NIKE, GATORAGE RESIST JORDAN BASBALL TIE-INS--FOR NOW

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In 1951, Bill Veeck, owner of the old St. Louis Browns, filled a stadium by putting a bat in the hands of 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel and sending him to the plate against Major League pitching.

The diminutive rookie walked on four pitches and never again played in the "Big Show."

Mr. Veeck, who later went on to own the Chicago White Sox, was chastised by league officials for the stunt. But the crowd loved it.

Michael Jordan is no Eddie Gaedel. But the baseball ambitions of the 6-foot-6 basketball and endorsement superstar once again have purists crying foul.

Mr. Jordan's supporters argue his bid to join the White Sox is neither a publicity stunt nor a vain attempt to remain in the public spotlight, but an outgrowth of his competitive spirit. Under-scoring that point, companies like Nike and Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade brand are showing restraint in capitalizing on his baseball endeavors.

Even Sara Lee Corp., with its Ball Park franks a seeming natural, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"It presents interesting marketing opportunities," said David Falk, ceo of Falk Associates Management Enterprises, a Washington sports management company, and Mr. Jordan's attorney. "But we are concerned about jumping-on-the-bandwagon marketing and making this into a fad."

Mr. Falk said he will discuss potential baseball-theme marketing efforts with companies that Mr. Jordan represents in April, after spring training has ended and his playing status becomes clear.

While Mr. Jordan seems to be headed straight for a minor league team, Mr. Falk and marketers said that won't rule out baseball- theme efforts.

Gatorade breaks its latest Jordan spot today from Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, Chicago. Although the marketer strongly weighed a baseball spot-and may still do one-it's sticking with basketball for now.

"It's just the frame of reference our consumers best know him in, and it has nothing to do with the credibility issue of him playing baseball," said a Gatorade spokeswoman.

The spot features Mr. Jordan going one-on-one with a cocky young man who's bragged to friends he can beat the superstar. The man, of course, is proved wrong.

Conspicuously absent from the spot is Gatorade's "Be like Mike" tagline. The spokeswoman insisted the line isn't being retired but said, "right now we're looking for new and fresh ways to use it."

Nike is marketing a limited edition line of Michael Jordan Chicago White Sox hats and T-shirts but has no plans to produce "Air Jordan" baseball shoes or ads just yet.

"Michael is once again demonstrating why he's the embodiment of `Just do it.' It's the best thing that's happened to baseball in years," said Scott Bedbury, Nike director of advertising.

Baseball players haven't proved to be marketer-friendly in recent years. The sport's dropping TV ratings have lowered players' profiles, and fans have been turned off by scandals and ugly salary disputes.

"It's telling when Jordan stands next to real baseball stars, and he's getting all the requests for autographs while they're not given the attention their talents are due," said Brian Murphy, editor of Sports Marketing Letter.

Sports marketing experts say purists shouldn't decry the attention drawn by Mr. Jordan; it may spark up a stodgy sport. Said Team Marketing Report Editor Alan Friedman: "It's a great story, it's tremendous publicity and it could attract new people to the sport, just like he did for basketball."

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