Friday October 24, 2014
The Greatest Baseball Giveaway Promotion Ever
My favorite giveaway promotion at a ballpark was probably a bat night at Met Stadium in the early 1970s, back when they'd give away real bats, but reading Dan Epstein's “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76” (recommended), I came across another. It involved Bill Veeck, of course.
Veeck (as in Wreck) was a low-rent baseball owner, frowned upon by his ritizier contemporaries, and always trying any stunt to get folks to come out to see his (usually lousy) teams. He hired the clown prince of baseball, Max Patkin, as a coach. He put Eddie Gaedel, a midget, onto the St. Louis Browns roster and in one game sent him up to pinch hit in the bottom of the 1st (he walked, and the pinch runner didn't come around to score). In 1976, the year in question, he had his Chicago White Sox play in shorts for a few games and brought back fan favorite Minnie Monoso, who was 51 years old and had last played in 1964, for eight at-bats.
But there was more:
In addition to his endless procession of “Ethnic Night” celebrations, on-field beer-case-stacking contests, and giveaway promotions—like “Ragtime Night,” where he gave away 10,000 copies of E. L. Doctorow’s best-selling novel—Veeck also installed a shower in Comiskey Park’s center field bleachers, and convinced boozed-up Sox broadcaster Harry Caray to lead the crowd in a sing-along of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every home game. The latter would become a time-honored Chicago tradition, while the former instantly entered Comiskey lore. “It had a utilitarian function,” Veeck would later say of the shower. “It gets hot out there and people like to cool off. But it also attracts a number of young girls in bathing suits, and a certain number of young men who like to look at girls in bathing suits.“
”A certain number of men...“ Good line. But the CF shower and the boozy renditions of ”Take Me Out to the Ballgame“ aren't what I'm talking about. It's giving away 10,000 copies of E.L. Doctorow's ”Ragtime."
I mean ... Giving away a book? A novel? A literary novel written by the left fielder in my starting nine of the literary world? Is that the greatest thing ever?
That makes me happy. It also makes me sad that I can't imagine anything remotely similar happening today.