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10 Brilliant (Or Puzzling) Baseball Stadium Promotions

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For many fans, the promise of a great game is plenty of enticement for a pilgrimage to see their local Major League Baseball team play. Others are a bit choosier and need to be lured in with promotions and special events. If you fall into the latter camp, here are some offbeat celebrations and giveaways that might just have you hitting up StubHub and heading to the park this summer:

1. Meet Arnold Umbach

Some teams like to use the prospect of meeting franchise stars to bring fans to the park. The Atlanta Braves have a pretty nice slate of alumni coming back for appearances, including Dale Murphy. There's also the legendary Arnold Umbach. You know, the Arnold Umbach! Who? Exactly. Umbach, a right-handed reliever, put up a nice 3.12 ERA over the course of his Braves career, but said career probably isn't fresh in even die-hard fans' minds. Umbach only pitched 49 innings over the course of his entire MLB career; he tossed 8 1/3 innings in 1964 for the Milwaukee Braves, didn't play in the Majors in 1965, and then went 40 2/3 innings in 1966 for Atlanta. And that's it. So why is he the featured alumni draw at a Braves game? Good question. Head to Turner Field on June 7 and ask him yourself.

2. Garry Maddox Ribfest

Longtime Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder Garry Maddox was a magician with the leather; he won eight Gold Gloves over the course of his career and helped bring a World Series title to Philly in 1980. He's also a man who enjoys his barbecue. On August 8, he'll be hosting the eighth installment of the Garry Maddox Barbecue Challenge at Citizens Bank Park. Get hungry for an event in which restaurants and pitmasters try to outdo each other in the smoked meat department, and fans get to scarf down the cooks' tasty wares. [Image courtesy of BlindPigBBQ.net.]

3. 1989 Mark McGwire World Series Replica Jersey Night

Go to the Coliseum for the Oakland Athletics' game on Monday June 22nd, and you can leave with a Big Mac replica. This one should dovetail nicely with Syringe Night and "We're Not Here To Talk About the Past" Night.

4. 1989 San Francisco Giants Team Reunion

The A's aren't the only team that's honoring the 20th anniversary of the Bay Area Oakland-San Francisco World Series tilt. The Giants are hosting a reunion during their June 13 game against Oakland. The conversation at this one is bound to be worth the price of admission; "Hey, remember when we got swept in the World Series and a giant, deadly earthquake struck the area and delayed the whole thing by 10 days? Ah, precious memories"¦"

5. Wine, Women, and Baseball Tickets

Ladies, have you ever tried to get a group of girlfriends together for a game, only to be shot down because there wouldn't be enough wine at the festivities? The Minnesota Twins have heard your cries, and they're here to help. For just $47 you can buy special ladies-only tickets that include a pregame wine tasting, a gift bag, and "Pamper Yourself" stations.

6. Stitch "˜n' Pitch Night

stitch-pitch.jpgSick of going to Milwaukee Brewers games and not having a fellow needle artist sitting in your section? Well, just wait for the Brew Crew's July 29 game against the Nationals. On this night, the Needle Arts Association and the team are reserving over a thousand outfield loge box seats especially for folks who know their way around a thimble so top sewers can mingle, meet shop owners, and attend teaching sessions. Can't make it to Milwaukee? There's a good chance your home team is having a Stitch "˜n' Pitch Night of its own.

7. Very Specific Workforce Appreciation Nights

When the only thing lower than your squad's payroll is your attendance figures, you've got to do whatever you can to pack some folks in. Credit the Florida Marlins for being promotion-crazy to fill the seats. While you've already missed last Friday's Lawyer Appreciation Night, if you hurry, you can still get seats for CPA Appreciation Night on June 7th. This will be like a second Tax Day for everyone's favorite number crunchers.

8. Empty Seat Night

This exciting (if unintentional) twist on a ballgame will be available at every game between now and the end of the season at the new Yankee Stadium.

9. Get Cheap Seats In Exchange For Your All-Star Ballot

Most teams are pretty shameless about reminding you to fill out an All-Star ballot for the hometown guys when you're at the park. The Chicago White Sox have taken things to a whole new level, though. The team's website is currently offering a deal where in exchange for filling out an online ballot, they'll email you discount codes for $5 or $10 off tickets to several September games. Is this ploy ridiculous? Oh, yes, but when your starting second baseman has a whopping .642 OPS like Alexei Ramirez does, it's not like anyone's going vote for him on his own merits.

10. Dog Day

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Don't want to leave your pooch at home when you head to the ballpark? If you're a Blue Jays fan, you won't have to make that decision on July 26th, when the team hosts Dog Day.


This event likely takes the cake for funniest disclaimer or warning for an MLB promotion; the team's site includes the following in bold type: "Do not bring a female dog in heat."

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retro-wrestling, eBay
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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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retro-wrestling, eBay

For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Courtesy of Dave Drason Byrzynski

Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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