King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Major League Baseball backs off of its plan to put ads on the bases, the latest P.R. fiasco for a company that makes New Coke look like a stroke of genius.

By Salon Staff

Published May 7, 2004 7:00AM (EDT)

It took about 24 hours for baseball to back away from its dumb "Spider-Man 2" promotion, which would have put logos for the flick on bases during interleague play one weekend in mid-June.

Is there anything that can make heads roll at Major League Baseball?

Try as I might I can't think of another big, high-profile business that creates public relations nightmares more often than baseball. Can you remember the last time you went nine months without hearing the words "firestorm of controversy" in relation to something Bud Selig and his people had done or said?

The great cautionary tale of the public-relations business is the New Coke fiasco of 1985. Major League Baseball does New Coke about twice a year.

Just off the top of my head: A years-long campaign to get a salary cap by trying to convince people that the product is terrible. A canceled postseason. The All-Star Game fiasco. The near-strike of '02. Advertising on uniforms. Contraction. The/Les/Los Montreal/San Juan/Where Nextpos. And now Spidey on the bases. I've just hit the highlights, and I've skipped items that we could charitably call beyond MLB's control, like the steroids issue.

Major League Baseball in the Selig Decade has been tone-deaf to the feelings of its public to a degree that's just hard to fathom. Again and again, baseball missteps, and Selig is surprised at the force of the negative reaction from the public and the press, a reaction that could have been gauged by walking outside his office in Milwaukee and buttonholing a couple of fans. Well, it's hard to find baseball fans in Milwaukee after three decades of Selig's inept ownership of the Brewers, but he has an office in New York too.

At a press conference before the Yankees-A's game in Oakland Thursday night, Selig said, "We'll take the [Spider-Man logo] off the bases. If it bothered some people, frankly it isn't worth a great debate about it."

There he goes again! Can Bud Selig get nothing right? He pulls back from an idea that had fans in an uproar, and instead of just apologizing, admitting that baseball had screwed up and was now reversing course after realizing how insulted people who care about the game felt, he demeans their feelings. Hey, he's saying, if you're going to get your panties all in a bunch, then whatever. Calm down.

He just cannot stop insulting his customers.

And it's not just Selig. How out of touch Major League Baseball, the company, is with its market was demonstrated again Thursday by COO Bob DuPuy, the guy who uttered the dumbest quote of the year Wednesday, about how the base doesn't care that there's an ad on it.

"The bases were an extremely small part of this program," he said.

No, you knucklehead, the bases were the absolute centerpiece of this program for the fans. They were a small part of the program like a mustache would be a small part of the "Mona Lisa," like adding Arnold Schwarzenneger would be a small part of Mount Rushmore, like a pitcher is a small part of a baseball game.

Oh wait, bad example. I'd probably lose DuPuy with a baseball simile.

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball," goes Jacques Barzun's famous quote, 50 years old and still true. The idiots who run baseball don't know a thing about the heart and mind of America. What can we conclude from that?

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Headline writers caught in web of punnery! [PERMALINK]

One fun thing about the whole Spider-Man brouhaha is that it proved irresistible to this nation's copy editors, who fairly burst forth with headlines playing on the spider theme, baseball clichés or both.

I'm a connoisseur of this sort of thing, having spent many years writing headlines. When I was working at the San Francisco Examiner the A's had a utility infielder named Lance Blankenship, about whom our beat writer was fond of writing. I searched the archives and discovered that there was no word in the English language that rhymes with "Lance" that hadn't been used in a headline about this guy in our paper. "Lance gets his chance." "Lance changes his stance." And so on. And on.

You should have seen the results when I searched old headlines for the phrase "'Tis the season." Boy!

Anyway, here's a sampling, all taken just from the first page of a Google News search Friday morning:

Ads on bases to promote the sequel won't fly (Newsday)
League stomps Spidey (Calgary Sun)
Baseball changes call on Spidey: 'Yer outta here!' (Miami Herald)
Spider-Man bases spin controversy (Arizona Republic)
Spider-Man ads off base with MLB (Arizona Republic)
Baseball clears its bases of ads (Seattle Times)
Selig Picks Off Spider-Man (Hartford Courant)
Spider-Man caught in fans' pickoff play (Houston Chronicle)
Ad idea caught in baseball web (Kansas City Star)
Fans extricate baseball from insidious web of commercialism (San Jose Mercury News)
Fans Deliver Brushback Pitch (Washington Post)
Spider-Man logo idea fails to get to first base (Forbes)
Baseball reverses course: Spider-Man ads on bases don't fly (, a Michigan newspaper chain)
Spider-Man Web of Ads Unravels (New York Times)

A little note to my hed-writing brothers and sisters (who spell "head" that way): Spiders, and Spider-Man, do not fly.

Previous column: Spider-Man Part 1, and the Lakers

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