OUR (BASEBALL) MAN IN HAVANA: ADMAN RECALLS EFFORT TO BRING U.S. AUDIENCES TV GAMES FROM CUBA IN 1959

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When I read that American baseball players were returning to Cuba this spring to play an exhibition game March 28, Baltimore vs. the Cuban team, it brought back memories of fall 1959, when American ballplayers played in Cuba the last time.

At the time, I was head of my public relations agency, Cooper, Burns & Golin, Chicago (now Golin/Harris Communications). I had a client that produced the first national TV bowling show, "Championship Bowling," and then the first national golf TV series-medal play matches featuring the top golfers of the day-called "All-Star Golf."

WINTER BASEBALL

In addition to heading the PR agency I was associate producer of these two nationally syndicated series. I suggested to Pete DeMet, the producer, that the emerging flexibility of videotape made it possible to satisfy the great interest men have in baseball by televising baseball in the winter.

The idea was rejected. So I decided to invest in a pilot, which I funded. I found the only videotape machine in America at that time that could be rented, chartered a small plane and flew into [then Cuban dictator Fulgencio] Batista's Havana to create the first of a 26-week series called "Winter Baseball."

IN HAVANA

How anyone trusted me with this delicate $75,000 videotape machine I'll never know.

But there we were, in Havana, only to be told by a military captain that our papers were missing one signature and we'd have to rev up the engine and return to Tampa. However, I was also informed there was a little-known Cuban law that said $20 passed discreetly could solve the problem-which we did, and we were on our way to Havana stadium to record our pilot.

What our Cuban advance man failed to tell us was that the truck he had rented was vintage 1930 with hard rubber tires. We had to travel the cobble-stone streets with our delicate $75,000 toy.

The problems we encountered are too numerous to mention. But we did create a format and a pilot of a baseball game, 72 minutes in length, with the promise that every game would last exactly 72 minutes.

FORMING A SYNDICATE

We found a lawyer in Chicago, Alex Spare, who formed a syndicate and raised $350,000, which was the cost of 26 90-minute TV shows.

Between the time we made our pilot and were ready to shoot our series, a minor event occurred: Cuba had a revolution.

There was a new dictator-and an American TV producer trying to make new friends with a pocket full of $20 bills.

In the fall of 1959, we established our headquarters in a first-floor studio of the local TV network, CMQ. We now were the proud owners of two delicate $75,000 machines. While CBS and other networks were housing their videotape machines in dust-proof glass-enclosed rooms, we were bouncing machines back and forth to the stadium. The networks were charging $75 per splice for editing videotape. We taught Cuban girls to do 150 edits a week, for which we had to pay them $26-per week, that is.

CASTRO'S SPEECHES

Meanwhile, back at the studio, we would record Fidel Castro's four- or five-hour speeches with the hope of showing him our prize possession. (At that time, they had no video equipment in Cuba.)

As he became "redder" and "redder," even we realized we'd be deader and deader if we persisted in making him aware of another American business he could confiscate. So we bolted the door and continued our work.

In our TV series, our 26th game represented our championship game. We invited Castro to throw out the first pitch, but he insisted that he throw more than one. He also insisted on five "outfielders"-right, left, center and a machine gunner on each foul line.

A group of American ballplayers was allowed to play winter baseball. They had to be either a minor leaguer, a first-year major leaguer or a native of Cuba.

By the time the season and our series ended in early 1960, all American baseball players and TV producers were happy to flee Havana. Our problem was sneaking $250,000 of precious TV equipment out of the country. We did, but I can't tell you how. I still may have relatives in Cuba. After all, Cooper is a common name.

Mr. Cooper, who in the mid-1960s became McDonald's Corp.'s first national marketing manager, is now chairman of CLP Corp., Homewood, Ala. His company, a

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