Jose Bautista via Instagram
Jose Bautista via Instagram

Baseball's Golden Ticket: The MLB Lifetime Pass

Jose Bautista via Instagram
Jose Bautista via Instagram

The first man to ever receive a lifetime pass good for any Major League Baseball game in the country never once used it.

In acknowledgment of his status as the nation's leader, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) gave President Theodore Roosevelt a card granting him entry to any field he desired. The president, who was fond of combative sports like boxing and football, openly disliked the plodding game, and it’s unlikely he ever crossed a turnstile with the pass in hand.

Plenty of others have, though. Since Roosevelt was presented with a pass in 1907, hundreds of major league players, umpires, coaches, and staff have received a “golden ticket,” good for free admission to any of the MLB’s 30 stadiums—with a few asterisks.

“It’s a recognition program,” Phyllis Merhige, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of club relations, tells mental_floss. “It’s for anyone with eight years in uniform or 25 years in the front office.”

The pass—once paper and leather-bound, now a gold-covered alloy—entitles the recipient to enter any regular-season game of his or her choosing, along with one guest. Stadiums have instructions on recognizing the pass at their press or VIP windows. (You don’t need to call in advance.) Seating can be determined by each ball club, but it’s not likely you’ll be finding yourself behind home plate during a playoff game; the pass isn’t valid for postseason attendance.

Merhige and a colleague, Katy Feeney, handle distribution of the passes. At the start of each season, they both get a list of American and National League players who could become eligible during the year. Merhige tries to hand the passes to players as they come through MLB’s New York headquarters while in town for Yankee Stadium or Citi Field games; other times, they’ll be forwarded through a team’s public relations staff.

“Players will sometimes call the union office looking for them,” Merhige says. “A few think they’ve put in the eight years and think it’s gotten misplaced.” It usually hasn’t; they just happen to be a few days short of the minimum.

Vada Pinson Jr. via Facebook

While the pass may have been wasted on Roosevelt, it was a few decades before players were able to relish the opportunity. In 1935, Ford Frick, then-president of the National League, gave former Cincinnati Red Stockings shortstop George Wright a pass that was one part generosity and one part public relations: the gift made headlines.

He also gave one to Babe Ruth. Although Ruth played the majority of his career in the American League, the AL had no such pass, and it seemed absurd that the “Bambino” couldn’t walk into his own association’s games. That changed in 1936, when gold and silver passes began circulating for players with between 10 and 20 years of service in either league.

“There were about 400 passes by the end of 1936,” John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, says. “The perks were the same, but men with 20 years got the gold pass.”

Thorn isn’t sure when the tenure limit was lowered to eight years, though he suspects the leagues just “wanted to give out more passes rather than fewer.” And while it’s greatly appreciated—José Bautista recently Instagrammed his newly-acquired pass—Thorn believes many don’t use it since players have existing relationships that allow them to get into games regardless. “It’s more of an honor,” he says. “Most can afford to pay the $20 ticket. I would guess most put it in a drawer.”

Not every pass has been circulated among presidents or MLB alumni. The league has often recognized great accomplishments—Charles Lindbergh got one after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, while 24 astronauts got passes in 1965—and great hardship in global incidents.

“The first time we honored victims was in the Pueblo incident, which was a Naval ship that was impounded in North Korea,” Merhige says. The USS Pueblo crept into foreign waters in 1968 on an intelligence reconnaissance mission. After being captured, 82 crew members were imprisoned, and many were tortured. They were released after 335 days.

Granting the Pueblo crew some small token of appreciation led to MLB offering the pass as a symbol of gratitude to returning POWs in Vietnam and, most notably, the 52 Americans held during the Iranian hostage crisis: they had been held captive at a U.S. embassy in Tehran from 1979 to 1981. (Their rescue was dramatized in the film Argo.) Though not the exact pass given to players, it offers the same benefits—admission to any baseball stadium in the country.

Whether the ticket is given to a player or a national hero, there’s no transferring it. “I’ve had people telling me their grandfather had one and they just found it,” Merhige says. “They ask if they can use it. They can’t.”

General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.


The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.


Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.


Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.


In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.


Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.


Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.


Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.


Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.


MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.


Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.


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