There is another kind of pitching in baseball, one that has nothing to do with curveballs, strikeouts, or a catcher’s signs. Pitching products is a cornerstone of the National Pastime. As a spokesman, a baseball player uses his fame, personality, and excellence on the baseball diamond as currency of credibility in endorsing products. The New York Yankees organization, in particular, boasts a deep roster of product endorsers.
Products. Promotion. Pinstripes.
Joe DiMaggio, for example, encouraged people to save at The Bowery Savings Bank. It was, quite simply, a New York City baseball institution aligning with a New York City financial institution. Appearing in television commercials from 1972 to 1992, DiMaggio translated his confidence in his hitting ability to his confidence in the best place for New Yorkers to park cash. Mr. Coffee also benefited from DiMaggio’s skills as a pitch man.
Another former Yankee endorsed a company in the financial arena during his post-playing career. Phil Rizzuto brought his enthusiasm in broadcasting Yankee games to television commercials for The Money Store, an alternative to traditional banking based in New Jersey. The Money Store specialized in loans.
Reggie Jackson promoted his eponymous candy bar, though he claims the genesis of the idea was steeped in humor rather than ego. In the 2013 book Becoming Mr. October, Jackson explains, “When I was still playing in Baltimore in 1976, I said, ‘ If I played in New York, they’d name a candy bar after me.’ I said it as a joke. That same year, I was in Milwaukee, and I said, ‘I can’t come here. There are only two newspapers and I don’t drink.’ All in the spirit of fun.
“When I went to New York, all summer Matt Merola kept calling every candy company he knew, asking, ‘Do you want to do a Reggie bar?’ He called every company, and the last one he called was Standard Brands—and they took the bait! I got $250,000 a year for five years and a furnished apartment at Seventy-ninth and Fifth.”
Yogi Berra used his trademark double-speak in a television commercial for Aflac. Naturally, the Aflac duck is confused by Yogi’s logic. But Yogi may be better remembered as the spokesman for Yoo-Hoo.
Derek Jeter has appeared in television commercials for Ford, VISA, and Fleet before it merged with Bank of America. Babe Ruth promoted Red Rock Cola, Mickey Mantle cried for his Maypo, and Lou Gehrig hawked Huskies cereal. Mariano Rivera is synonymous with Acura.
Certainly, the Yankees ball club is not the only source of celebrity athlete endorsers. It is, however, an unparalleled source. And the string of commercialized Yankees includes portrayers in pinstripes. Taking advantage of his title role in the 1948 film The Babe Ruth Story, William Bendix donned a Yankees uniform for a Chesterfield cigarettes magazine advertisement.
Advertising allows a product owner to align the product with credibility. The Yankees offer credibility backed by excellence. They make the buyer feel an emotional bond with the product based on the supposition that if a member of the most storied team in baseball endorses the product, then it must be worth having.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 2, 2014.
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