Spidey Stunt Is an Insult to Tradition

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It was appalling. It was sacrilegious. It was short-sighted. And, yes, it was ... base.

The announcement by Major League Baseball that the pristine white bags at first, second and third this summer would bear ads for the "Spider-Man" movie sequel wasn't a shock because it was money-grubbing; naked greed has long since corrupted the national pastime at every other level.

What was shocking was how stupid the decision was.

Advertising on walls and scoreboards, of course, has always been a part of baseball's tableau -- but walls are there to define and protect. Within their confines must reside only green grass, ruddy dirt and square bags of pure white -- an aesthetic central to the tradition, beauty and enduring appeal of the game.

To reduce the field of dreams to just another ad medium is not only to destroy the last surviving link to baseball's pastoral roots, but to flaunt the very commercial aspect of the game fans most resent. This Bud Selig discovered very quickly.

What's particularly bizarre about this episode is how MLB missed the obvious-obvious because it is obvious, and especially obvious because it's baseball's own marketing strategy. For 10 years, MLB has labored to neutralize fans' gathering sense of betrayal by cultivating their veneration of tradition: retro uniforms, natural turf and billions of dollars invested in modern stadiums designed to evoke old-timey ballparks.

Incredible that the same marketers, seduced by a few bucks and the borrowed interest of a cartoon superhero, would become bagmen for Hollywood.

Chalk it up to lessons learned. Maybe we merely shrug as commercial messages encroach almost everywhere in our lives: elevators, schools, beaches, urinals, even human foreheads. That's because we know there are often benefits to suffering a word or two from the sponsor. But there are some places too sacred to be sullied. The altar is one. The coffin is another.

And so is the diamond, which -- as other advertising has long reminded us -- is meant to be forever.

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