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The Best and Worst Minor League Stadium Promotions

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The Peoria Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, joined the list of LeBron James' bashers when it staged a "LeBron James NBA Championship Replica Ring Giveaway" after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat for the NBA title.


There was no ring, of course.


The Chiefs claimed to explore the possibility of skipping the fourth inning to mirror James' disappearing act in the fourth quarters against Dallas.

Minor league baseball promotions are almost always creative. Many times they're hilarious. But this one didn't even rank with the best of the LeBron James Nights let alone make my Top 10 list.

Why?

Well, if you're an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, who last won the World Series 102 years ago and pretty much own a trademark on the terms "Lovable Losers" and "June Swoon," you might want to think twice about making fun of somebody for not winning it all at age 26.

There's a fine line between promotions that work and promotions that reach too far. Three quick examples of the latter:

Ted Williams Popsicle Night

After the story broke in 2002 about the son of the great Boston slugger having his father's body cryogenically frozen in Arizona, the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings gave popsicles to the first 500 fans in a 2003 game.

Salute to Indoor Plumbing Night

The West Virginia Power had this idea to close the regular bathrooms and have fans use portable toilets to aid in the appreciation of indoor plumbing. The Health Department nixed it. But the promotion went on, complete with a version of a team's regular Hamburger Helper skillet toss.

"We took some brownies and mushed them up and made them look like poo," promotions director Kristin Call told the Washington Post. "It was a poo toss that night."

Michael Jordan Impostor Night

It wasn't billed that way.

The Utah Flash of the NBA Developmental League promoted a one-on-one grduge match between Michael Jordan and former Jazz player Byron Russell.

Jordan had trash-talked Russell at Jordan's Hall of Fame induction. Russell challenged him to a game of one-on-one with the winner's pot ($100,000) going to charity.

Except Jordan never responded and Flash owner Brandt Anderson continued the charade anyway by trotting out a Jordan look-alike. You can guess how that went over. Anderson had to refund people's money.

The best of minor league promotions are funny. At the very least they should do no harm.

(And, of course, since I'm from Cleveland and it's my list, at least one should poke at LeBron James)

10. 1K Backwards Race
The Charleston RiverDogs raised money for charity by holding a backwards race around the warning track (three laps). Who could be expected to cover .62 miles without an aid station? The RiverDogs set up a beer "hydration" stand at the halfway point. Prizes were awarded to the most leisurely competitor and the one with the biggest beer belly.

9. Salute to Cows
The minor-league baseball Wisconsin Timber Rattlers staged several contests, including a mooing competition. A lucky fan received a year's supply of cheese curds. The video board headshots of Timber Rattlers' players? Yep. All sported milk mustaches.

8. Billy Donovan Night
The Fort Myers Miracle had fun with University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan leaving the school to coach the Orlando Magic, then reversing his decision. The Miracle served waffles. Fans could get their ticket money back if they didn't feel sufficiently entertained, but only after negotiating a deal with a local lawyer that included having to make a free throw. Somebody named Billy Donovan was asked to throw out the first pitch but changed his mind and didn't show.

7. Rod Blagojevich Prison Jersey Night
This one came from the world of minor league hockey. The Las Vegas Wranglers wore gray and black prison striped jerseys with "ILLGOV" on them. The opponent, the Bakersfield Condors, wore orange prison garb. There were bars on the penalty box. My favorite part: The referees wore blue prison guard uniforms.

Footnote: In a 2006 game, the Wranglers held Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night.

6. 50th Anniversary Salute to Bubble Wrap
The Lowell (Ma.) Spinners handed out squares of Bubble Wrap and asked fans to simultaneously pop it in the third inning. The 3,692 squares of popped Bubble Wrap wasn't recognized as a world record, but Guinness did recognize the Spinners-sponsored world's largest game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" held in 2004 when 432 people participated.

5. Circle of Life Weekend
Quad Cities covered birth (a night for expectant mothers), school (a one-year scholarship to the University of Iowa), marriage (an all-expenses paid wedding) and death (an all-expenses paid funeral) in one long weekend of baseball.

There were on-site Lamaze classes and concession stands stocked with things pregnant ladies crave.

"We want our fans to know that cradle to grave the River Bandits have you covered," Quad Cities owner Dave Heller said in a press release.

4. Backstabbers Night
The Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets held a LeBron James roast 10 days after he announced via "The Decision" on ESPN that he was leaving the area where he grew up to join the Miami Heat.

Anyone with a Ohio driver's license got in free. They got a seat in a section staffed by a grief counselor.

James was inducted in the Backstabbers Hall of Fame, joining Brutus, Judas, Benedict Arnold, football coach Nick Saban and others.

Baby back ribs were for sale in the concession stands. Manager Dave Machemer announced on live TV where he was going to dinner that night.

3. Redundancy Night
The Altoona Curve has paid tribute over the years to Brett Favre's retirement pledges, Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl wins, vagabond coach Larry Brown's introductory press conferences and the string of non-title seasons for Cleveland sports teams.

Identical twins get in free. So do people from New York, NY, Jersey City, NJ, Kansas City, KS and Virginia Beach, Va. And people with similar sounding first and last names. "That goes for you, Dave Davies," the press release reads.

Everything is announced twice, including players coming up to bat.

2. Spam Carving Night
The Reading Phillies raise money for charity with a competition for closet spam carvers (you know who you are).

Knives and toothpicks are supplied, though contestants can bring their own carving tools. (We pause here to consider a team on a long losing streak watching fans file into the park hoisting knives and chainsaws.)

A 2009 entry -- Demon Dog -- looks like an alien Schnauzer.

The team's press release says "exposure to elements will quickly transform Spam's appealing pink-tinged luster to a distressingly monochrome shade of brown."

Don't get them wrong. It looks like a Rodin sculpture compared to what the West Virginia Power have cooking in their skillets.

1. Awful Night
The Altoona Curve give an awful promotional item (a noisemaker for instance) to the first 1,000 fans.

Awful Nights -- yes, plural -- have included bottomless cups, music from David Hasselhoff and William Shatner, a helium balloon toss, a Dry Water Slide Contest, a non-celebrity autograph session and clips from Ben Affleck movies.

There is a fireworks display. On the video board.

In a 2004 game, the Curve players got in the spirit of the evening by giving up five runs in the top of the ninth and losing to the Akron Aeros.

Not on purpose apparently.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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