speaking of which, you might think the Yankees are too stuffy to indulge in any sort of vulgar sloganeering—and you’re partially right. Vulgar, no, but sloganeering, yes. Their choice for 2013 is “A Timeless Legacy.” Not too self-serving, eh? I’m thinking Red Sox fans would have a few brickbats for that one.

For their part, the Red Sox have incorporated the “B Strong” slogan that appeared in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. Actually, seeing how the Boston police reacted to the situation, “B Strongarmed” might be more appropriate. Maybe the Police Athletic League can use that one.

Another reference to courage appears in Atlanta, where the motto is “Always Brave.” Simple and succinct, but before you respond with “Bravo,” keep in mind that it just isn’t true. The team has been known as the Red Stockings, Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves, and Rustlers. They did not come up with Braves till 1912. Even then, they weren’t sure about it, as they temporarily adopted the nickname Bees in the 1930s. But “Brave Since 1912 Except for 1936-1940″ isn’t going to set any focus groups on fire.

The Braves have had their share of success over the years, but they can’t come close to the Cardinals. Like the Yankees, the Cardinals also toot their own horn, but in a straightforward, unvarnished Midwestern manner: “11-Time World Series Champions.” A simple statement of fact. As famed Cardinal Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” Dizzy’s apothegm is just as true in the past tense. “It ain’t braggin’ if you done it,” as he might have put it, much to the chagrin of English teachers everywhere.

Considering the Orioles’ success last season, one would think they’d have some sort of upbeat slogan for 2013. Instead, all they have to offer is “Together We Play.” Well, I know baseball is a team sport, and I’m sure many Orioles fans live and die with the team, but that slogan is really lame. It sounds more like the title of a children’s book.

I can just imagine the contents: ”Buck Showalter is the manager of the team … see Buck manage … manage, Buck, manage!” or “This man is named Taylor Teagarden. Don’t you think that’s a funny name for a catcher?” or “Manny Machado is a very good baseball player. Don’t you wish you could play baseball as well as Manny Machado?”

The Giants are also big on togetherness, as reflected in their “Together + Again.” After winning two titles in three years, that probably sounded pretty smooth at the beginning of the season. Now, however, considering the Giants’ record and the very real possibility that they will finish last in the NL West … well, let’s just say their 2013 season has had a lot more minuses than pluses, and I don’t think the same team will be together again in 2014.

There are ways to avoid slogans that turn out to be embarrassing. One is to go territorial and merely state the obvious: “This is Reds Country” and “This is Twins Territory.” Hey, thanks for the info, I was hopelessly lost. I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.

Generally, team colors can be invoked in a slogan without fear of looking foolish. The Mariners, for instance, have “True to the Blue.” Pretty blah, if you ask me. For all I know, they could be talking about fealty to the umpires. Somewhat better are the Dodgers with “A Whole New Blue,” certainly an accurate appraisal, given the new management and the team’s resurgence on the field.

The most “colorful” slogan award goes to the Oakland Athletics, who have “Green Collar Baseball” as their advertising slogan. What they really mean here is Blue Collar Baseball, but since the team’s colors are gold and green, they have engaged in a little creative tinkering. Green, of course, works better than gold, as Gold Collar Baseball hardly befits a gritty town like Oakland. Even in more upscale locales, it’s hard to go wrong playing the working-class-hero card.

The A’s just might end up taking on the Tigers in the postseason. As far as slogans go, the advantage is definitely with the Tigers, as they have not one but two slogans! The first is “Every game counts. __ home games remaining.” Since the Tigers spend the final week of the season on the road, I guess that slogan will expire before the end of the season.

The Tigers also employ the phrase “Who’s Your Tiger?” Obviously, this is a variation on the old “Who’s Your Daddy?” phrase which was oh-so-hip 10 years ago but seems to have worn itself out. Definitely time for a hip replacement. (Incidentally, the all-time best variation on the “Who’s Your Daddy” theme was by an Indiana rock group that named themselves the Hoosier Daddies.)

Then there are the slogans that are just wrong from day one. Take the Cubs—please! A one-word slogan can be refreshingly simple—if you choose the right word. So what word did the Cubs choose? “Committed.” Okay, but to what? To mediocrity? To disappointment? To the Cook County funny farm? You have to wonder what management was thinking when it signed off on that one.

For sheer minimalism, however, it’s hard to surpass the Rockies, who have a simple “R 20th” logo signifying their 20th anniversary season. Unfortunately, I think they’re preaching to the choir. If you know when the Rockies were founded, it makes sense. If you don’t, then it’s almost cryptic. Still, it’s better than “Our 20th Anniversary Season,” which spells it out but is pretty lackluster.

As you can see from the above, there are several strong candidates for booby prize of the year when it comes to major league slogans. I think I would cast my vote for the Royals’ “Come to Play.” To whom is this exhortation aimed? To the Royals? To the visiting team? To the fans? “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Who do you think you’re talking to?”

Personally, I think the Royals’ marketing firm got its wires crossed and “Come to Play” was meant for a casino, while somewhere in this fair land a casino is making do with some sort of baseball-oriented slogan.

Still, I don’t want to get too critical. I don’t know if I could do any better, and I sure don’t envy the folks responsible for coming up with advertising slogans for 2014—but I’ll bet they’re already scribbling down ideas.

Bill Veeck, thou shouldst be alive at this hour!

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Comments

  1. dennis Bedard said...

    Berra’s seemingly dumb oxymoron is a lot more sophisticated than one might think at first blush.  A French historian ( I do not know who) coined the phrase “plus ca la change, plus ca la meme chose.”  The more things change, the more they remain the same.  It was a rhetorical device that pithely summed up human nature viewed from a historical perspective.  The upshot was that no matter how much you try and dress up a pig, it is still a pig.  Some of us may have trouble understanding it, but I think Cubs fans will understand the point very fast.

  2. Frank Jackson said...

    Since I wrote the above article, I discovered that not just the top two Astros’ farm clubs are in the post-season—all six of them are!  So better days are probably ahead.

    As an example of how horrid the 2013 season has been, the Astros had their first complete game of the year on September 1.  After five months…about time!  The next day they reverted to type by blowing a 6-2 lead and then losing 10-6 on a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning.

  3. Jim said...

    I thought the Rockies slogan this year was “Year of the Fan”, but looking at their web site, you are correct.  Maybe last year was the year of the fan with 98 losses.  Didn’t work either.  But there is no denying this is their 21st year.  So their slogan is boring, but true, like so many things in life.

  4. J.Henry Waugh said...

    On March 8th, while talking about the “Committed” ad campaign, WGN-AM morning man Jonathon Brandmeier had listeners call in their 2013 slogans for the Cubs. Here is a sample:  “Committed to Learning to Play”  “The Fans Should be Committed”  “Let’s do another 100”  “12th of Never”  “A couple more Runs”  and riffing off the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 “One Goal” slogan/ad campaign…. “No Goals.” One caller suggested just add “Bingo” at the end of any slogan. Try it.

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