Sunday, June 05, 2005

Crazy Joe's Strikes Out

Baseball traditionalists love to wax poetic about the joys of listening to games on the radio. I like it, too. For various reasons--including the game's leisurely pace, its division into discrete parcels of activity triggered by the delivery of a pitch, and the clarity of action effected by scattering just ten to thirteen participants (on a given play) over 100,000 square feet of playing area--baseball lends itself to purely verbal narration far more than other sports.

Over the summers, the familiar voices and catch phrases of favorite announcers become inextricably bound up in the hearts of fans with the identities of the teams they follow. Just thinking about Bob Murphy's "Back with the happy recap" makes old-time Mets fans smile, and I imagine many Yankees fans feel the same way about John Sterling's affected and deeply irritating vibrato delivery of his signature line, "Yankees win! The-e-e-e-e Yankees win!" (Thankfully, Sterling has been able to use this line a lot less so far this season.)

However, there is a price to be paid for enjoying baseball games on radio. That price is the ads.

The commercials played during baseball games include some of the most boring and ineffective in any medium. And the length and dailiness of baseball games guarantees that any devoted fan will hear a given ad scores if not hundreds of times during the season. The bad ones, believe me, are not enhanced by repetition.

The worst of all are the low-budget ads produced by local sponsors that use baseball terminology in an attempt to link the advertising message to the programming context. These ads are so corny, amateurish, and silly that I find myself, through sheer perversity, savoring them. You know the kind . . .

(Background noise of baseball game: Crowd hubbub, shouts of peanut vendors, organ flourishes. Tom and Bob are the announcers in the home team's booth.)

Tom: Strike three! He's retired ten in a row!

Bob: Pretty good, Tom. But that's nothing compared to Crazy Joe's Discount Tire! They re-tire thousands of cars every year--at rock bottom prices!

Tom: Here's the next batter. He can really hit the ball a long way.

Bob: You never have to go a long way to find Crazy Joe's Discount Tire. They've got outlets in all five boroughs!

Tom: Here's the pitch. (Crack of bat on ball.) Look at that drive! It's going, going, gone! (Wild cheers from the crowd.)

Bob: Every drive is a great one when you ride on tires from Crazy Joe's! And their low prices are always a hit! Look at this incredible line-up of brand names . . . etc. etc. etc.

Who the heck writes this drivel? (I like to think it must be Crazy Joe's son-in-law or nine-year-old niece; surely no self-respecting ad agency copywriter would perpetrate it.) Do the people who approve this kind of copy consider it clever and innovative? ("Say, here's an idea. The ad's gonna run during the ball game, right? Let's make it sound like part of the ball game!" "Hey, that's brilliant!") Do they believe such ads will actually move product? Above all, do they think that baseball fans are so witless that their hearts be won by any reference to their favorite sport, no matter how irrelevant or inane?

The fact that we're sports fans doesn't automatically mean we're stupid.
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