Sunday, September 27, 2020

Here's the Pitch by Roberta J. Newman

Why I Read It: My baseball blog got me thinking about the linkages between the sport and advertising; this book promised to satiate my curiosity.

Summary: The history as presented in the title.

My Thoughts: As good as advertised.

There were several points in this book of which I had never thought. I had never seen tobacco cards described as pocket-sized billboards, but as far as the tobacco companies were concerned, they met the same goal. I had never considered the idea that the tobacco companies used the images of ballplayers without their consent, or paying them. From the very early pages and the early history of the intertwining of baseball and advertising through to the modern day, I learned something new.

That said, it was interesting to predict what was coming next: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, radio, television, etc. The author throws a few well-placed curveballs, like focusing on the issues of race during the height of the Negro Leagues and into the post-Jackie Robinson years. Even language plays a role in this production. How have Latino players been perceived through time? Have they been properly included and effectively used to reach the masses?

This is just a personal taste thing, but I found the lengthy page count spent on Derek Jeter to be somewhat too long. I just don't get it. Maybe if I watched Jeter every day as a Yankees fan, I could see what New Yorkers see, but he just never came across to me as the star he's made out to be. About half way through the chapter I'd had enough. The author made her point - he was the everyman, not black, not white, marketable to everybody - but I checked out.

The book is replete with tales of how we got to this point, of how baseball players transcended their sport to become cultural icons known for catchphrases, for never-to-be-forgotten TV spots and linkages to everything from Nuxated Iron to Viagra.

Sting-Ray Afternoons by Steve Rushin

Why I Read It: The '70s, man. You had to be there.

Summary: Growing up the Minnesota in the 1970s, and all of the cultural craziness that came with it.

My Thoughts: This book was almost perfect. Had it been set five years later in Massachusetts, it would have been my life. Then, it would have been perfect.

That minor shortcoming aside, this is definitely a book that will appeal to anyone 45-60 years old in 2020. We grew up in a very interesting time (though I realize that's all relative). But the mass marketing and merchandising that hit us square in the face in the 1970s was unprecedented. When we weren't watching Saturday morning cartoons and being told the myriad ways chocolate and peanut butter came together to make Reese's, we were hitting the road with our families for long car trips, the likes of which we really don't see today. And when we did, we weren't wearing seatbelts. I remember sitting four deep in the front bench seat of my mom's car on the way from Boston to Cooperstown to see the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rushin brings all of these memories back and explains why each phenomenon hit the way it did, who came up with the ideas (for the Sting Ray, for instance), who dropped each of these magnificent items into our laps, and why they all seemed to appear in the Sears Wish Book.

He shares his 1970s sports passions, mostly having to do with hockey and football, the Purple People Eaters (Minnesota Vikings) and the North Stars, and even some Twins baseball with references to Rod Carew. His story is of a whole family, big brothers who keep him in line, a younger sister who usurps the role of "the baby," a dad who travels for 3M and a mom fighting the best she can to keep them all from becoming "hillbillies" through a lack adherence to basic rules of behavior and cleanliness.

Its a memoir with many recognizable points, from Evel Knievel to Bic pens, Rushin reminds us of a wild time, when something fun and exciting was around every corner.

Ah, the '70s. You just had to be there.