Giving 'Em Fitz: Playing ball and pitching it all

Ryan Howard has driven in 14 runs in the month of August after a four-RBI night on Saturday. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Ryan Howard has driven in 14 runs in the month of August after a four-RBI night on Saturday. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 17, 2011

There's much about baseball to miss.

Two-hour games. Interesting quotes. Slap-hitters. Between-inning silence.

But perhaps the one vanished element I pine for most is the hometown hero doing cornball commercials for local companies.

That genre's productions tended to be so painfully forced, so cheaply produced, so campy that they were irresistible.

"Hi, I'm Rip Repulski of the Phillies. Hitting .205 for a last-place team can be exhausting. So whenever I need a lift between innings, I always reach for a Goldenberg's Peanut Chew. They're rich in vitamins, they taste great, and they seldom melt in your uniform pocket, no matter how much you sweat."

Go back now through an old Life magazine (ask your grandparents) and you'll see ball players pushing carcinogenic cigarettes as cures for sore throats, or bragging about their $4.99 Timex, or noting that they'd rather drink Yoo-Hoo than champagne.

The heyday of these ads was the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, local manufacturers (ask your grandparents) clamored for Phillies stars.

Richie Ashburn appeared in commercials for Phillies cigars, Tastykakes and Frank's sodas, even though he was a pipe smoker and a diabetic.

Teammate Robin Roberts must have had as many area endorsements as victories. I can recall his smiling face shilling for virtually everything - Gem razors, Philco TVs, car dealers, swim clubs.

It couldn't have been easy for those guys. Curt Schilling aside, baseball players avoid the spotlight the way vampires duck sunlight. But Roberts, Ashburn, and countless other ball players swallowed their pride and feigned a fondness for mattresses, sauerkraut, or bologna.

Since neither likely earned more than $50,000 a year playing ball, they did it to pay the bills, to keep Black Cherry Wishniak and Krimpets on the kitchen table.

That's what's changed. These current Phillies stars are looking for tax breaks, not salary supplements. Ryan Howard, for example, makes more in one year than the entire American League did in not just one but several 1950s seasons.

As a result, in Philadelphia baseball, pinstriped pitchmen have become as rare as empty seats.

Cole Hamels, whose voice is better-suited for the role of Mimi in La Boheme, has done a few spots. Cliff Lee has a deal with a local auto dealership.

The most active Phillie on the local-commercial front seems to be Shane Victorino. The Complyin' Hawaiian, in fact, has by default become the unlikely public face of the franchise.

For whatever reason, many of the team's bigger stars just don't do - and certainly don't need - this sort of public promotion. Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay, and Chase Utley, who would be a great spokesman if only he spoke, are for the most part advertising absentees.

Though all of them perform the many duties their contracts stipulate - public appearances, work for their designated charities - it's increasingly clear that the days of Clay Dalrymple's promoting Kissling's Sauerkraut are gone.

These guys play in Philadelphia, but most of their connections to the community end there. What makes Rollins or Utley Philadelphians other their uniforms?

Their primary residences are elsewhere. Their off-seasons are spent elsewhere. Their lives would be little different if they played in San Francisco or Phoenix.

The Dipper at 75

Sunday is a significant anniversary in the sporting history of Philadelphia.

Seventy-five years ago, on Aug. 21, 1936, Wilt Chamberlain was born here.

The city's greatest athlete grew up one of nine children in a house at 401 N. Salford St. in West Philadelphia. It was a 10-minute walk from there to Haddington Recreation Center, where he learned to play basketball.

How well and fast did the 7-foot-1 son of normal-size parents learn? Well, here are just four things he did while still in high school at Overbrook:

Scored 71 points in 24 minutes against Roxborough in his junior year.

Scored 90 points, including 60 in a 10-minute span, against Roxborough as a senior, even though Roxborough was trying to hold the ball.

Scored 32 points in a city championship loss to West Catholic despite being covered by four players the entire game.

Scored 800 points in his first 16 games as a senior, just 12 fewer than the total of Overbrook's opponents in those games.

Last weekend, at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., a teenage boy read aloud some of the notations below Chamberlain's Honor Ring photo, his voice rising in incredulity with each additional fact.

"Scored 100 points in a game . . . Averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds in the '61-'62 season . . . Still holds 50 NBA records . . ."

"That," the boy said to his father, "is sick."

Five predictions

1. Charles Barkley will win a major before Lee Westwood does.

2. Tiger Woods will get rid of his swing coach, his caddie, and his facial hair.

3. Howard Eskin-less WIP will surrender to 97.5 the Fanatic and switch to an All-Salsa-All-The-Time format.

4. Though the 2011-12 NBA season will be scrapped, the 76ers will manage to set an all-time attendance record.

5. ESPN will end the charade, buy all four major sports leagues, and do with them what they damn well please.


Giving 'Em Fitz: '

Wilt remembered

Frank Fitzpatrick reflects on the legend of

Wilt Chamberlain as the

Big Dipper's 75th birthday approaches.

philly.com/fitz


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, Giving 'Em Fitz, at www.philly.com/fitz.

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