Beer and baseball go together like nothing else. But on this day in 1962, Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick decided that Mets manager Casey Stengel was a bit too familiar with beer for his tastes, and fined him $500. How did that come about?
While today’s baseball/beer sponsorship landscape is dominated by multinational behemoths like Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors, it was a very different story back in the early 1960s. At that time the name of regional beer brands were far more common on billboards, scoreboards, and on tap at the ballpark.
In Baltimore it was Natty Boh. In Chicago it was Old Style. In Minnesota it was Hamm’s. Narragansett Beer sponsored the Red Sox. In Cleveland it was Carling. Stroh’s was the beer of the Detroit Tigers. Schlitz had the Kansas City Athletics, Falstaff was on tap at Los Angeles Angeles games, Iron City was the beer of the Pirates, and in Cincinnati you’d be drinking a Hudepohl at Redlegs games. In the Bronx, where Ballantine’s was the beer of Yankees, each home run hit by a Bomber would be referred to as a “Ballantine Blast” by the Voice of the Yankees, Mel Allen.
The Mets began play in New York in 1962 and when they did they got a local beer sponsorship of their own: Rheingold Beer.
Rheingold, headquartered in Bushwick, Brooklyn, had long spent pretty big money on sponsorships. Their ads featured John Wayne, Sarah Vaughan and the Marx Brothers. They also sponsored The Jackie Robinson Show which aired on local radio every Sunday evening in the 1950s and early 1960s. They likewise spared no expense in baseball: Rheingold paid $1.2 million in cash to sponsor the Mets on TV and agreed to purchase $200,000 worth of tickets for promotional giveaways. They, of course, would run tons of billboard and print ads all over New York as well.
Each year, Rheingold ads would feature a new “Miss Rheingold,” who would be selected from hundreds of young models and actresses who applied, with the winner picked via votes cast at bars in the New York area. The 1962 “Rheingold Girl,” as Miss Rheingold was sometimes called, was Kathy Kersh. During spring training and in the early part of the season, Stengel and Kersh appeared in this ad:
Seems pretty benign to me, but this ad is what caused Frick to fine Stengel $500. Why? Because, according to baseball’s rules at the time, while players and managers could shill for anyone they wanted, they could not appear in uniform in beer or cigarette ads. For that they had to be wearing street clothes.
The best part about this is that Frick and Major League Baseball actually didn’t care that much. Indeed, they didn’t really enforce the rule in the first place. In this case, however, they had to because, as the rumor at the time went, Stengel’s former employer, the New York Yankees, and/or their beer sponsor, Ballantine’s, complained vehemently to Frick and demanded that he put a stop to it. It was also rumored that Rheingold paid Stengel’s fine for him, realizing that they got a bigger bump out of the ad due to the hubbub than they would’ve if no one said anything. $500 was some pretty cheap advertising.
Either way Stengel, after being fined, admitted that he knew the rules, but told the press that “[Rheingold] has been so nice to us that I didn’t have the heart to turn them down when they asked me.”
Not everyone was as chill about it. An editorial about the matter ran in the May 9 issue of The Sporting News, with The Baseball Bible saying, “This represents a hypocritical attitude by baseball. The game is most willing to take millions of dollars from breweries, but refuses to let anybody in the game exploit the product.”
I don’t know who wrote that, but he was a baseball writer after my own heart.
Like most baseball controversies this one would blow over pretty quickly, and the players at the heart of the drama would all go their separate ways.
Miss Rheingold, Kathy Kersh, would go on to a modest acting career, making appearances on shows like “My Favorite Martian,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Burke’s Law,” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” in which she co-starred in one episode with a young woman named Sharon Tate, with whom she shard a manager and with whom she became close friends. Kersh’s most notable credit is from a couple of episodes of “Batman,” in which she played Cornelia, one of The Joker’s sidekicks. Kersh would go on to marry Burt Ward, who played Robin on the show but they’d soon divorce. Holy irreconcilable differences, Batman!
Kersh’s last IMDb credit is for a movie called “The Gemini Affair” from 1975, in which she starred with Marta Kristen from “Lost in Space” fame. According to the plot synopsis, it was about a hopeful young actress who is lured to Hollywood by the seduction of fame and fortune but who soon comes to realize that the seedy Hollywood lifestyle is not for her. It was, you may have guessed, a low budget erotic exploitation flick, directed by the guy who would later direct “G.L.O.W. The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” and who seems to be the inspiration for Marc Maron’s character on the “G.L.O.W” show on Netflix. “The Gemini Affair” was reviewed in painful detail by “Schlockmesiters” in this video. If you don’t have the stomach for that, here’s Kersh in a screen shot:
That is not a Rheingold on her TV tray, it’s whiskey. But that’s fine because her reign as Miss Rheingold expired 12 years earlier.
Stengel would continue to manage the Mets — and appear in Rheingold ads in his civvies — until midway through the 1965 season. He’d die at the age of 85 in 1975. Rheingold Beer would only outlast him by a year, ceasing operations in 1976. Like a lot of local beer brands, it simply couldn’t compete with the beer outfits from St. Louis and Milwaukee who, while once local, were quickly coming to dominate the world.
The Mets, reportedly, are still an ongoing concern.
Also today in baseball history:
1901: Chicago defeated Cleveland 8-2 in the first American League game. The game lasted 1 hour and 30 minutes in front of a reported crowd of 14,000 at the Chicago Cricket Club.
1945: Albert “Happy” Chandler is voted commissioner to succeed the late Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He wasn’t the owners’ initial favorite:
— #BaseballandtheLaw 🏛 ⚾️ (@baseballandthe2) April 24, 2020
1956: Umpire Frank Umont is the first man in blue to wear glasses in a regular season game when he officiates a Tigers A’s game with spectacles. There were probably jokes.
1987: Rickey Henderson becomes the first player in baseball history to hit a home run off two different 300-game winners in the same game. His first is a solo homer in the eighth off of Phil Niekro. He then hits a two-run shot in the ninth off Steve Carlton. Despite Rickey’s homers, the Indians win in walkoff fashion, 6-5.