Monday, April 9, 2007

On Deck: Sweet Lou Piniella--Advertising Star

(This is a re-post from a few days ago in honor of the Cubs home opener, which was lost to the Houston Astros.)

The last time I saw Lou Piniella play baseball was at a Yankees vs. White Sox game in the old Comiskey Park. He was the Yanks left fielder and was being ragged mercilessly by the Sox fans directly behind him in the bleachers. On the last play of the game, Piniella runs in to snare a weak fly ball. Upon catching the final out--and without breaking stride--he turns slightly around and gives the finger to the rowdy fans.
The crowd loved it and roared its approval.
You see, Chicago appreciates a guy who gives as good as he gets.
No one has a clue if new Cubs Manager Piniella will be the man who defies destiny and turns the Chicago Cubs around into a World Series winner (OK, I'd settle for division win this year--wouldn't you?). The 2007 home opener was played today.
But Piniella definitely has the stuff to become a full-fledged Chicago sports celebrity and, as a result, an advertising star and product endorser. Here's a few reasons why:
--This town needs some fresh blood. Piniella's earnest but boring predecessor, Dusty Baker, didn't exactly light up the place (poor guy would barely leave the dugout during a game). Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen? He's a hot-head and increasingly way too risky for conservative consumer product companies. Put your ad bucks behind him and run the risk he'll blow his lid after a loss and say something that insults someone or some group. Mike Ditka? Iron Mike is a master of the promotional game, but he's a football season force and definitely not one of the Boys of Summer. And Harry Caray, king of the local endorsements, is gone. (I'm not including Michael Jordan, who's in a whole different universe, like Oprah!).
--He knows how to play the media game. Piniella's no babe in the woods when it comes to dealing with pain-in-the-butt newspaper reporters and broadcasters. He toiled in New York City for many years as a player and manager. He can handle the relentless media pressure in a way that Baker, who came from the San Francisco Giants, never could or would.
--He's bilingual. Fluent in English and Spanish, Piniella has the potential to connect with the established English-speaking market and the area's growing Hispanic community.
--He's got spunk. Yeah, he's apt to crackle like a Roman Candle when a call goes against his team or a Cubbie screws up (as reliever Ryan Dempster has learned). But if he keeps the fireworks confined to the baseball field, the outbursts will only enhance his image as a determined leader--the kind of guy you want on your side or behind your product.
Also, my early impression is that Piniella is determined to hold his temper more than before. During spring training games, for example, he often looked bemused and bewildered as Cub players booted balls, over-ran bases and screwed up rundowns.
It's a good bet that Piniella will get along with his team, the fans and media. And as the season wears on, no matter how the Cubs fare, he'll ink deals with some of the area's bigger consumer product companies. Smart money says McDonald's is already looking at a way to use him. Maybe Motorola, too.
Sweet Lou is in the house. Who knows? Maybe the next time he flips the bird at Chicago fans--he'll be endorsing Kentucky Fried Chicken.

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