Nike’s, “Chicks Dig The Long Ball” ad already has immense sexual connotations within its title, but as I watched the ad in full, I noticed three white baseball stars: Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine, all performing for their captive audience, but not given the same attention. The ad shows McGuire launching home runs or “long balls” during batting practice with two women gawking at his prowess. The ad cuts to Glavine and Maddux in envy of McGwire, prompting them to point out that they have Cy Young awards (baseball’s greatest pitching honor), but still no attention. The two, in search for their own groupies, proceed to purchase Nike gear, start working out, and practice their hitting abilities. Even after they too hit home runs, and are acknowledged by McGuire’s “sexy” cheerleaders, Glavine says to Maddux, “Chicks dig the long ball,” and both fist pump in celebration, until their ego’s are shattered by the women asking, “Have you seen Mark?” Nike’s ad pushes the boundaries of sexual connotations within mainstream advertising, while also depicting that the ideal man in baseball, is a muscular one.
In the ad, you see two completely different types of men. First you have the huge, bulky physical specimen, Mark McGwire, who’s home runs came as often as sunshine in San Diego. He literally was a machine when it came to baseball; McGwire, with the help of steroids, was an automatic notch for at least 30 home runs a season, and in 1998, the air date of this commercial, McGwire, and fellow slugger Sammy Sosa were chasing Roger Maris’ single season home run record, which McGwire claimed at the end of the season. The other two gentlemen in the ad were the scrawny and nerdy, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Both pitchers, who would be lucky to hit the ball 10 times a season, let alone a home run, find themselves on the outside looking in on the “ideal” baseball player. Unfortunately, they are under the impression that being attractive to women, in the terms of baseball, is to hit home runs, but the conclusion of the ad shows otherwise. In Harvey Green’s article, Living The Strenuous Life,” Green examines the advertisements by body builders pushing for men to adopt their trade to become real men. Green points out that an ad by Lionel Strongfort, a strong man, that had pictures of him towering next to small businessmen, with tag lines like, “Are you 100% man?” (250). Strongfort’s ad is eerily similar to the Nike ad, as we has the large McGwire compared to the smaller business type Maddux and Glavine. This advertisement shows that real baseball players have these mechanical bodies, where they push the limits of physical fitness and become these strong men, and our culture adopts these ideas with open arms. The gym boom, and machine training, along with steroid use are all examples of how this ideal man/baseball player must be big, large and in charge.
The sexuality of the ad almost goes unnoticed, in fact, the title seems to be the only hint towards sex, and the male member. After closer examination of the ad, at the 18-second mark, there is a billboard of Mark McGwire flexing his enormous bicep, while resting a shoe on it. The billboard says, “IT REALLY IS THE SHOES”, helping bring this correlation that the size of a man’s shoe is a direct representation of his penis size. Green points out another ad that Strongfort used aiming towards male impotence, promising to restore men of their inadequate members (252). Nike, again reflects Strongfort’s ad with the long ball ad by having the billboard claim, “It really is the shoes”, putting emphasis on McGwire’s shoes which mimic the size of his ridiculous biceps. The ad portrays common cultural belief that the size of a man’s bat gets the ladies going, and with the help of Nike shoes, it will help the average Maddux or Glavine become more appealing.
Nike has constantly used cultural norms t sell their product. When it comes to baseball, especially in the 90’s, better known as the Steroid Era, these huge men were plastered all over advertisements, and for most of the decade, baseball had never been more exciting. The ad pushed for more home runs in baseball, and pushed for these athletes to become these huge physical specimens because that is what the public and women wanted.
Green, Harvey. “Living the Strenuous Life,” Fit for America: Health, Fitness, Sport and American Society. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986, 219-258.
Nike baseball-Chicks Dig The Long Ball. YouTube, Film. 6 Feb 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtgzIFiul_w>.