Just read a column by Bob Greene over at CNN.com which itself launches off Richard Sandomir’s article from last week about “drop-in” ads during radio broadcasts of baseball games. Those are the little plugs you hear meshed into the game action such as “with that RBI double the Orioles have scored the First Financial First Run of the Game” or “and now here’s Terry Collins with the Samsung Galaxy call to the bullpen.” There are a gabillion of those. Mostly radio, but increasingly on TV too.
Sandomir’s article counts them and notes that their use is expanding. Greene neither approves nor condemns, using them as a larger point about how we’re living in a commercialized world so this sort of thing is inevitable. They’re both right about the points they make. There isn’t mention of the fact, however, that while drop-ins are ubiquitous, they aren’t new or really different than that which we heard even in the alleged Golden Age of Baseball.
Mel Allen used to do drop-in ads for Yankees sponsor Ballantine Beer, coining the term “Ballantine Blast.” As in “Mantle drives one to right … it’s gone! There goes another Ballantine Blast! How about that!” At other times the Yankees were sponsored by Getty Oil. The announcers would refer to homers as “Getty Goners.” Obviously that didn’t happen 60 times a game but it did happen during what were often the game’s highlights. What we’re seeing now is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.
And to be honest: I sorta don’t hate the drop-ins. I actually kind of like them on some narrow level in that it reminds you that you’re listening to a local broadcast. National games and even a lot of local TV games have gotten so slick with standardized national commercials and advertisers. Bud and Pepsi and big movies and everything else are all over the place. But if you listen to a radio broadcast you hear ads for muffler shops and local restaurant chains and other weird things unique to an area (and in my case foreign to me as I listen to a lot of out-of-town radio broadcasts).
I like hearing those ads for the same reason I like driving on older highways instead of interstates: it’s a small part of America that, for now anyway, is resisting the standardization that is so prevalent. It’s not “pure” or fantastic or anything — it’s still just an ad, or a motel or diner or what have you — but there was a time when you could travel in this country either literally or virtually and be exposed to weird stuff you don’t see in your town. The digital age and national advertising initiatives are helping erase that weird stuff the same way the interstate highway system has erased the apparent differences in communities. And that’s kind of a bummer.
So let’s hear it for weird brands of local sodas — if there are any left — sponsoring a stolen base. Or some local insurance agent with a surname that is common in Minneapolis but weird elsewhere sponsoring that collision on the basepaths. They’re not as good as some old highway through that forgotten town, but they’re the closest things we have to that in baseball.
Oh, and for no reason: