By Eric Neel
Page 2

So Major League Baseball made a deal with Columbia Pictures to put "Spider-Man 2" logos on bases, on-deck circles, and pitching rubbers when the movie opens later this summer.

Nice.

Apparently, running the Expos isn't embarrassing enough.

What's the thinking? Do market surveys indicate that players diving back into first base are an untapped moviegoing market? And what's next? Do they brand the underside of cap bills to influence outfielders looking up at fly balls? Do they sell off space on chest protectors to better target pitchers who love action flicks? Do they logo-up the bottoms of beer trays so the concessionaires get pitched while they hawk their wares?

There is no thinking. It's a money grab. It's gluttony. It's Gordon Gecko and his slick-back 'do spouting off on the virtues of greed. It's Augustus Gloop sticking his pie hole in the chocolate river.

Just what the image-battered national pastime needs.

And "Spider-Man 2"? A sequel? Who in the hell bets on a sequel?

Do the words "Speed 2: Cruise Control" mean nothing to Selig and DuPuy? Have they forgotten, as the rest of us only wish we could, "Look Who's Talking Too"? With the exception of "The Godfather," you get hooked up with a movie with "2" in the title and the stench never comes off of you. Everybody knows that.

League officials say the Spidey campaign is a way for baseball to reach out to the kids. (I'm not making this up.) That's rich. It wasn't the $50-100K each home team stands to make. Oh no, it was the chance to connect with the wee ones that drove the deal. Right.

Spider-Man
What does "Spider-Man" have to do with our national pastime?

And have you seen the logo? From where the kids are sitting up in the stands, it's illegible. It's gonna look like ketchup splatter or plastic puke from a gag shop. And even if they see it up close on TV, what's the message? "Hey, Timmy, look at that! That base looks just like your Happy Meal!" This is going to make him think baseball is cool or something? More likely, it's going to make him think, "Man, I could go for some fries right now."

Seriously, the point isn't that the field is sacred, or that the game is pure. Even the people who wish that were true know it's only a wish.

The point is, the league and the owners, and from a distance, all of baseball, look small and stupid reflected in a thing like this. It isn't good for marketing the game; it's incredibly bad for marketing the game. With a deal like this, baseball becomes the sport where the powers-that-be didn't know the difference between advertising and pimping, where nobody had the sense to say, "Wait, this is absurd. We want no part of this."

And worst of all, for the first time since the strike in '94, it's the sport where the powers-that-be say, "We don't sweat the fans; they'll put up with anything."

Maybe they figure we love baseball enough to look past the corporate muck on the field. Maybe they figure we're too jaded to care or too lazy to do anything.

Whatever they're thinking, I figure they need a little smackdown from the fans on the movie's opening weekend, a little rising up of vox populi, you know what I'm saying?

Here's my plan: We flip the bad movie sequel script on them. Just before the opening pitch, we all start chanting. Like the crowd in the Astrodome in "Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" doing "Let Them Play!," we shout, "Spidey Off the Bases! Spidey Off the Bases! Spidey Off the Bases!" Not just a handful of us, but the whole stadium; and not just one stadium, but every park in every big league city in the country.

We take the game back, we mock the suits, we make history, and we make "SportsCenter." Whaddaya say?

*****

Late returns
Notes from last night's games

Fun stat, courtesy of the Padres broadcast: David Wells (1.98) ranks second all-time among active pitchers in walks per nine innings. Greg Maddux (1.90) is first...

From Damon's freestylin', to Mark Bellhorn's "River's Edge" look, to Manny's head-to-toe bagginess, to Millar's scruff: Are the Red Sox the ragamuffinest team of all time? Just another reason to love them...

There were some nice benders on display, including several shooting-star poems by Joel Piņeiro, but the finest of the night was the one Barry Zito threw to strike out Gary Sheffield in the sixth. He'd just had Jason Giambi insult a fastball over the wall in right-center, and then saw Sheff wail another deep and foul down the left field line. He had every reason to be shaky. But he settled, did his knee-high leg kick and delivered a ball so slow and so kind it called ahead to say it was on its way. I swear Sheffield thought about retiring as he watched it hit the glove...

Two of my favorite stories (two guys getting an unexpected chance to play and making the most of it) and two guys with great names (Marco Scutaro and Lew Ford) were on display. Marco went 1-for-3 and scored a run, Lew went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Both guys play hard and with smiles on their faces. If you haven't seen them yet, check them out.

NOTES FROM ERIC'S SCORECARD
MEMO
To: Royals fan
From: Dick Vermeil

The first home game is Sunday, Sept. 19, against Carolina. See you there!

HALL OF FAMER?
When the Mariners kick all their seniors to the curb this winter, Edgar Martinez's glorious reign will likely come to an end. I say, position-play be damned, it's Hall-worthy. What say you?

  • What's your call? Vote here

  • Previous vote: Craig Biggio's headed to Cooperstown, according to 2/3 of you.
  • IN THE BATTER'S BOX
    Before Ichiro takes a swing, before he rabbits out of the box toward first, he's already the most entertaining hitter in baseball. The way he holds the bat up, like it's a divining rod and he's thirsty for water, the way he picks at his sleeves like a tailor and eyes the horizon like a Bedouin spying a path across the desert -- the guy is mesmerizing. He slows the game down, makes each pitch linger, all full of possibility and peril.

    ORANGE-AND-BLACK FACEPAINT WATCH
    A category devised after my recent Bonds-related pledge After a week in which he only hit .375 (but drew 12 walks for an OBP of .750), Barry slipped to a .463 batting average on the year. He had a sinus infection, he'll be fine. I'm not worried. .400 or bust!

    BUY UP
    Stock in the New York American League baseball club. Mercifully, their recent eight-game run has put an end to the what's-wrong-with-the-Yankees frenzy. Now we can all get back to the serious business of training our bile-powered rayguns of hate and envy on them.

    SELL OFF
    Your shares in the Texas Rangers. For god's sake, stop with the chemistry talk and quit with the story about the eager young band of brothers. The team is good, but they aren't this good. They can hit (just like every year), and they can field (which is a bit of a switch). But I'm still a long way from believing they can pitch much, and you should be too. Keep an eye on their staff's walk totals, which are climbing quick, and their lineup's average and slugging numbers, which will have to go down some time soon. I'm not saying you shouldn't root for them, I'm just saying, you know, it's, um, May 6th for crying out loud.

    Marcus Giles
     

    BRIAN GILES ALL-STAR
    A spot reserved for unheralded greatness

    Marcus Giles, 2B, Atlanta Braves

    5-foot-8 guys who hit to all fields aren't all that rare. 5-foot-8 guys who hit with power to all fields are precious gems.

    A GOOD IDEA
    The Padres keeping the Swinging Friar as a shoulder patch on their alternate jerseys. As a rule, I hate alternate jerseys. But as a higher rule, I love the Swinging Friar.

    A BETTER IDEA
    The Braves keeping Julio Franco (.313/.450/.438 through the first 17 games) around for another season. Julio, as you may remember, burst on the scene as an eager young shortstop for the 1946 Indians.

    A BAD IDEA
    MLB keeping fans guessing about where the Expos will end up. Settle the deal, announce the deal, and let the groundswell kick in. The players deserve some love.

    MY GUYS
    Last night was a little rough around the edges; but overall, I gotta like the work Ben Sheets is doing, and I do. The man has 44 strikeouts and seven walks in 42-plus innings. In success-starved Milwaukee, where fathers still name their sons Sydney and Robin, and where one-in-every-three dogs is named Molitor, this is already becoming the stuff of folklore and legend. I hear people gather in church basements and recreational centers just to talk about their feelings for young Ben. I hear middle school kids are getting No. 15 tattoos at such an alarming rate that city officials are worried about an outbreak of hepatitis.

    Meanwhile, poor Nick Johnson was last seen sneaking out of an acupuncture salon in Montreal.

    IF ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER ...
    This one is a close second: Tike Redman has three walks in 109 ABs so far. Tike bats leadoff for the Pirates. Well, he doesn't so much bat leadoff as flail at it (.211/.227/.276).
    YOU KNOW ABOUT
    Gagne, whose Jackie-Gleason-in-spikes routine is still the best show on television.

    BUT DON'T FORGET
    K-Rod, whose Stallone-in-Cobra shades are the only thing goofier than his unhittable ball movement.

    MILKMAN DELIVERS
    You voted to call Mike Sweeney "Milkman" from here on out. We're going to assume you meant that because he delivers the goods regular and right on time, and not because you suspect he's been messing around with your spouse while you're away at work.

    This week's vote is for the Reds' Adam Dunn, who, not for nothing, had a Bonds-like 13-walk flurry in the last seven games. Your choices, which are at the right, feature lots of puns, and some Bermanesque flair, and one terrific throwback. When we do this week's nominating, let's try to think more quirky and traditional than clever and SportsCenterish, shall we?

    And who gets the treatment this week? Because he has personality and attitude to burn, because he's feeling under-appreciated, and because he's working a geri-curl thing this year, I give you Pedro Martinez. Send your suggestions here.

    ENVY
    Last time out, I asked you all to play virtual GM and identify the one player, after Bonds, that you'd most want suiting up for your team. The responses were many and varied, but certain names kept popping up over and over again. Here's the It-List, of
    Carlos Beltran
     

    players everybody longs for:

    1. Carlos Beltran
    2. Scott Rolen
    3. Miguel Cabrera
    4. Edgar Renteria
    5. The A's pitchers
    6. Josh Beckett/Dontrelle Willis

    Beltran was first by a mile, and the Beckett/Dontrelle thing tells you how easily influenced we all are by strong finishes and hot starts.

    My two favorite wishes were a little further off the beaten path:

    Dan in Boston writes: "I'd give up Kevin Millar or David Ortiz, coupled with Dr. Arthur Pappas, for the cadavers at UCLA to replace Nomar's Achilles, Nixon's back, and Pedro's shoulder ('cause we all no its just gonna come flying off one day and some lucky fan sitting in the 406 club is gonna find it in their Caesar salad)."

    And John in Philadelphia says: "The player I most want? Catcher Joe Torre. I'd trade SS Larry Bowa for him ... "

    Nice work, guys.


    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2. His "On Baseball" column will appear weekly during the baseball season.




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