Yesterday was Mother’s Day, which means MLB diamonds were awash in pink ribbons, pink wristbands, pink shoes, pink shoelaces, pink batting gloves, pink necklaces, pink sleeves, pink-laced baseballs, and so on, all in the service of raising awareness of breast cancer. Reed Johnson of the Braves even wore pink sanitaries under his stirrups, which I believe is a first.
Lurking beneath all of this, however, was a subplot that didn’t get as much coverage as it should have (although Phil briefly mentioned it yesterday).
Here’s the deal: You know those pink bats that players use on Mother’s Day? It turns out that Louisville Slugger is the only bat manufacturer allowed to put its logo on those pink bats — an exclusive status that it purchased by making a large donation to the breast cancer charity group Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Other bat manufacturers can make plain pink bats, as long as they have “no ribbons, corporate logos, distinguishing marks or names of charities are included on the bat.” The bat manufacturer MaxBat violated this rule by producing pink bats with its own logo and shipping them to several MLB players. Those players were told that they couldn’t use the pink bats because of the MaxBat logos. Just to make things messier, two of those players are Nick Markakis of the Orioles and Trevor Plouffe of the Twins — both of whose mothers are breast cancer survivors.
After Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports broke this story on Friday night (his piece is excellent — highly recommended reading), MLB issued a clarification, stating that MaxBat and any other bat manufacturers could include their logos on a pink bat — as long as they made a contribution to Komen for the Cure.
What a disgrace. There’s plenty of blame to go around here. In descending order of loathsomeness:
• MLB: I’m not sure which is worse — designating an official bat of cancer awareness or then deciding that you can blackmail other manufacturers into making a donation to your designated charity. The whole thing is disgusting and really shows how the culture of branding and sponsorship has overtaken any semblance of common sense. I mean, the idea here is supposedly to help save lives, not to worry about logos or to push some corporate marketing agenda.
• Louisville Slugger: Once Jeff Passan broke the story, Louisville Slugger issued a bunch of tweets and statements trying to save face. They pointed out how much they’d donated to cancer research over the years, blah-blah-blah. But the whole point of charity and philanthropy is to be, you know, charitable and philanthropic. You don’t do it with one eye on your image and another on your balance sheet, and you definitely don’t do it as part of marketing plan designed to freeze out your competitors. If Louisville Slugger really cared about cancer research, they wouldn’t worry about whose logo was on a freaking bat and they wouldn’t want any sort of exclusive status. They’d welcome pink bats from other manufacturers, logos or no logos.
• Komen for the Cure: By now people are starting to realize that Komen is primarily just a cog in the corporate marketing machine. (There was even a movie about that in 2011. You can see the trailer here.)
• MaxBat: This whole mess could have been avoided if MaxBat had simply shipped plain pink bats, without their logo, per MLB’s rule. On the other hand, it’s a ridiculous rule, and we wouldn’t have known about all this if MaxBat hadn’t violated it. So I’m kinda glad they did.
A Louisville-based journalist suggested that the whole thing was no big deal because MLB would look the other way if anyone used one of the banned bats. We’ll never know, though, because Markakis followed the absurd rule and didn’t use his pink-labeled MaxBat. Ditto for Plouffe. Ditto for for Adam LaRoche. So congrats, MLB and Louisville Slugger — you maintained your precious brand integrity.
I’m lucky enough not to have had my life touched by breast cancer. But cancer, in its other varied forms, is no abstraction for me. It killed my grandmother, my brother, and both of my sisters-in-law. It would have killed my father if an intestinal problem hadn’t killed him first. It is currently killing one of my dearest friends, who I’ll be visiting this weekend, probably for the last time. I want the thing solved and cured; I don’t want a bunch of corporations behaving like 12-year-olds over who gets the credit and how much additional pink merch they can sell along the way.
But even if you’ve never dealt with cancer in any capacity, it shouldn’t be hard to see how this episode reflects everything that’s wrong with corporate branding and sponsorship in sports. Given the number of folks who ended up with egg on their faces here, MLB will probably change the rule next season. But what really needs to change is the mentality that led to the rule in the first place.
(My thanks to reader Marty B. for the photo of Reed Johnson’s pink sannies.)
OMFG: My latest One-Man Focus Group column is about a comically bad product line from Cracker Jack. I had fun with this one, and I think you will too. Enjoy.
Show & Tell update: Participants, objects, and stories from the latest installment of Show & Tell are now available on the S&T website.
Membership reminder: Purple Amnesty Day — the one and only day of the year when you can order a purple-inclusive Uni Watch membership card — is this Friday. Mark your calendars, etc.
Uni Watch News Ticker: “Word on the street” is that the ’Skins are scrapping the neck roll on their white jersey. I asked the editor of that site what he meant by “word on the street,” and he said, “One Redskins employee told me, ‘Oh, yeah, Nike confirmed the change a few weeks ago,’ and then a few other employees agreed with him.” So there you go. … Here’s a good photo gallery of the Bills’ rookies getting fitted for their new helmets and other gear, and here are similar galleries for the Broncos and Chargers (all from Rocky Lum). … New kit for the Leicester Tigers (from Josh Jacobs). … Also from Josh: Awesome new striped socks for the Seacoast rugby squad. … “I live in Foxborough, Mass., about a mile from Gillette Stadium,” writes Jon Conti. “I brought my car in for a repair at Rodman Ford, which is across the street from the stadium and whose lot serves as a parking area during games. Tucked away downstairs in their service department is this random display case of old NFL helmets. Unfortunately there wasn’t anyone around to provide some history as to how and when they got the collection. But I believe the Rodman family has had the dealership for decades and has a business relationship with Kraft, so I’m assuming they also were tied in with the Sullivans back in the day.” … The Dalai Lama wore a purple, swoosh-emblazoned, U. of Portland visor the other day. “That’s wrong on so many levels!” says Mark Snider. … New kit for Bayern München (from Todd Usher). … “Here’s a music video by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the guys behind the hit song ‘Thrift Shop,’” says Andy Otto. “In this song, titled ‘Flight,’ Macklemore attacks Nike, challenging Phil Knight, the Swoosh, and Jordans. It talks about the obsession with the brand and its cult status.” … No photo, but an interesting observation from Beni Boyter, who writes: “While watching Round One of the Players Championship, I noticed something I’ve never seen before. Tiger Woods was leaning over to putt on the 17th hole and the camera was at an angle behind him. The middle belt loop on his pants featured his interlocking ‘TW’ logo. I have followed golf and specifically Tiger for years. I also work in men’s golf merchandising and have three pairs of pants from this year’s Nike TW collection. Those pants don’t feature this logo, but Tiger’s do. Looks like another chance for Nike to put one of their logos somewhere on their products.” … New 10th-anniversary logo for the Australian soccer team Adelaide United. “I have to say I’m impressed with the look of the whole thing,” says Adelaide resident Kasey van Puijenbroek. “Fan reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.” … New logo for Paris St. Germain (from Mark Fisher). … Cardinals closer Jason Motte had season-ending arm surgery last Tuesday. But he showed up in a local bar in a Cards jersey a few days later (from Jim Walaitis). … New logo for Nissan (from Mike Cooperman). … This is pretty funny: a history of ballpark nachos (rare non-Pittsburgh-centric contribution from Jerry Wolper). … Oregon athletics is auctioning off its VW bug helmet car (from Andrew Greenblatt). … Norris Cole of the Heat suffered a torn jersey on Friday night (screen shot by Kawika Asuncion). … Steven Wojtowicz notes that Ike Davis has been using Justin Turner’s bat. … Wanna see some fascinating uniforms? Check this out. That photo was taken on Friday in Karachi, Pakistan. Not sure if the uniformed guys are police or EMTs. Either way, pretty wild uni. … The 16th item on this trivia list is about the Kentucky Wildcat logo. I’d never heard that one before, and it sound apocryphal. Anyone care to chime in? (From Kurt Esposito.) … The Cubs’ batboy had an upside-down helmet logo on Saturday (good spot by Frank Manganello). … Odd move on Saturday by the Reds, who wore their “Los Rojos” jersey and their road BP cap. … Here’s a nice shot of international volleyball officials’ jersey patches (from Jeremy Brahm). … New bullpen buggy for the Rochester Red Wings (from Ryan Hare). … The Florida Gators softball team has been wearing striped white stirrups over white sannies (from Kevin Wright). … Someone at last Tuesday’s Isles/Pens game showed up wearing a Nets-style Islanders jersey (from Aaron McHargue). … Check out this UNC baseball player wearing a shinguard on one leg and a foot guard on the other. Alex Kupchak says that’s actually one piece of equipment, with the lower portion detached and worn on the other foot. … Here’s another cream-vs.-white college baseball game: Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt, from Saturday (from Josh Claywell). … As most of you know, the Indians have been wearing the solid-navy block-“C” helmets for all games this season. “But for Saturday’s game, catcher Carlos Santana wore a blue helmet with a red bill and the block ‘C,'” says Chris Marcinko. “That’s a look that hasn’t been worn since the mid-1980s.” Sorry, no photo. … Someone has been committing a string of bank robberies while wearing a Jets jersey (thanks, Brinke). … The Red Sox’s game notes still use the outdated Blue Jays logo (from John Sheehan). … Here’s a really unusual baseball jersey format. “I wonder if this was an economical way to recycle a jersey — by sewing a patch over the top of the old name instead of removing it,” speculates Pete Woychick. … Maple Leafs’ goalie James Reimer took a shot to the facemask in the first period yesterday. “He came out for the second period with a different mask,” says Aaron McHargue. “Then, seven minutes into the second period, he put his original back on after the equipment manager made adjustments. Within a minute, he put the replacement back on.”
Battle of the Uniforms: My ESPN.com colleague Jim Caple and I have put together a “Battle of the Uniforms” project that will roll out today (similar to the “Battle of the Ballparks” series that Jim handled last year). Basically, we’ve set up a uniform bracket, and readers will get to vote on the winners. There will also be sidebars written by me and Jim, slideshows, videos, and so on. CHeck it out here.