MINING MLB’S DEAD END

By Murray Chass

April 14, 2013

A tisket, a tasket, I’ll spend eternity in my Red Sox casket.

If I can’t see the Yankees win forever as I yearn, I can spend eternity in a pinstripe urn.

OK, enough of that, but those weird rhymes fit the subject of this column, which itself is sort of weird. You will find no balls and strikes in this one, nor are there home runs and runs batted in.

Last week Eternal Image Group of Novi, Mich., announced the availability of a line of memorial products licensed by Major League Baseball. Fans have credit cards adorned with their favorite teams’ logos; now they can be buried in caskets with team logos, cremated and have their ashes placed in urns with team logos and have memorial monuments with team logos. Once a Cubs’ fan, forever a Cubs’ fan.Yankees Urn 225

“We do things for the fans,” said Howard Smith, senior vice president of licensing for Major League Baseball. “If we give fans the products they want, business will take care of itself.”

These Eternal Image products are not the usual caps and T-shirts consumers seek when they set out to buy a product with their favorite team’s logo. These are much more expensive but longer lasting. In fact, they are manufactured to last an eternity.

Since baseball and its fans thrive on statistics and standings, I offer some here that I doubt have appeared elsewhere. They were provided by Clint Mytych, Eternal Image’s managing partner and vice president of licensing and brand communication. He, in turn, got them from his sales vice president, Nick Popravsky.

The most intriguing part of the standings, though it shouldn’t be surprising, is the position of the Yankees and the Red Sox. Their fans fight in death the same way the teams battle in life.

These are the top five clubs in urns sold:

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Cubs
  4. Cardinals
  5. Dodgers

These are the top five in caskets sold:

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Red Sox
  4. Yankees
  5. Tigers

“Yankees and Red Sox frequently change positions on this list depending on the quarter,” Mytych said. “Both cities buy about the same amounts of product and it varies only a tiny bit!”

I think, however, that based on New York’s larger population and the Yankees’ greater attendance, I would have to credit Red Sox fans with being more passionate in death than Yankees fans.

Another note from the Eternal Image people: “St. Louis fans seem to buy a disproportionately large amount of products. Although their market is much smaller than some of the others, they buy nearly as much product.”

We’ve always known about the passion of the Cardinals’ fans, and here is yet another way in which they demonstrate it.

Red Sox Casket 225I asked Mytych about the cost of team-linked caskets and urns. “Funeral homes set the final price based on various factors,” he said. “However we’ve established the following MSRP suggestions: $2,399 for MLB caskets and $599 for MLB urns.”

Sounds like a bargain compared with Yankees’ ticket prices.

The use of team logos for caskets isn’t new, but the arrangement is.

“Every year I’d get calls from one of our clubs saying ‘we have long time season-ticket holder who just died and wanted to be cremated and have his ashes put in a Braves urn or a Red Sox casket,’” Smith said of the past practice. “We’d need permission letters or a contract letter between us and the funeral home. We heard it over and over.

“We reached out to them or they reached out to us; I don’t know who reached out to who. But it was a marriage made in heaven. Here is a company that does this well. When we did it years and years ago, people said why. We’re doing this for our fans; we’re taking care of our fans. Our business is predicated on serving our fans. If there’s a trend in the marketplace, we’ll get on it.”

Smith estimated that MLB licenses 400 to 500 companies to produce merchandise with MLB or team logos. None is as unusual as the Eternal Image products.

The MLB caskets and urns are distributed by Buchanan Private Label of Indianapolis, which is also the parent company of Fewell Monuments, which builds monuments with team logos.

But Brad Myers, vice president and national sales manager, told of more ambitious plans. “We’re pricing sculpted individuals out of granite,” he said.

Think of the possibilities. The Braves, for example, could erect granite sculptures at Turner Field of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. There’s nothing that says the person depicted by a sculpture has to be buried there.

Then there is the creative way urns can be used.

“The urn can be used as a decorating accent,” Bruce Buchanan, president of the Buchanan Group, said. “It looks like a vase with a baseball on top. People buy them for cremation later. It looks like an enclosed vase that you might use as a decoration for your home.”

Some Yankees fan might even consider doing that with a Red Sox casket.

AN AMAZING ARIZONA STORY

The headline on the Arizona Diamondbacks news release caught my attention: “Miracle Brain Tumor Survivor To Throw Out Ceremonial First Pitch Tomorrow.”

Something in the body of the release grabbed me even more firmly. Erik Humphrey, the manager of a Scottsdale design studio, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2003. The man my wife is married to was also diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2003.Erik Humphrey

Humphrey, the release said, “was told he had a short time to live. The survival rate for this type of tumor is only 20 percent.”

However, after “aggressive new therapies and surgery at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital” in Phoenix followed by chemotherapy and radiation, the 41-year-old Humphrey has remained “cancer free for nearly 10 years after his diagnosis and has been declared cured.”

When Humphrey returned my telephone call Saturday night, he was more concerned about the pitch he would throw the next day before the Diamondbacks’ game with the Dodgers than he was about some old brain cancer diagnosis.

I know about these things all too well, and that’s why the news release had intrigued me. Humphrey underwent brain surgery six months after I did, and here we are, both in our 10th year of having had no recurrence.

We had another similar experience in 2003. I was told my tumor was expected to be benign; he was told his would possibly be benign. Both turned out to be malignant.

His was a type more perilous than mine, his an oligoastrocytoma, mine a hemangiopericytoma.

“They gave me a 20 percent chance,” Humphrey said, “18 months, maybe two years.”

Humphrey’s tumor was not discovered through any dramatic means. “I had no seizures or headaches,” he related. “The fingers on my left hand were moving slowly. My keys would fall out of my left hand. Three months later I went to my sister’s wedding in Idaho. My keys dropped out again, my fingers were moving slowly and I decided I better do something.”

He had surgery Dec. 18. “I was back to work in three weeks or so,” he said. “I decided I had to be around people to get through this. I tried to live as normal a life as I could.”

Humphrey and his wife Katie had been married for two years at tumor time and had unsuccessfully tried to have children. They now have a 6-year-old daughter and twin boys a year and a half old.

It’s unrealistic to expect a malignant brain tumor to leave its victim unscathed. “I lost a lot of mobility on the left side of my body,” said Humphrey, whose tumor was on the right side of his brain. “I never got it back. I don’t use my left arm, and my left leg drags.”

As 2003 turned to 2004, though, Humphrey had no guarantee that he would be around to throw out a first pitch at Chase Field in 2013. Cancer survivors accept their shortcomings. Humphrey’s right arm was still working, and that was the one he planned to use for the first pitch

SHOCKING: PLAYERS GET HURT DURING SEASON

If I read the schedule correctly, Zack Greinke and Jose Reyes were not playing in the World Baseball Classic last week. It was the second week of the major league season, yet Greinke and Reyes suffered serious, disabling injuries.

Jose Reyes AnkleThe pitcher and the shortstop were playing for the teams that paid or committed a lot of money to acquire their talent that was expected to lead those teams to greater heights than they had reached in recent seasons.

The Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to pay Greinke $147 million to pitch for them this season and five other seasons. The Toronto Blue Jays traded for Reyes and the $96 million left in the final five years of his contract.

The acquiring teams were the most active teams of the off-season, both determined to regain the stature they held not so long ago. However, the Dodgers and the Blue Jays neither gained money-back guarantees nor built protective shields around the players, leaving themselves susceptible to the kind of injuries Greinke and Reyes sustained.

Greinke fractured his left collarbone in a brawl after hitting Carlos Quentin of San Diego with a pitch. Twenty-four hours later Reyes severely sprained his left ankle sliding into second base on an attempted steal.Zack Greinke Injury2

Irony seemed to be attached to both incidents. As Quentin neared the mound, Greinke appeared to turn his body to keep his right arm out of the line of Quentin’s fire. In Reyes’ case, he slid feet first instead of going headfirst the way most players do these days.

Greinke is expected to miss eight weeks, which could amount to 11 starts, or a third of a pitcher’s season. Reyes, who was plagues by leg problems earlier in his career with the New York Mets, conceivably could be out until after the All-Star game.

The absence of both players will hamper their teams’ chances of achieving their off-season goals. Insurance may help pay Greinke’s and Reyes’ salaries, but it won’t supply the outs and the runs the teams were counting on.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.