Today, thousands of potential voters in swing states across the country will pick up their phones and hear a gruff but polished voice say, “Hello, this is Curt Schilling of the World Champion Boston Red Sox. ” That sounds good, doesn’t it?
Before they can figure out why World Series hero Curt Schilling is calling them at 8 a.m., or even more befuddling, why he’s calling to pimp himself, he’ll continue, “These past couple of weeks, Sox fans all throughout New England trusted me when it was my turn on the mound. Now you can trust me on this: President Bush is the right leader for our country.”
To most voters, such a trivial occurrence might rate alongside the release of Ashlee Simpson’s newest live CD.
Most of the time, I’d be content to just write off Schilling’s campaign pitch as another in the tragically embarrassing vein of Ben Affleck, Whoopi Goldberg and Bruce Willis — celebrity blowhards who swear that people in the United States care what they think about ethanol subsidies and tariffs on steel.
But the Schilling of today is no ordinary celebrity.
After toppling the Yankees in the League Championship Series with one of his socks visibly bloodied from a ruptured ankle tendon, Schilling transcended the realm of mortal hero. When he limped to the mound five days later and dominated the world-beating lineup of the St. Louis Cardinals he cemented his status as the rare sports icon — a Willis Reed for the new millennium, a player whose exploits will grow into legend as fathers tell their sons where they were when Curt helped end the Curse.
The point being, to millions of long-suffering Red Sox and baseball fans Schilling’s thoughts matter. Advertisers throughout Red Sox nation recognized this long ago and jumped at the opportunity to get their products on his image’s bandwagon. As difficult as it has been to watch television in October without being saturated with political ads, it has been more difficult to watch television in Massachusetts without seeing Curt hawking everything from Ford to Dunkin Donuts.
If anyone wanted to reach diehard New England sports fans, Schill was the way to go — and that was before his heroic performances in the playoffs elevated him to the national scene.
The people he appeals to are an odd breed. The people for whom Nov. 2 means one thing and one thing only: the start of the 2004-05 NBA season. The people who will flip to TNT tonight instead of CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, preferring to watch Shaq don his new black and red uniform against the Denver Nuggets than to find out the future of our country. “Screw that,” they say. “Me wanna see Shaq dunk.”
Advertisers know that these fans are some of the most susceptible to advertising. That’s why they create special ad campaigns, pay exorbitant product placement fees and do whatever it takes to appeal to fans during game broadcasts.
If the heightened media coverage of the 2004 election has taught us anything it’s that the line between politics and advertising was blurred out long ago. Thus, Schilling’s recruitment should come as anything but a surprise. Even less surprising should be the fact that his endorsement might actually sway some undecided voters Bush’s way.
If you think I’m blowing Schilling’s potential out of proportion, you should know that Schilling’s Thursday morning endorsement of Bush on “Good Morning America” created a panic in the Democratic party.
Within hours, the Kerry campaign had lined up Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner and general manager Theo Epstein to stump with Kerry.
For me, getting a phone call from Schilling would rank right up there with the time someone misdialed a phone sex line and got me instead, i.e., funny, but not too special.
But a television commercial with Curt? That’s a whole different ballgame.
I can see it right now. Like Robert the Bruce in the climactic scene of Braveheart, George W. rallies his conservative armies while riding atop a Humvee on a Midwest prairie yelling, “You’ve bled with Schilling, now bleed with me!”
I’d even bet Mel Gibson would direct.