My longtime friend Mike Green and I attended the Nationals-Orioles game on Saturday afternoon—I loved the fact that the Nats won 4-2—and we began talking about the weirdest, strangest, most ridiculous promotions we could think of. Since we had collaborated on a biography of Charlie Finley, published last year by Walker and Co., we had a lot to work with since Finley was famous for his wild promotions. Here are my top five promotions that are the weirdest ones, some of them are Finley specials, others not.
Hot Pants Day—Held on June 27, 1971, this was a Charlie Finley special. During a doubleheader with the Kansas City Royals, remember those, every woman who came to the game in hot pants was admitted free. Out of an attendance of 35,000, some 6,000 women gained participated. Between the two games they held a fashion show and A’s beat reporter Ron Bergman told us how “we all looked forward to Hot Pants Day and the women would parade on the second deck, you know, they’d walk from the right field corner to the left field corner like they used to for parades, except for hot pants.”
10 Cent Beer Night—This one is in a category by itself. Perhaps it was not so much weird as it was a stupid decision on the part of the Cleveland Indians’ front office. In a game between the Cleveland Indians the Texas Rangers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on June 4, 1974, drunk fans got into fights, rioted and then went after members of both teams. Police had to restore order; it goes without saying that the Indians had to forfeit the game. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. But what a screwy attempt at a promotion! Tim Russert, the late host of Meet the Press was a student attending the game. He recalled, “I went with $2 in my pocket. You do the math.” What did the team’s leadership think would happen? It ranks as one of the all-time wildest promotions in the history of Major League Baseball. And here is a great video about it.
Eddie Gaedel Pinch Hitter—One of the most famous baseball stunts of all time, although not quite a promotion, was Bill Veeck’s sending of Eddie Gaedel to bat in a doubleheader between the St. Louis Browns and the Detroit Tigers on August 19, 1951. After the first game Veeck had a large birthday cake rolled onto the infield and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, as a special birthday gift to manager Zack Taylor, the management is presenting him with a brand-new Brownie.” Then out of the cake popped three-foot seven-inch Eddie Gaedel wearing a tiny Browns uniform with the number 1/8 on the back. Veeck had hired Gaedel from a talent agency for $100 for a single appearance at the game. After the Tigers failed to score in the top half of the first inning, Gaedel went to the on-deck circle and took several menacing swings with a trio of pint-sized bats. As the umpire yelled, “batter up,” manager Zack Taylor scratched starting center fielder Frank Saucier and inserted Gaedel as a pinch hitter. The Tigers protested his play, but the Browns produced a legitimate major league contract and the umpire signaled that Tigers pitcher Bob “Sugar” Cain had to pitch to him. Gaedel stepped up to the plate, crouched as low as possible, and waited for Cain’s delivery. With a strike zone of about three inches, Cain walked him on four pitches. The manager then took Gaedel out for a pinch runner. The Tigers, despite Gaedel’s pass to first base, won the game 6-2. The great Eddie Gaedel caper probably proved the undoing of Veeck as an American League owner. From that point on his fellow owners worked unabashedly to oust him, even refusing to allow him to move the franchise in 1953 when every economic indicator demanded it.
Automotive Industry Night—This was another Charlie Finley special. When the A’s were in Kansas City in the 1960s, owner Finley staged all types of giveaways. Jim Schaaf, who ran the A’s promotion department, told us about it. “We’d have Automotive Industry Night. Charlie had a lot of these ideas. He came up to me one time and said,…‘we want cars we can have painted and do things to dress them up, and we’re going to give’em away as prizes during the game.’ We would call tickets in certain locations and fans would win a car. What he promised was you could drive the car off the lot…those types of promotions that he was really involved in…he [Finley] got a big kick out of them. The fans got a big kick out of them too.” These weren’t new cars, just clunkers they had pulled out of the junk yard and got running, at least for a while. Schaaf added: “They laughed like heck and sometimes, the person would get in the car and start driving off…and the car would just break down half-way out of the gate.”
MC Hammer Bobblehead Night—Finally, I think a forthcoming promotion deserves mention. On July 17, 2011, the Oakland A’s will host an MC Hammer Bobblehead night in the Oakland Coliseum. Behind it is the fascinating story of Stanley Burrell, whom Charlie Finley first met in 1973. Burrell was then an eleven-year-old kid, and in his own words “doing a dance with ten friends…just being crazy and Mr. Finley walked over and said I looked like Hank Aaron. Then invited me up to his box.” So strong was the resemblance, in fact, that Finley reportedly gave Stanley Burrell Aaron’s nickname, “Hammer.” Hammer became a fixture in the A’s dugout and front office, picking up numerous odd jobs around the A’s organization. He helped the clubhouse managers, ran errands, and provided Finley with telephonic play-by-play broadcasts of the A’s games back to his offices in Chicago. As time went on, Finley gave Hammer an honorary position as a club vice president. Several years later, Stanley Burrell, who once dreamed of playing major league baseball, became an international superstar as an acrobatic rap singer and dancer known to world by his nickname: MC Hammer. It’s great that the A’s are honoring Stanley Burrell, aka the Hammer, with his own bobblehead giveaway.
I think these are great stories. What are your favorite ones?