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#EdgarHOF - Day 30

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The promotion that wasn’t

“this is my ‘meh’ face”

It’s Saturday, which means it’s “today in Edgar promotions” day, but today I’m throwing you a curveball (which Edgar has deposited into the right field seats) and celebrating The Promotion That Wasn’t. That seems to fit right in to the holiday spirit, right? The Promotion That Wasn’t. It could be a Lifetime movie, slotted in between The Town That Forgot How To Christmas and Santa Claus Has a Hernia. Anyway, step into the Wayback Machine with me, and let’s visit 2003. Viagra has been on the market for five years: patented in 1996, but widely available in 1998, Viagra prescriptions then [don’t say explode kate don’t say explode kate don’t] explode to 40,000 in that year alone. And yet the little blue pill lacks a powerful spokesman, and runs the risk of being reduced to a one-liner for lazy comedians everywhere. They are able to secure the services of Bob Dole, that beacon of virility, in an ad campaign, but it is somehow not enough. Sex in the City airs an episode in 1999 that comes dangerously close to Pfizer’s worst pfear: women laughing at them. (All is okay, however, when by episode’s end, Samantha takes the little blue pill to enhance her own sexual experience. Such a trailblazer, that one.) Yet the drug company needed someone as a spokesman who represented raw masculinity of a certain age. They needed a sport where men could play into their forties and not be too drool-addled to say lines. They needed a baseball star. Enter Rafael Palmeiro:

THE PILL IS A DIAMOND SHAPE AND BASEBALL IS PLAYED ON A DIAMOND. Imagine being the marketing person who blurted that out at 2 PM on a Tuesday. You would have been carried out into the office park like a king and stuffed full of so many Bloomin’ Onions and premixed frozen drinks. Now, they just needed a spokesman, someone who represented a rugged, blue-collar, hard-working style of baseball: a real man’s man. Pfizer settled on Rafael Palmeiro, who agreed because he believes in better living through pharmaceuticals, but guess who they wanted first? That’s right, it could have been our own Edgar saying “I take batting practice, I take ground balls, I take Viagra.”

The pitch was rejected both by the Mariners organization and by Martínez, who could have made a cool two mill by agreeing to promote the drug. But he didn’t love the idea, and nor did his wife (Holli, a philanthropist, kickass advocate for inclusivity in her job at TMobile, and overall awesome person). Ballpark promotions aside—Edgar had very little input into those—the star has always been careful about what he chooses to promote, often opting for things that honor his heritage (Plaza Bank, the first Latino-owned bank in Washington, or Zacatecano, an artisanal mezcal [leave the “mezcal is Mexican” arguments out of this]). To play off of that, though, how interesting is it that Pfizer, in searching for a baseball star to represent raw masculinity, would chase not one, but two Latino superstars? In fact, as Michael Butterworth notes in his book Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity, drawing from the work of Roberta Newman, both men were lighter-skinned English-fluent Latinos: men who straddled the line perfectly between common cultural perceptions of Latino machismo and Anglo accessibility. Thus, Martínez’s refusal to participate in this campaign gains an added layer of significance: a rejection not just of allowing one’s likeness to be used to popularize the little blue pill, but also a resistance against a kind of cultural tokenism.

Edgar didn’t always have control over the likenesses that were distributed at the ballpark into greedy fists (some of which we have covered in this series, many more of which wait on deck). But he had control over this, and was willing to turn down more money than most of us proles will see in our lives because he thought it didn’t reflect well on him, and so today we honor him for that.