Saturday, June 30, 2007

Of Cheap Beer and Baseball: Part II

Intrepid freelancer D.G. Dunford continues his moving piece on the ever declining role that cheap, locally produced beer has played in the game of baseball. Read Part I here.

I was born in the Bronx in 1977, a time and place that brought the world both the Son of Sam serial killer and a Yankees World Series title. This title was the first in the new Yankee Stadium. Previous championships were won in the old Yankee Stadium, which was overhauled in 1973-75, and prominently featured signage from the Yankees' old beer sponsor: Ballantine Ale, which was brewed in nearby Newark, New Jersey. Each of the other New York City teams had prominent sponsorships : the Brooklyn Dodgers were sponsored by NYC-based Schaefer (their logo was prominently displayed on the scoreboard, which was in play on the right-centerfield fence near a less-prominent but more famous sign that said, "Hit Sign, Win Suit"), the New York Giants were sponsored by Knickerbocker, and Rheingold Beer advertised very heavily with the then-fledgling New York Mets. It was possible, then, that if you lived in New York City at this time, your brand loyalty with beer would also indicate the baseball team you supported.

Correlations between locally-brewed cheap beer were certainly not limited to New York City. In Pittsburgh, a pseudo-tank of Iron City Beer lay just beyond the outfield fence of the long since replaced Forbes Field. Not too many pictures of this exist. Apparently, if you squint really hard while looking at pictures of Bill Mazeroski's famed 1960 World Series-ending home run (which led the hometown Pirates over the Yankees), you can spot it. Cincinnati's Crosley Field's center-field scoreboard proudly displayed an advertisement for the regionally-brewed Hudepohl. (As an aside, we had some Hudepohl once. The year was 1998, the place was Mansfield, Ohio, and the price was right, 50 cents a glass. I don't know if I could give it a Beer Advocate-worthy breakdown, though).

On the West Coast, the minor-league Pacific Coast League served as a primary baseball outlet for fans of the game who didn't have major league baseball teams and stadiums until the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the teams in this league played in Seattle. The name of the team? The Rainiers. The team shared their name with the iconic locally-brewed cheap beer, although (to be fair) both took their nickname from the nearby mountain range, so a direct correlation cannot be established. However, you could definitely drink a Rainier while sitting in the stands and watching the Rainiers.

The relationships between locally-brewed cheap beers and baseball weren't limited to the pre-1970 era of baseball, although that is certainly the "boom" time for this relationship. When Major League Baseball returned to Baltimore with the Orioles team in 1953, the team was owned by Jerrold Hofberger, the owner of the National Bohemian brand of beer, who purchased the team from Bill Veeck and moved the team from St. Louis. The Orioles subsequently were affiliated with "Natty Bo" (and their wonderful, winking mascot) until the team's ownership passed to onetime Jimmy Hoffa lawyer Edward Bennett Williams in 1979.

Today, most major-league ballparks feature Budweiser, Coors, or Miller products. The St. Louis Cardinals play in Busch Stadium, which is technically named after a locally-brewed cheap beer, but when one "heads for the mountains of Busch," as the advertisements once sang, they're heading for a beer that's available on a national level. Additionally, the Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers play in stadiums that reflect area brewers (Coors and Miller, respectively), but these brands of beer are, again, too national to qualify. There is one exception, however; the Chicago Cubs feature Old Style Beer at Wrigley Field, and have since 1950; while Old Style is now owned by the Pabst Brewing Company and brewed by Miller, we'll give them a pass for the sake of this piece because, well, it's a cheap beer that is brewed and marketed locally (within 100 miles of the ballpark) and despite the changes in ownership, there have been effortswithin the Chicagoland area to maintain the tradition of Old Style ingeneral. Also, despite Budweiser's efforts to sway the Cubs with sponsorship dollars, you can still get a fresh pour of Old Style at Wrigley and that's a pretty cool thing.

As I write this in 2007, almost every major-league Baseball team has made a conscious effort to position themselves with retro-styling. The majority of uniforms hearken back to old-school styles, and new ballparks across the country, from San Diego to Baltimore and everything in between, are styled to look like the Crosley and Forbes Fields of yonder days. But those quirky relationships between teams and locally-brewed cheap beers are all but gone, and probably will never return. Ah, well.

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