King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Baseball keeps a promise and still screws the fans with its dumb Spider-Man deal. Plus: The Lakers are weird, and they're dying.

By Salon Staff

Published May 6, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Major League Baseball is acting like that school bully who promises he'll stop hitting you and won't even touch you again, then smacks you upside the head with a rock and says, "I didn't touch you."

Having assured fans last month that it had no plans to sell advertising on uniforms, baseball announced Wednesday that it had sold ads on the bases, the on-deck circles, home plate and the pitching rubbers of 15 stadiums hosting interleague games the weekend of June 11-13.

But not on uniforms!

The ads are for "Spider-Man 2," and they'll be removed from the plate and the rubber before the first pitch. The Yankees say they'll remove them from the bases too before the game starts.

Look, we've been over this ground before and I'm not going to preach to the choir about how the encroachment of advertising into areas considered hallowed by the game's best fans is bad for the game in the long run. I got way more e-mails Wednesday about the "Spider-Man 2" promotion than I've ever gotten in regard to something I hadn't devoted a column to. All of them expressed outrage.

So let's just talk about how dumb this particular promotion is.

First of all, it's a new revenue source, yes. "Found money," as a Blue Jays executive put it. But Sony Pictures insisted it wouldn't pay as much for the promotion in smaller cities as it would in big markets. So while it does bring in some extra dough, it does so in a way that only exacerbates what Major League Baseball has been telling us for years is its biggest problem: revenue disparity between large and small markets.

Is baseball really too weak to stand up to Sony Pictures and say, "If you want New York, you've got to take Kansas City too"? Is it too spineless to walk away from a deal that's reported to be worth a lousy $3.6 million?

Three point six million! For all of baseball! That's setup-man money, Mike Remlinger money -- for one team. That's what baseball's getting to piss off its best customers and sully one of the greatest human-made vistas ever created with crass, disposable imagery. Adjusted for inflation, that makes the mess of pottage Esau got for his birthright look like free dinner for life at Chez Panisse.

This had to be done, you see, because "We need to reach out to a younger demographic to bring them to the ballpark," said Jacqueline Parkes, baseball's senior vice president for marketing and advertising.

Parkes must be hanging out with different kids than I've ever met. I can picture it now: Spider-Man freak Junior finds out his hero's going to be at the ballpark, so he talks Dad into taking him to the game. Then, around the third inning, bored, he says, "Uh, Daddy? Where's Spider-Man?"

"Spider-Man's not here, son, but see that red splotch on second base? You can't see it from here but that's an ad for 'Spider-Man 2,' which is opening at a theater near you June 30."

And, what, the kid's supposed to get excited about a well-turned double play and become a fan for life?

Once when I was a kid I found some Sporting News season preview-type book at the drugstore. This must have been 1970 because Bill Singer, a 20-game winner for the Dodgers in '69, was on the cover. Trying to convince my mom to buy it for me, I said, "Look, Mom, it doesn't just have baseball on the cover, it has baseball on the inside too!"

I was 6, and I was already hip to the old bait-and-switch. Does baseball really think today's kids are dumber than I was 34 years ago? That's a bad bet. Wow, is that a bad bet.

If baseball were smart, it would have run the deal the other way around and paid Sony Pictures to product-place the game into "Spider-Man 2." That would give the sport some cachet with the Spidey set. Instead it's taking chump change to lure some kids to the ballpark, where they'll endure a game they're not interested in so they can get a Spider-Man mask and foam finger, also part of the promotion.

That foam one's not the only finger baseball's giving its fans these days.

"This does nothing to impact the play of the game," said MLB president and COO Bob DuPuy. "The base doesn't know that it has a corporate name on it, nor does the foot that hits the base."

Good point, Bob. And if I threw a rock at your head, the rock wouldn't know that it was braining someone who'd just uttered the dumbest quote of the year.

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The Lakers' strange demise [PERMALINK]

Boy, the Lakers are just weird, aren't they?

I admit I'm fascinated by this team because of their attempt to win a championship by loading up on future Hall of Famers, a plan that's about to come a cropper. When things are going right for them, as they have been in the third quarter of each of their two losses so far to the Spurs, they're a sight to behold. But against San Antonio in Game 1 Sunday and Game 2 Wednesday, things went wrong more than they went right, especially in the fourth quarter.

A lot of that has to do with the Spurs, who are playing like defending champions, and in fact playing better than they did last year when they won the championship. Point guard Tony Parker, the key to this series, is playing as brilliantly as everybody said he was playing a year ago, and the Lakers simply have no answer for his speed and quickness.

Devean George still has a search party out looking for his jock strap after Parker made him look ridiculous with a crossover dribble at a key moment late in the game Wednesday. Gary Payton can't keep up. What to do?

On TNT's "Inside the NBA," Kenny Smith said the Lakers have to "treat the Little Fundamental like the Big Fundamental," in other words double-team Parker as well as Tim Duncan. So let's see, that's two guys on Duncan, two on Parker. That leaves one guy to guard the other three, who are going to be some combination of Manu Ginobili, Hedo Turkoglu, Rasho Nesterovic, Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen.

It's a great plan, in the sense that the Bay of Pigs invasion was a great plan.

The Spurs are looking like champs because it seems that the Lakers were just made for them, an aging team that wilts in the fourth quarter after 40 minutes or so of relentless, hustling defensive pressure. But what's really strange has been the Lakers' poor play in the first half of both games, when they can't blame fatigue, and the way they just seem to go into whacked-out mode with the game on the line. It isn't all fatigue.

I know Phil Jackson's won nine NBA championships as a coach and I haven't won any, but I'm pretty sure I would have made this clear by the 90th game of the season: When Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Payton are on the floor and the game's on the line, fellas, we don't need Derek Fisher forcing up jumpers through double teams with time on the shot clock.

That happened with a little over three minutes left Wednesday and the Lakers down by eight, on the possession following Parker's undressing of George, which ignited the crowd and the Spurs bench. If ever a team needed a bucket, it was the Lakers right then, and here was Fisher driving into traffic and hoisting up a prayer. It, uh, missed. "Ballgame," I said to my TV, and my TV said yes.

It's probably premature to say this when they haven't played a home game yet, but I think the Lakers are done for. Some advice for them, all the same: Keep giving the ball to that big guy in the middle until he can't lift his arms anymore, and also to that slippery guy with the "8" on his jersey. Every time down the floor. Nothing else stands a chance.

As Joe Bob Briggs says, I'm surprised I have to explain these things.

Previous column: Lisa Guerrero out, Michelle Tafoya in

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