With great power comes great responsibility.
That’s Spider-Man’s motto, not Bud Selig’s.
The baseball commissioner lives by the words, “Let’s make a deal.”
For once, though, after some thought and considerable criticism, Selig and his marketing mavens followed the superhero’s credo.
A day after announcing a plan to stick red and yellow ads on the bases to hype a sequel to the movie about the masked man in scarlet tights, Major League Baseball nixed that part of its promotional deal on Thursday.
Spider-Man got picked off, much to the delight of baseball purists and the chagrin of the advertising geniuses.
The best interests of the game, which Selig is charged with protecting, would not have been served by the ads planned for interleague games June 11-13. They might have been only a small issue for the moment but what this petty money grab portended was something grander: corporate logos painted on the outfield grass, emblazoned on backstops and sewn onto uniforms.
Purists immediately howled and casted laments.
“I guess it’s inevitable, but it’s sad,” said Fay Vincent, a former baseball commissioner and former president of Columbia Pictures, which is releasing “Spider-Man 2.”
“I’m old-fashioned. I’m a romanticist. I think the bases should be protected from this. I feel the same way I do when I see jockeys wears ads: Maybe this is progress, but there’s something in me that regrets it very much.”
For those of us who rue the daily decay of good taste and the ascent of commercialism, there’s usually little use in railing against the assault on our senses. The fight has long been lost. The marketers of the sports world call the shots. All we can do is hope they show a modicum of restraint, as baseball did in this case when faced with a fan revolt.
“Everything depends upon taste,” Spider-Man creator Stan Lee said. “If every player had to wear a huge picture of Spider-Man on the back of his uniform and had to shoot webs every time the ball was coming to him or if there was a big blinking sign on a fence ... I mean, it could be done in a foolish way. But this is a tasteful little picture of Spider-Man on the bases.”
The 81-year-old Lee, still writing and creating characters from his own production company, POW! Entertainment in Beverly Hills, Calif., wasn’t involved in this promotion idea for the Spider-Man sequel and didn’t understand all the fuss. He loves baseball and was proud that his superhero almost got on the bases.
Now he’ll have to settle for Spider-Man being promoted by baseball off the field.
“The bases were an extremely small part of this program,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer. “However, we understand that a segment of our fans was uncomfortable with this particular component and we do not want to detract from the fan’s experience in any way.”
This wasn’t a unique chance to do anything. There were all kinds of popular characters, from Superman to the Terminator, that baseball could have promoted over the years if it wanted to cave in utterly to tackiness. Given the steroid scandal in the sport, the Incredible Hulk would have provided a more appropriate image.
What stopped baseball from going in that direction was an abiding sense that the base paths and grassy expanses between the foul lines were something akin to sacred ground — immune to time and fashion.
It was an illusion, of course, made obvious by all the ads on the outfield walls and scoreboards, going back to the 19th century and extending from Little League to the majors.
But baseball sold itself on its fidelity to the past in most regards: The bases stayed pure white, the uniforms kept their retro look, and the statistics from one era to the next could be compared with some degree of credibility — at least until muscles and home run totals starting getting inflated.
Giveaways are fine promos for the kids, the teams and the filmmakers. But the intrusion of ads onto the field is offensive to the legions who love the game more deeply because of its essential constancy.
Some of those fans might also be NASCAR fans, long inured to the barrage of ads covering the drivers and cars. Indeed, NASCAR fans seem to love the crazy, colorful quilt of ads and are as faithful to some products as they are to their favorite drivers.
But baseball, despite chugging along in its old ways, has not suffered — passing down traditions and memories from one generation to the next. The game thrives by selling itself with its easier pace, calmer confines and continuity.
Just because baseball could sell ads on the bases doesn’t mean it should. Clutter up the game with tacky junk and it risks losing the fine balance between business and pastime that keeps it going.
Posnanski: Albert Pujols' at-bats used to be buzzworthy, must-watch events. Now, they're not. Here's the result of his struggles the past few years.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.