Russ Smith of Splice Today takes issue with MLB’s “Beyond Baseball” ads:
If you follow games on ESPN, Fox, TBS, MLB.com or any number of local broadcasts, there’s a ubiquitous television commercial, a branding spot for MLB, alternately featuring Ryan Howard and Tim Lincecum, that flirts with vulgarity. The advertisement featuring the Phillies’ slugger is the worst: it opens with a pictorial tribute to his parents’ involvement in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, and goes on to say how this has shaped Howard, so much so that it resulted in his lifting the World Series trophy last fall. “This is beyond baseball,” is the tagline, and if you can figure out the connection between the men and women who died or risked their lives during that pivotal turning point in American society and the game of baseball, your imagination belongs in the Smithsonian.
I’m sure I’ve seen it, but I tend to mute and generally not pay attention to commercials, so it’s not registering with me at the moment. From the sounds of it, though, it does seem to go a bit too far, don’t you think? Though I’m something of a traditionalist who falls for old footage and throwback jerseys, even I’ll admit that baseball already pushes the envelope when it comes to mining its own history for promotional effect. Mining non-baseball history for that same purpose just doesn’t pass the smell test for me, even when there’s a tenuous baseball connection.
I agree even more with Russ’ larger point about it being a misguided endeavor to make heroes out of highly paid entertainers the way these spots do. Aren’t most of the silly distracting problems surrounding baseball attributable at least in part to the disconnect between the reality of baseball and its players on the one hand and the altruistic and even heroic ideal society has ascribed to them on the other?
Money is a big issue because heroes playing boys games shouldn’t demand to be paid so much. Steroids are a big issue, in part at least, because athletes are supposed to do more than entertain us. They’re supposed to represent some mythic ideal and all of that. Owners and cities get into all kinds of misguided financial deals because someone — maybe everyone — is of the mistaken notion that teams are public trusts or institutions as opposed to a going and largely portable business operation, and all of that is a function of history too. If baseball started today, half the teams would probably have some sort of corporate branding or something as opposed to a localized identifier like “Houston.”
It’s not like baseball is ever going to be able to slough off its historical baggage when it comes to promoting itself even if it wanted to (and it shouldn’t want to, because there are some great bags in there). But man, I wish it could at least try not to weigh the game down so damn much all the time.