Baseball fans have been getting plenty of exercise this summer—jumping up and down from the Mariners’ bandwagon. The team swings between looking playoffs-bound—to just plain bound—as if the players’ need more fiber in their diet.
But back in the seasons of the early 1980’s, the M’s were a team with a solid lock on last place, mathematically eliminated sometime in spring training.
They were a franchise that measured its crowds in the hundreds, not the thousands—playing in a cavernous sarcophagus called the Kingdome.
It was during those days that I had an exciting job as a fledgling TV writer and producer—and it was my assignment to dream up broadcast commercials. Because the Mariners were still a new expansion team, the roster was often comprised of castoffs, rookies and fading stars on their last, cleat-scarred legs. My job? Don’t sell the game of baseball. Sell the athletes that played it, and show them as loveable and funny personalities.
In that regard, one of our first TV spots featured an undercover swat team hiding in some bushes outside the home of the Mariners’ speedy leadoff man, Julio Cruz. When Cruz’s car pulled up and he went inside, the swat team made their move. After serving him with a search warrant, the cops combed his residence, finally finding what they’d come for: dozens of stolen bases from the preceding season. (The commercial won no awards).
In another bit, a player named Lenny Randle—wearing a top-hat and tails—pranced around the locker room singing a song about an upcoming marketing promotion called “Jacket Night”—sung to the tune of “Mack the Knife.”
If the spot seemed goofy, it was not as embarrassing as later that same season when the same Lenny Randle—playing third base—dropped to his hands and knees in an attempt to blow a slow-rolling ball foul. He was not gusty enough. The ball stayed fair.
Nowadays, the Mariners’ promotion people occasionally induce fans to the ballpark with bobble head nights, Moose posters and post-game fireworks. But back in the 80’s, it was tee-shirts, ball caps, bats—and those aforementioned jackets.
One year, we featured a player named Tom Paciorek as Jacket Night’s on-camera pitchman. He began by excitedly telling viewers that everyone who arrived at the park early would receive a free pair of funny-nose glasses. An off-camera announcer interrupts by saying, “Excuse me, Mr. Paciorek. You’ve got it wrong. It’s not Funny-Nose Glasses Night. It’s Jacket Night. Everybody gets a jacket, not funny-nose glasses.”
A dejected Paciorek shrugs and says, “Well, that’s just great. So what am I supposed to do with 40-thousand pairs of funny-nose glasses?” The announcer is blunt: “That’s your problem.” End of commercial.
But when the Jacket Night game finally rolled around, the Mariners’ front office was surprised when hundreds of people arrived asking for funny-nose glasses instead of jackets. So the following season, the team gave the people what they wanted—and staged
Major League Baseball’s first—and so far only—Funny-Nose Glasses Night.
The disguises came in handy for fans that watched their team suffer another loss in a season where they were going nowhere—except to the showers.
But over time, things began to change. The teams got better; they got competitive; they got Griffey—and a new stadium.
And this year—with players like Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez—maybe this bandwagon can roll right into late September.
On the other hand, if a couple of weeks from now the M’s start to slip and slump, you’ll be able to tell if management is starting to give up hope.