Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out to the crowd.
Give me some jackets and baseball caps,
Free photo albums and sweatbands and bats.
Yes, it's step right up for the freebies.
If they run out it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three giveaways
At the new ball game.
There was a time when the only pleasures baseball offered were its modest own. Dodgers vs. Reds, Yankees vs. Red Sox. It was all in the game itself. In recent years, though, baseball has decided that the marketplace demands more than hits, runs and errors. Management feels compelled to give you something else. It wants you to leave the stadium with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and a souvenir sweatband on your wrist.
Baseball promotions are a means of winning at the gate even if the home team is losing on the field. At times they have all the taste and sophistication of a TV game show. But whether what is offered is a free gift or a cheap thrill, promotions are good business. The payoff comes in increased revenues from attendance, concessions and parking, plus thousands of people walking around town showing off the team logo. "Financially speaking, we just about have to have giveaway days if we're going to make it," says Baltimore Promotions Director Don Shaver. Bill Veeck's Chicago White Sox had 25 promotion or giveaway dates last season. Business Manager Rudie Schaffer says, "The thing you're trying to accomplish is to bring a fresh person into the ball park. Once you get him there, you give him a good show."
Most teams enjoy the benefits of giveaway days without having to pay the full cost of the items they are handing out. Because 25,000 bats and jackets at 75¢ and $1.50 each add up, the expense is often shared by local cosponsors. Businesses also participate by buying up blocks of tickets for their employees. Boeing Aircraft set a major league group-sales record this year by purchasing 65,432 tickets for Seattle's two-game Boeing Weekend.
The key to a successful promotion is to turn a profit even while giving something away. Philadelphia was outsmarted a few years ago when cagey Little Leaguers entered Veterans Stadium for the kids' cut-rate 50¢, collected a jacket, went outside, returned with another four-bit ticket, collected another jacket, went outside.... "They were starting their own sporting goods store," says the Phillies' executive vice-president. Bill Giles. "Our policy now is that kids have to pay a normal $2.25 for a ticket on special promotion days."
But at that price, a ball club better deliver. A team caught short of advertised items usually hands out IOUs. In many ball parks, you have to be 14 or under to get, say, a free jacket. In Kansas City members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes make the age decisions. No team is foolish enough to give sticky chewing gum to the masses, and most take special precautions when handing out bats to kids and beer to adults. Three years ago, a sudsed-up crowd in Cleveland stormed onto the field during a game with Texas, forcing a forfeit, only the eighth in major league history. But it is the Rangers, not the Indians, who have plugged up the keg. Texas discontinued its beer promotions at the request of the Arlington city fathers, who objected to fights in the stands and automobile accidents around the park after the game.
The Dodgers do not give away bats because they noticed that constant pounding on the cement stands was creating a potential "structural problem." Montreal discontinued Bat Day after incidents in 1969 and 1974. The first involved empty-handed (and headed) customers who tried to overturn the depleted supply truck. Five years later bat swingers took aim at the windshields of parked cars.
Local custom and interest dictate the nature of some promotions. Toronto and Montreal hand out ski caps. Cincinnati schedules a Farmers' Night (farmer/Pitcher Woodie Fryman is favored to win this year's cow-milking contest) and Texas has a combination Farm and Ranch Night. The egg-throwing contest is a messy highlight of both events. Houston attracts thousands for its Louisiana Weekend, which includes a gumbo-cooking contest. On Texas Weekend the featured events are beer-can crushing and cow-chip throwing.
Philadelphia and Atlanta lead the majors in all-round originality and sophomoric high jinks. The Phillies set the mood on Opening Day when someone arrives by kite, parachute or cannon to throw out the first ball. Fans cannot wait for Halter Top Night on Aug. 19 when halters will be given away. "If they can fill 'em. they can have 'em." reports SI Correspondent Charlie Frush. Each halter will sport the slogan of the cosponsor Tastykake: ALL THE GOOD THINGS WRAPPED UP IN ONE. Slightly more sophisticated is Music Night, when anyone bringing a musical instrument can join in the playing of Take Me Out to the Ball Game and will receive a certificate authenticating his or her performance in the "world's largest orchestra."
Atlanta schedules a promotion of some sort for every game. On Wedlock and Headlock Day 15 couples will be married at home plate before the game, and five professional wrestling matches will take place afterward. The Braves have already held their version of Ladies Night, in which every woman received a cigar (You've come a long way, baby, since the first Ladies Day in 1876). The big winner in the team's $25,000 cash scramble picked up $4,000 in 90 seconds of scurrying after bills scattered all over the field. Which proved once again that in baseball, promotion really does pay.