Barbara Lippert’s Critique

B.V. (that’s before viewing), I didn’t expect much from McCann’s first work for Major League Baseball. This is a necessarily conservative client with, let’s face it, several problems, most recently steroid use and the salary issues between owners and players that make both sides look greedy, alienate fans and could still result in a strike. So with all that, I was expecting work from a 1950s-ish parallel universe, fake and forced, with an underlying disconnect that would seem, at best, poignant.

But that’s not the case. The spots obviously shy away from the hot-button issues but still manage a refreshing directness that connects.

These are speedy, chatty commercials filled with high-energy musings from unlikely sources: not the players or coaches or managers or average-Joe fans themselves, but a roster of youngish, seemingly random A- and B-list celebs. They’re aimed at the fence sitters—young fans who may catch an occasional game on TV but are not obsessed.

The spots work because they seem spontaneous and unscripted and conversational. (They largely are.) The stars bring up tiny, relatable, very contemporary insights about baseball—things that Ken Burns, with the beautiful archival footage and old guys musing about the great American pastime, might have missed.

“It’s their butts,” Jessica Biel says, speaking quite convincingly about the allure of “muscled, bulging men in their skin-tight uniforms” (and proving perhaps that Mary, the bad-girl eldest daughter she plays on Seventh Heaven, is not such a stretch).

Speaking of stretches, Carson Daly, here on camera with the everydude’s requisite three-day beard, says that if he were commissioner of baseball, he’d add a stretch before the seventh inning and get a DJ and plenty of “hot chicks down the sidelines.” I thought that since he left the screaming, naked-bellied female hordes at MTV to become a late-night talk show host, he’d also left behind all that Maxim-style testo-mania. But after further contemplation, by the end of the spot he adds, “I think dancing girls is really your way to go.”

As opposed to his recent Gap spot appearance as a stylish but blank-faced pod person riding a bike on an empty street, here Ashton Kutcher is so animated that he vibrates right off the screen, talking about how he could feel the energy three blocks away when Barry Bonds broke the batting record in San Francisco. Another viscerally energized fan is the oddly orange-faced Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray, talking about game strategy. He’s so full of tics and weird nostril slitherings that he’s easily the most annoying of the bunch.

The most affecting is Kathie Lee Gifford successor Kelly Ripa. Even if you’re not her greatest fan, you’ve got to admit her face is like a magnet onscreen, and she has a captivating way of storytelling. She confesses her husband’s baseball superstitions, and anyone who knows a maniacal fan can relate: If she walks into the room and Derek Jeter strikes out, “then you’re no longer allowed in the room.” The obsession is proved in the equally good companion spot, featuring her lesser-known (unless you watch All My Children) husband, Marc Consuelos. He talks about wanting to name his future-shortstop son Cruise (or Cruz?) so the moniker sounds right coming out of the announcer’s booth.

The passion mustered by this odd, ragtag bunch of celebs (all white, by the way, with the exception of D.L. Hughley), whose opinions you’d other wise dismiss, is somehow infectious. Seemingly disappeared actor Andrew Shue, getting a bit Dalai Lama, resurfaces to tell us that “Baseball is like life.” These spots certainly do put life—and a kind of offbeat, personal spin – into baseball.