During Monday night’s telecast of the Tigers’ game against the White Sox, announcer Jack Morris criticized the life-sized photographs of folks in empty seats near the field in Chicago.
He was disappointed, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher told his audience on Fox Sports Detroit, because none of the cardboard cutouts stood up for the national anthem.
Morris’s quip – and screenshots of the faux fans – lessened the pain of another Detroit defeat and added a needed touch of levity to a grim, disorienting and truncated baseball season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But it also raised a legitimate local issue: Why are the Tigers in the vast minority of major-league teams who refuse to use these popular props?
Only eight of the 30 clubs are out-of-step with the 22 teams having fun with cardboard cutouts and, in some cases, raising funds for charities.
Many celebrities grace the box seats, on camera between many pitches. In Houston, the late President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, were seen.
Vacant Green Seats
In New York’s CitiField, you might spot Chipper Jones, the former Atlanta Brave who tormented Mets’ pitching during a long career. And in the grandstand at Oakland, there sat the actor Tom Hanks, who used to be a vendor at the Coliseum.
But in Comerica Park, all you see on TV is empty, green chairs.
What’s the problem?
Are the Tigers (a) against the idea; (b) considering the idea; or (c) about to announce they will join the crowd and display cardboard cutouts when they return to Comerica on Monday to play the Chicago Cubs?
“We are considering themed opportunities,” was the cryptic reply Tuesday night from Tigers spokesman Ron Colangelo.
Earlier, a spokesman for Major League Baseball said teams can be flexible and imaginative with few restrictions.
The clubs put the pictures on the cutouts and place them on the chairs after fans use the app “Ballpark” to send in the desired picture and pay a proper fee, which varies from town to town.
“Teams have their own guidelines,” the MLB spokesman said. “Some require fans to be wearing a team item like a cap or T-shirt.” He added that images “need to be appropriate for all audiences.”
So why don’t the Tigers find a good charity and then let their fans buy the rights to display themselves, their pets or cutouts of famous Motor City personalities for the TV cameras?
Diana Ross and Bob Seger could sit together in the front row and be annoyed by cutouts of Ted Nugent and Kid Rock, sitting behind them and making rude and crude noise.
Don’t forget politics. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could sit next to Betsy DeVos, the Michigander who is secretary of education, to chat about the pros and cons of opening the schools. Both these cutouts should wear face masks. Come to think of it, it might be best to keep these two at a safe social distance.
Local commercial icons could appear as well. Put the Vernors’ gnome next to the Big Boy who used to stand outside all those Elias Brothers restaurants. They could discuss snack food options not available at closed concession stands.
And don’t forget history! Imagine old Henry Ford I (the auto pioneer) next to Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the first European to settle here more than three centuries ago. They could discuss mass transit, including the merits of canoes vs. horseless carriages.
For variety, include a rogue’s row with White Boy Rick next to Jimmy Hoffa. They could sing Johnny Cash songs, recall Ron LeFlore’s career and contemplate the complex meaning of “going yard.”
In honor of Detroit’s great and heroic downtown statues, the Jolly Green Giant from outside city hall could sit next to Joe Louis. Imagine the Brown Bomber and the Green Giant in a heated debate about a dugout-clearing brawl.
Last but not least, don’t forget famous baseball players, now departed. Picture Mark (The Bird) Fidrych of the Tigers alongside Norman (Turkey) Stearnes of the Detroit Stars. That pair could dream up nicknames for current players. Come to think of it, the Tigers should add these two local heroes to the statue garden beyond the outfield fence.
Surveying the variety of prices and ideas for cardboard cutouts around baseball was Patrick Pinak of FanBuzz, who reported that the New York Mets charge $86 (they won the World Series in 1986) and the money is donated to the team's charitable foundation.
Big Spender in Chicago
The White Sox charge $49 and one guy bought 100 of them to show just himself. The Dodgers charge $149 to $299, depending on location. Like Dodger fans, the cutouts show up late and leave early.
The Reds charge $75, with money going to their Community Fund. The Texas Rangers also give money to a foundation and charge just $50. In Milwaukee, the Brewers also charge $50 and some cutouts are pets, including a monkey.
The Seattle Mariners charge a lowball price of $30 and -- should a ball hit your cutout -- the team mails you the ball.
Better than that happened in Los Angeles, according to Katherine Acquavella of MLB.com. A Dodgers’ fan named Austin Donley paid to see his own cardboard cutout on TV.
In a Hollywood ending, he did. Catcher Will Smith of L.A. hit a home run “and the ball cut right through the cutout,” decapitating the image bought and paid for by a guy watching on TV.