Monday, August 21, 2006

DHL Hometown Heroes

If you've come within 5 channels of a baseball game on TV recently, then you've seen the commercials for "DHL Hometown Heroes." In it, some MLB merchandise gets delivered to a sports bar, and the bartender says soemthing like, "Albert Pujols, he's the greatest." Whereupon the Babe Ruth plaque comes to life and barks about "I hit 714 home runs!" An Ozzie Smith baseball card and a Cal Ripken newspaper chime in (both players playing themselves) as does a Honus Wagner baseball card (played by some man with a giant prosthetic chin). Ozzie talks about his stolen bases, and Wagner says, "In my day, we didn't have bases; we had rocks." I've never heard of a rock before, but oh well.
The gist of the commercial is to get fans to vote for the DHL Hometown Heroes. My first thought was, "What's a hometown hero?" My second thought was, "Why would I want to vote for one?"
Going to the website, I find that it's simply a fan vote for "the most outstanding player in each club's history." I don't know why there's some pressing need to vote on this now, or why anyone would be passionate about such a vote. This came completely out of nowhere, although it's not only gotten an obnoxious amount of TV time, but it's also available in ballparks; fans can vote there, just like with the All-Star Game.
You have to register before you can vote, with one of the requirements being that you enter your phone number. I deselected the option that allows for mobile updates from the MLB, but I still don't trust the MLB with my phone number. Nevertheless, as a committed journalist (or something), I went ahead with the voting. The catchphrase is "It's About Time We Settled This." Yes, because fans have been waiting for years for some corporate-sponsored chance to vote on which baseball player they like a whole lot.
There are five nominees for every team. Which creates several problems. Sure we can quibble with which 5 Yankees to go on the ballot, but how in the hell do you pick the 5 best Devil Rays of all time? The MLB came up with: Wade Boggs, Carl Crawford, Roberto Hernandez, Aubrey Huff, and Fred McGriff. Even the Phillies have got that beat (Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Chuck Klein, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt). Although none of them are as odd as seeing Todd Stottlemyre's name on the list (for Arizona).
My larger point is, why did this award even happen? There was no fan impetus for it, nor is there any pressing business or PR need to have such a generic, random vote. But the MLB is pushing this hard; not just with the TV ads, but everywhere else.
After the voting, you get this message:

The Hometown Heroes winners will be announced in a three part series on September 26th, 27th and 29th on ESPN. The show will showcase the winners' greatest career moments and highlight each of the nominees on the official Hometown Heroes ballot. Tune in to ESPN to see if your Hometown Hero made the cut.

Look out Monday Night Football, the three-part Hometown Heroes selection show will be the highest-rated program on cable. Three parts (I assume three hours) of hearing why Rusty Staub was such a good Expo, or trying to make fans remember who Luke Appling was.
So why did this award happen? Here is my suspicion: DHL, not content with simple advertisement and endorsement, bought itself an award. This is not exactly new; the official award given to the best relief pitcher in each league is the "Rolaids Relief Man" award. I'm sure Rollie Fingers and Trevor Hoffman were thrilled to be so closely associated with acid reflux. Anyhow, at least there was some merit in giving an award to the otherwise award-less relief pitchers. But while even the Latino Legends team had a specific purpose and a sense of belonging (whatever its insincere origins), the Hometown Heroes Awards are as bland as you can get. But I'm sure that if DHL paid enough money, MLB would be glad to give official recognition to the award as a form of uber-advertising. It's not as crass as putting the Spider-Man 2 logo on the bases (which almost happened), rather it's sad in a dull and pointless way. I can't imagine ESPN clamoring for the broadcast rights to the show; it was probably stuck in the package deal they recently signed with the MLB. "Yeah, you can have 100 games a year, and we'll give you a 2% discount if you take this three-hour wad of time." "*Sigh*, okay."

If you're curious, here are the nominees for each team (thus saving you the trouble of giving the MLB your phone number):

Baltimore Orioles: Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson
Because it's the "hometown" heroes, members of the St. Louis Browns weren't included, even though it's the same franchise. But really, who would notice? Are George Sisler and Vern Stephens going to bump any of these guys off the list? I voted for Ripken.

Boston Red Sox: Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Cy Young
Jim Rice makes the list . . . well, I don't know why. He's a sentimental favorite for some because he's not in the Hall of Fame, but there are about a dozen better candidates for the spot. Like maybe, I don't know, PEDRO MARTINEZ?! Hell, Jimmie Foxx didn't make the list for the Athletics, so he should be on here. Foxx only spent the end of his career with the Sox, but then so did Cy Young. Why they put Young here instead of Cleveland is beyond me. I voted for Williams.

Chicago White Sox: Luke Appling, Harold Baines, Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso, Frank Thomas
No Shoeless Joe? Understandable, but why not him when Pete Rose is on Cincinnati's list? The nature of the awards are much less "ouststanding players" than fan favorites, which is why a good-but-not-great star like Baines makes this list over Hoyt Wilhelm or Billy Pierce. Or Ted Lyons, Dick Allen, Robin Ventura ... I voted for Thomas, in spite of his ugly exit from town.

Cleveland Indians: Earl Averill, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker
They're all Hall-of-Famers, but none of them have played in FIFTY YEARS. Couldn't we at least throw somebody like Kenny Lofton out there to spice things up? Or hell, I'm surprised that Rocky Colavito didn't make the list, given that he was a Cleveland institution for years. That seems to be what these awards are really about; and who nowadays remembers Earl Averill? I voted for Speaker, a forgotten legend.

Detroit Tigers: Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Alan Trammell
If only the Cooperstown voters were so kind to Trammell. Depending on how PC the voters are, the award will either go to Cobb (the amazing asshole) or Greenberg (the gentle Jewish giant). I voted for Cobb, but my heart was saying Gehringer.

Kansas City Royals: George Brett, Amos Otis, Bret Saberhagen, Mike Sweeney, Frank White
Despite their youth, the Royals have had some really good players. Sweeney is on the list to give it SOMEBODY who's played for them in the last 15 years. I voted for Brett, duh.

L.A. Angels: Jim Abbott, Don Baylor, Rod Carew, Chuck Finley, Tim Salmon
This may be the oddest selection of any of the teams. Abbott was the one-armed pitcher who had a couple really good years in Anaheim before blowing his :ahem: arm out and never pitching that well again. He was good at his peak, but Dean Chance and Andy Messersmith were better. So was Don Sutton, Ken Forsch, Troy Percival and any number of other top Angel pitchers. Baylor was an outfielder-DH who won the MVP in 1979. He was good, yes, but he was only with the team for a couple of years; his inclusion instead of longtime-Angel Brian Downing is astonishing, especially since Downing was a better player who was with the team longer. Carew was a Hall-of-Famer, but he came to the Angels for the tail end of his career. Bobby Grich should be here. Carew was a better PLAYER than Grich, but he wasn't a better Angel. Finley and Salmon I can live with. I voted for Salmon, by default more than anything. Where is Jim Fregosi?

Minnesota Twins: Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett
I half-expected them to put Johan Santana on here, but great though he is, he's only been with the team for 5 years. No love for Bert Blyleven here, but that's no surprise. The main problem is that the Twins used to be the Washington Senators for the first half of the 20th century. Granted, the Senators didn't have many superstars, but they did have Walter Johnson. Johnson isn't a "hometown" hero for the Twins, no. But the MLB put Lefty Grove on the Oakland A's list, even though Grove's major league career was spent entirely on the other side of the Rockies. If Grove is on the A's, Johnson is on the Twins. I voted for Killebrew, but I could have gone for Puckett, who will probably win.

New York Yankees: Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth
Surprised? Neither am I. Although given the nature of the awards, I wouldn't have been surprised to see Derek Jeter here. But whose place is he going to take, really? I voted for the Babe.

Oakland A's: Dennis Eckersley, Lefty Grove, Rickey Henderson, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson
As I said, Grove's inclusion here is odd, as he played with the Philadelphia Athletics. Philadelphia and Oakland are separated by a really big continent. And if you're going to split hairs to put Grove on the team, then as I said, Walter Johnson should make the Twins. Other than that, recent history dominates. No McGwire, Canseco, or Giambi, but, uh, that's to be expected (talk about your bad PR). Bending the rules to include the Philadelphia A's makes for some odd choices, because there are several old A's (Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Plank) who would knock Eckersley and Hunter right off this list. But, of course, recent history prevails. I voted for Grove by a hair over Rickey.

Seattle Mariners: Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Ichiro Suzuki
No surprises here. It's sad not to see Alvin Davis on the list, but then all these guys have earned it. I voted for Edgar, just because I know everyone else will vote for Griffey.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Wade Boggs, Carl Crawford, Roberto Hernandez, Aubrey Huff, Fred McGriff
Imagine if the Yankee list looked like this: Roy White, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Mark Koenig, Wally Pipp. Except all those players were much better than these 5. Boggs is a legit HOFer, but his career in Tampa was honorary only; he was playing out his days to get to 3,000 hits. I voted for McGriff, who was actually good over a fair number of years.

Texas Rangers: Rusty Greer, Ivan Rodriguez, Nolan Ryan, Jim Sundberg, Mark Teixeira
Rusty F'n Greer? I appreciate that Greer was an underrated hitter . . . but Rusty F'n GREER?! The early years of the Rangers are entirely absent; I'd much prefer to see Mike Hargrove, Toby Harrah, Buddy Bell, Charlie Hough, and even (dare I say) Juan Gonzalez on the list ahead of Greer and Sundberg. I voted for I-Rod.

Toronto Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Tony Fernandez, Pat Hentgen, Dave Stieb
Thanks for the homer, Joe, but other than that, you weren't much. Replace Carter and Hentgen with Delgado and Halladay, and I'm a happy man.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, Matt Williams
It's amazing how someone can mean to write "Curt Schilling" and accidentally type in "Todd Stottlemyre." That's a hell of a typo. I voted for Johnson.

Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones, Phil Niekro, John Smoltz, Warren Spahn
Yay, hooray, Smoltz spent his whole career in Atlanta, but I'd prefer the guy with the 3 Cy Youngs as a Brave, Greg Maddux. And if you're going to select a third baseman from the Braves, it is not Chipper Jones; it is Eddie Mathews. I'm REALLY surprised that super-fan favorite Dale Murphy didn't make the list, but it is a tough one to crack. If the MLB really had balls, they'd add in "King" Kelly, a Boston superstar from the 1880s. He never played in Atlanta, but then neither did Spahn. I voted for Hank.

Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Billy Williams
A sentimental list for sentimental fans. You know, the Cubs haven't won a pennant since 1945; therefore it's odd that their 5 "most outstanding" players are all from the post-war era. But then, who would really vote for Mordecai Brown (besides me)? No room here for Brown, Hack Wilson, Frank Chance, Gabby Hartnett, or Billy Herman. Cap Anson was a racist, yes, but so was Cobb, and he's on here. And few people have meant more to Chicago baseball than Anson. I voted for Williams, because I think Banks is really overrated.

Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose
It's the Big Red Machine plus Robinson. I know it wasn't a glorious era, but could we throw a bone to the first hundred years of Cincinnati pro ball? Or the last twenty? Barry Larkin would slide nicely into Perez's place on this list. I'm really shocked he didn't make it. I voted for Morgan, but leaned toward Robinson.

Colorado Rockies: Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, Todd Helton, Larry Walker
The high-altitude Hall-of-Fame; it's like the NCAA Division II. I voted for Helton, who's legit.

Florida Marlins: Josh Beckett, Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Robb Nen, Dontrelle Willis
I know Gary Sheffield wasn't the congenial sort, but he's probably the all-time best Marlin in terms of pure baseball. And Robb Nen?! I voted for Willis by default, although if he makes the list, then so should Miguel Cabrera.

Houston Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Larry Dierker, Nolan Ryan, Jimmy Wynn
I'd go for Lance Berkman myself, but Wynn's hard to argue with; it gives the lineup more balance in terms of era. Hard to pick between Bagwell and Biggio; I chose Biggio.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider
The only non-expansion team who picked 5 players all from the same era. Not that I expect to see Zack Wheat or Dazzy Vance get a lot of write-in support. I voted for Jackie, and so will everyone else.

Milwaukee Brewers: Cecil Cooper, Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount
Gimme Ted Simmons instead of Gantner, and you've got yourself a deal. This list says a whole lot about the Brewers in recent years; the only guys who stand a chance to crack it are just now getting started. I voted for Yount, basically because he spent his whole career in Milwaukee.

New York Mets: John Franco, Tug McGraw, Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, Darryl Strawberry
Congratulations for being Italian in New York, Mr. Franco, here's your spot. Congratulations on being colorful, Mr. McGraw, here's yours. Let's start with Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, and Dwight Gooden. Hmmph. I picked Seaver, and it wasn't a hard choice.

Philadelphia Phillies: Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Chuck Klein, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt
I'd actually take Bobby Abreu ahead of Klein, even though the latter is in Cooperstown. Other than that, this list looks great; we could have used Grover Cleveland Alexander or Jim Bunning here, but other than that, it's fine. I picked Schmidt. If he doesn't win, then the Philadelphia really are pure evil.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente, Ralph Kiner, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner
There were a whole lot of good Pirate teams in the first two or three decades of the 20th century, and all they have to show for it is Honus. It's a joke to see Kiner and Maz here instead of Paul Waner and Arky Vaughan, but the list skews modern, I understand that. If he stays with the team, Jason Bay could break in here. Other than that, this list exposes the singular fact that the Pirates have been horrible at finding really good pitchers. Wilbur Cooper is the all-time wins leader for the team, and that's not an inaccurate evaluation of their standards. Sure a guy like Vern Law is a great pitcher, but when he's the best you've done in over 100 years, there's something wrong. I voted for Honus, but I think Clemente will win.

St. Louis Cardinals: Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Ozzie Smith
Again, we see that the list is based more on public perception than quality. They should just take out that part about "most outstanding;" we all get what this is. That would explain the presence of Brock and Smith. Both were great players and legit HOFers, but St. Louis has seen a LOT of great baseball over the years. 5 years in the league or not, Albert has earned his spot here. Albert has the potential to be as good as Stan Musial. But until he realizes it, he's not as good as Stan. I voted for Stan, who is remembered warmly for being such a great guy and consistent hitter -- but let's remember just how phenomenal he was at the plate for such a long time. Imagine Pete Rose with power.

San Diego Padres: Brian Giles, Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Jones, Dave Winfield
Giles has only been with the Padres for three years now and has obviously left his best seasons in Pittsburgh. Still, it's not a stretch to put him on this list. The problem was that, other than Gwynn and Hoffman, the Padres don't tend to hold on to their superstars for very long. Gwynn is, therefore, my pick, and should win going away.

San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Mel Ott
Again, they just "snuck" one New York Giant onto the list. Ott belongs, don't get me wrong, but so do a LOT of other New York Giants, perhaps the greatest National League dynasty of all time. I love Marichal, but he wasn't better than Carl Hubbell or Christy Mathewson. Bonds and Mays get their spots regardless, of course. I like McCovey, but think he's a bit overrated (just a bit). I voted for Mays, who should get 99.9% of the vote.

Washington Nationals: Gary Carter, Livan Hernandez, Brian Schneider, Rusty Staub, Jose Vidro
Out of necessity, they tried to balance the list between Expos and Nationals, and it just came out wrong. The fact that Brian Schneider was even CONSIDERED for this list is a joke. It's nice that we end with this one, as we get the biggest snub and the biggest mistake made on any team anywhere. Tim Raines is not on this list. He would get my vote in a heartbeat, but he's not on the list. If this is the public perception of Raines, then I'm afraid he never will make it to Cooperstown after all. And that's a damn shame. I voted for Carter, but in retrospect, I should have written in Raines.

Don't forget to catch all three parts of the special ESPN presentation! I might, just to celebrate the fact that we won't have to see those damn commercials anymore. Ugh.

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