|Ironman of commercials|
By Jim Caple and Darren Rovell
Page 2 columnists
If Fred McGriff reaches the Hall of Fame, there should be no Clemens-like controversy over which cap he should wear on his plaque. McGriff has worn caps for six different team in his career, none for as many as five full seasons, but there is one specific cap fans identify him with above all others.
"I think that could be the ugliest cap I've ever seen in my life,'' Dodgers teammate Ron Coomer said. "And the way it sits up on top of his head like it's about to blow off? Whew.''
Hey, it works. The Emanski Defensive Drills Video is the longest running sports commercial in TV history that does not include an offer for a free polar fleece or a football phone.
The commercial has run so many times that McGriff has had more screen time on ESPN than Chris Berman. It has run so many times on ESPN channels that anchor Kenny Mayne even references it after a player makes an error, saying, "Obviously, he has not watched Tom Emanski's Defensive Drills Video -- it's endorsed by Fred McGriff."
In fact, the commercial airs for the 100,000th time tonight on ESPN Classic, followed by a two-hour special, "The Making of the Tom Emanski Defensive Drills Video," hosted by Stuart Scott and Lisa Guerrero.
Actually, we just made that up. There is no two-hour special, and no one really knows how many times that commercial has aired on ESPN. We asked the research department three weeks ago, and they're still searching through all the programming logs. The last we heard, they were only up to 1997.
Suffice to say, the commercial has been on a lot longer than Emanski or McGriff thought it would be when they taped it in 1991.
How long ago was that? When he taped it, McGriff still played for the Padres, five whole teams ago. Gary Templeton was a teammate. He was a year away from leading the National League with 35 home runs -- that's right, 35.
"When we filmed the commercial, the hat on Fred didn't look that bad," Emanski said. "But it's OK, because it got the tape more publicity."
Emanski met McGriff when the first baseman was 18 and playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. At the time, McGriff hadn't played a game in the big leagues and Emanski was the director of a company called Baseball World that produced baseball instructional videos.
"He wanted to videotape my swing,'' McGriff said. "He slowed it down and broke it down on video, and I learned a lot about hitting from it."
The two stayed in touch often enough so that Emanski was more than a stranger in 1991 when he called McGriff to film an endorsement for the Defensive Drills video.
"I said I was coming out with a new tape, and I was wondering if he could do a commercial for us," Emanski said. "He said 'OK,' and on a gentleman's agreement he did it."
That is not the way it worked with Nike and LeBron James.
Emanski flew to Chicago, where the Padres were playing the Cubs, and McGriff read off a couple lines in front of the camera. It might be the most emotional, moving performance by an athlete in a commercial since Muhammad Ali endorsed the Roach Motel. The advertising world has never been the same.
Even though the spot has been running for more than a decade, Emanski said McGriff never received a formal contract. "He gets a small percentage of the proceeds from the video sales, but for the money he gets from this, he would hardly be able to pay off a portion of his taxes," Emanski said.
So how much has the Crime Dog's endorsement been worth? Not even Emanski can say.
"I think it gave the tape more credibility, but whether it does better than the other tapes that no player endorses, I couldn't tell you," said Emanski, whose involvement in the project was supported by investors who continued to pay to air the commercial on ESPN.
Despite the obvious age of the commercial and the goofy blank cap, McGriff has never asked Emanski to stop running the ads. And thank God he hasn't. Otherwise, what would we have to watch at 3 a.m.?
"It's good he did it," Coomer said. "Anything we can do to promote baseball for kids is good. We spend a lot of time promoting baseball videos and computer games, but those things have no relation to the actual game and getting kids to play it."
Exactly. Who knows how many kids have been inspired by McGriff's commercial to buy the Emanski video, work hard on their defensive fundamentals and give baseball their all so that one day, they too might reach the major leagues and earn the right to wear the blank cap of champions?
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com.