This annotated week in baseball history: Sept. 6-Sept. 11, 1999

On September 11, 1999 the Minnesota Twins gave any pajama-clad fan free admission. Richard looks back at this and other unusual promotions.

Because I lived in London for a year, I am a fan of the English Premier League team West Ham United. (And I’ll thank the EPL aware among you not to comment upon West Ham’s record thus far this season.) This means that on most Saturday and Sunday mornings, I generally drag myself out of bed early to watch the game on TV from the comfort of my living room.

But every now and then, I go a step farther and actually drag myself out of the house and to a local bar to watch the game with other people whose idea of a good time consists of drinking beer, shouting at players across an ocean and then retiring to your apartment for an extended afternoon nap.

Of course, I can do this because soccer games are played twice a week at most, which makes the early wake-up, even on a weekend, tolerable. By way of comparison, I do not think I could follow a major league team, with the nearly every day schedule, that way, though hopefully I will never have to try and find out.

For Twins fans on this September day in 1999, it was something they had to endure. Owing to the team’s horrific lease at the Metrodome, the game had to begin at 11:05 a.m., so that it could be complete and the field converted to football for that night’s University of Minnesota game. Trying to lure fans, and get in the spirit of the event, the Twins offered free admission to anyone wearing pajamas.

Truthfully, the promotion didn’t really take, as fewer than 11,500 were counted as paid attendance. Taking advantage of a weakened Angels lineup, however, Eric Milton gave the fans a good show, pitching a no-hitter.

While the Twins may not have drawn a crowd with their promotion, others in baseball history have been more successful. On a personal level, I was part of a sellout crowd when the Brooklyn Cyclones redubbed themselves the “Baracklynn Cyclones” for a night in the summer of 2009.

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Your humble correspondent and his Obama Bobblehead

In addition to the re-naming, the team gave out Obama bobbleheads—only to first the 2,500 fans, prompting a line down two blocks before the gate opened—and admitted free anyone named Barack, McCain or Palin. They even had an Obama impersonator throw out the first pitch with “Obama Girl,” Amber Lee Ettinger.

Of course not all famous promotions are so recent. Bill Veeck was easily the most famous promoter of baseball, especially at the major league level. In his (much-recommended) autobiography, Veeck—as in Wreck, the owner describes his theory of promoting a team thusly: “Every day was Mardi Gras and every fan was king.”

My personal favorite Veeck stunt—so much that I’ve surely written about it before—was a twist on a classic promotion. For years teams had been holding “Days” in honor of players or other team personnel. (In fact, Veeck himself held a “Day” for the Indians’ long-time trainer, giving him $5,000 in silver dollars in a wheelbarrow; only after the trainer had attempted to move the wheelbarrow did Veeck reveal it had “the same tonnage as a light destroyer” and bring out a pick-up truck to haul the load.)

Seeing these events, a fan wrote to newspapers, complaining that these events for players and others were all well and good, but why were they never held instead for fans, who really needed the money? The fan signed his letter “Good Old Joe Early.” Inspired, Veeck held “Good Old Joe Early Day,” awarding the man, in Veeck’s own words, “Everything, to be frank, [he] could talk the local merchants into contributing to the cause.”

(This would probably be the most prominent promotion ever held at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium if not for the famously disastrous 10-cent Beer Night many years later, about which I have definitely written before.)

Of course, as 10-cent Beer Night proves, not all promotions work quite as well as the team hopes, even when it does bring out the fans. A Chicago DJ, working in conjunction with Bill Veeck’s son Mike, planned Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. Supposedly hoping to merely double their average Thursday to a modest 12,000, the White Sox instead had a crowd estimated as high as 90,000 drawn by the chance to express their loathing of disco and enter the game for less than a dollar.

With the “demolition” scheduled to be in between the games of a double header, fans spent much of the first game tossing the Frisbee-shaped LPs around the stadium. (Presumably, this would be an easier event to control in the age of digital music.) After the staged explosion started a small fire in the outfield, fans—including the actor Michael Clarke Duncan—rushed the field en masse and started fires of their own. It took Chicago riot police to clear the field, and the Tigers were awarded the second game in a forfeit, still the last in the American League.

The last forfeit in the National League, meanwhile, came during a Dodgers game in 1995. Apparently unaware of what people are prone to do when given a baseball, the team held “Ball Night.” The fans first pelted Cardinals’ right fielder John Mabry when he bobbled a ball in the seventh inning.

After a pair of Dodger ejections, manager Tommy Lasorda emerged and, in the words of umpire Bob Davidson, began “waving his fat little arms.” Apparently seeing this as a signal, the crowd littered the field with giveaway baseballs. The umpires managed to clear the field once more, but after a third wave of balls came, the game was forfeited. It was the first National League forfeit in since 1954, and it remains the last in baseball history.

Most promotions, whether well conceived or not, do not end in such drama as Disco Demolition or Ball Night. At their best, they instead bring out the fans that might not otherwise attend a game, and perhaps even hook a few. But teams should not forget the past, as the Ghost of Ruinous Promotions Past is always ready to haunt the team caught unaware.

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