Monday, January 26, 2009

The BRUT Sign/Jere's Yankee Stadium Tribute

[There are pretty pictures way down there, if you make it through. Good luck, you'll need it.]

When I was collecting baseball cards as a kid, many of the American League players were photographed at Yankee Stadium. This was probably because Topps had photographers based in New York. Oakland's stadium was also popular, while you'd rarely see a shot from Fenway Park. Shea and Candlestick were big for NL pics, so I guess they must've had offices in NYC and the Bay Area. You may ask me how the hell I can even tell. Well, besides being able to spin almost any object on my finger indefinitely, my greatest talent is determining which ballpark is depicted in the background of a photograph taken between the '70 and early '90s. Some parks have distinctive seat colors or upper decks or box seat dividers. Some you can tell by the fences or items unique to a park. And some, well, you can just tell. I can, anyway. (Of course, all of this is only necessary if the only visible players are in road uniforms--unless it's a spring training or All-Star game shot, a player in his home jersey is, obviously, in his home park.)

Yankee Stadium is always the easiest to tell for me. It's the most common location used, it's the stadium I visited the most during my childhood, and it's got a lot of unique features. (I'm referring to the version of Yankee Stadium that went from 1976 to 2008, and I'm using present tense here in its final days.) The box seat dividing rails are unpainted metal, and run from dugout to dugout. The seats are blue. The fences are blue and padded. There are three decks, the mezzanine (which is technically called the loge) being the thinnest. The inside back wall of the dugouts are beige with two tubes running horizontally along them, electrical outlets spaced out along the tubes. The lower deck is in shadow above the walkway, from the overhang above. The facade (actually called the frieze, and actually a replica of the one at the original stadium) is white with flags atop it and runs along the top of the outfield scoreboards, which have advertisements among them. There are two sections of bleachers, with blacked out seating in between them in centerfield. The angle from the photographers' wells by each dugout is such that the top of the dugout will cut across the shot behind the batter's legs near the knee. A shot of a pitcher from this low angle often shows the tarp on the side of the field behind the pitcher's ankles, with its gray, later blue, cover. The upper deck is steep with mismatched sections above and below the middle walkway, and thin sections at the very ends in the outfield, and has lights all along its top, as opposed to light towers. There's a spiral runway in left field, and at the base of it, a babbling brook where George Steinbrenner often goes to meditate.

These are things that let me know the photo was taken in The Bronx. But the most common background item--the one that makes you recognize Yankee Stadium instantly, is the Brut sign. Above the bleachers, all around the outfield, between the electronic message boards, are ads. Each section of frieze has a corresponding panel below it. The Brut sign took up two panels in left field. It was a picture of a cologne bottle, and in big, black, bold, capital letters, the word Brut.

There was something about that sign--the way it snuck in to the posed pictures so often. It couldn't be missed. The other signs were sometimes visible, but a big, short word was most likely to be recognized. Unless you've got a very distinct logo, nobody's gonna recognize your ad way in the blurry background; BRUT had the power to bust through.

Having just gotten back my Topps baseball card book from my parents' house, where it lived for so long, I figured I'd do a little research on the Brut sign. I knew it hadn't been up for years, but when was it born? When did it die? Did it really appear on cards that often or is my memory skewed? Did people really go out and buy Brut because of it? While I'm still wondering about that last one (I've never bought or heard of anyone I know buying cologne), I've got some answers, thanks to a card-by-card search:

The Stadium returned in its renovated form in 1976. A few ads appeared above the bleachers that season, but it wasn't until the next season, when all the spaces were filled in, that BRUT made its debut. Remember, baseball cards feature pictures from the previous season, so it was Topps' 1978 set that put the sign in little kids' hands across the country. And they went hog wild, too--the '78 set would be the Brut-iest one of all. Visiting players were shot time and again on the third base side in pre-game, posed with left field behind them. Entire teams seemed to be posed, one by one. Mariners players were heard to complain, "ain't no variety in these shots...." No less than 28 American Leaguers that year were shown with a portion of the Brut sign peering over their shoulders. Some guys, not thinking about becoming part of this exclusive list 30 years later, stood so that the sign was completely blocked. 1978 would be a huge year for these "Brut Blockers," too, but only the men--the true Bruts--with the sign visible behind them (either a piece of bottle or letter) would join this club. I give you the inaugural class of "Bruts":

#89 Ken Clay; #95 Jamie Quirk; #119 Denny Martinez; #121 Alvis Woods; #160 Jim Palmer; #191 Rodney Scott; #272 Royle Stillman; #293 Mike Willis; #307 Glenn Borgmann; #309 Cliff Johnson; #337 Tom Grieve; #344 Sam Ewing; #366 Larry Milbourne; #376 Jim Wohlford; #390 Oscar Gamble; #409 Ron Schueler; #438 John Ellis; #519 Brian Downing; #548 Billy Hunter--this is on the manager side of an "as player/as manager" card, which features two pictures on one card. This and other 2-, 3-, and 4-picture cards require much squinting; #552 Francisco Barrios; #574 Bob Lemon (on manager side of card); #591 George Zeber; #595 Sixto Lezcano; #623 Eduardo Rodriguez; #627 Dave Johnson; #660 Jason Thompson; #673 Steve Brye;, and #725 Kurt Bevacqua. For each Brut season, I'll declare one player "BRUT of the Year" and show you his card. This will be the guy who shows more of the sign than anyone else. 1978's BRUT of the Year (BotY) is Seattle's Mike Willis, who threw a fake pitch, revealing the sign:

1979 was another big year for Bruts, though the number was less than half of the banner year of 1978. You can't expect to reach those totals year after year. We also saw a new wrinkle--sometimes the background signs were washed out, appearing solid white (I don't believe this was an airbrush job), costing some guys Brut status. But 13 men were proclaimed Bruts in '79. They are:
#51 Ray Fosse; #133 Bill Castro; #242 Pablo Torrealba; #266 Jim Willoughby; #386 Francisco Barrios--making it two years in a row for Barrios, though I feel Topps used a different shot from the previous season's shoot here); #427 Andy Replogle--bottle very blurry, but visible; #448 Moose Haas; #474 Dick Davis; #541 Jim Slaton; #543 Kiko Garcia; #559 Greg Pryor; #651 Mike Caldwell; and #660 Ron Leflore. Your 1979 BotY is Tigers pitcher Jim Slaton, who squared it up perfectly, the sign sitting on his shoulder like a pungent parrot:

1980 saw seriously dwindling Brut numbers, but that only made the Bruts a more exclusive club for the new decade. Here are your '80 Bruts, all three of them: #109 Bill Travers; #114 Juan Beniquez; and #670 Bobby Brown--on Yankees Future Stars card. Not too many to choose from, but Juan Beniquez is the first Yankee, and first bat-wielding player, to become BotY, despite that the bottle is out of frame. But it's made up for as Juan seems to be asking the photographer, "have we got it? Is the word BRUT sitting right on my bat?":

1981 saw a bit of a resurgence in Brutery, with some background blurriness/washout/Brut-blockers costing a few players dearly. Here are your nine '81 Bruts: #88 Joe Lefebre; #159 Brian Doyle; #250 Ron Guidry; #454 Andy Hassler--seriously blurred Brut, but I'm givin' it to him; and #483 Mike Griffin. From that year's Traded Series, the first one Topps put out in the BRUT era, we've got several Bruts: #747 Ken Clay; #755 Dick Drago; #817 Lenny Randle; and #857 Richie Zisk. The 1981 BotY is Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry who, ironically, was pictured in the same spot in his 1977 card, in the year before BRUT was born. Here, his neck covers the bottle, but it's almost as if he's imitating it, his body becoming its replacement:

In 1982, Bruts were still on the rise. With the '81 season being short, it was understandable that Topps used a lot of older pictures, but hey, they still count. Your 14 1982 Bruts: #52 Larry Andersen; #197 Shane Rawley; #312 Lenny Randle--picture is definitely from same shoot as his previous year's Traded Series card; #336 Tom Paciorek and Glenn Abbott on Mariners Leaders--see below; #358 Mike Parrott; #371 Jerry Don Gleaton; #497 Jim Anderson; #556 Jack Morris--though this shot was taken several years earlier; #571 Glenn Abbott; and #632 Bryan Clark. And from the Traded Series: #15T Enos Cabell, [Note: #77T Jim Morrison--first time BRUT is blatantly airbrushed out. As if we haven't noticed it by now! Maybe since a Pirates hat and uniform have been airbrushed onto Jim, they figured they'd cover up BRUT as long as the airbrush was out. A less blatant act occurs on #295 Jason Thompson.]; #101T Aurelio Rodgriguez; and #107T Roy Smalley. Perhaps jealous of other players' "parrot" act with ol' BRUTy, Seattle pitcher Mike Parrott gets in on the act, making him an easy choice for 1982 BotY:

1982 also gave us another first. Two visible BRUTs on one card! (Or as it's known in the Brut community, "et two, BRUTe.") Check it out:

1983 saw more suspicious omissions, with white space where BRUT should be. It was almost like the phase-out campaign had begun. But the Red Sox finally scored their first, albeit borderline, Brut--the first guy on this list of the five Bruts for 1983: #213 Tom Burgmeier; #216 Tony Larussa; #234 Larry Andersen--from same shoot as previous season; #636 Graig Nettles--on current half of Superveteran card; #705 Lamar Hoyt--on his half of 1982 Victory Leaders card. Best we could do is "BRU" this year--your 1983 BotY is manager Tony LaRussa:

But wait! I thought I was done with '83, but then it hit me: I'd have to check the smaller shots of each player that appears on the front of the card (manager and All-Star cards excluded). Turns out there were a lot of hidden Bruts in there. Eleven more! We'll call these the sub-BRUTS: #19 Oscar Gamble; #20 Carlton Fisk; #332 Glenn Wilson; #368 Richie Zisk; #409 Marvis Foley; #460 Roy Smalley; #541 Britt Burns; #652 Butch Hobson; #698 Tony Bernaard; and #753 Elias Sosa. (#758 Aurelio Rodriguez' Brut is brushed out, but he scored in '82 anyway.) The only Sub-BRUT of the Year of all-time is Marvis Foley--check out the inset pic below, and note the crookedness of BRUT:

1984 also had the inset picture on each card, but all backgrounds were replaced with a solid color. But a lot of the shots in the set were either action shots or spring training ones. The old "pose by your dugout in that one spot at Yankee Stadium" technique was dying. And when signs were in the background, they were often brushed out. #235 Matt Young has a blatant BRUT removal. But three Bruts shone through in '84: #24 John Martin--interestingly, the Getty sign has been airbrushed out, but the BRUT is visible, though only half of it is in frame; #371 Dave Gumpert--edge of bottle barely visible; and #547 Mike Moore, who they must've forgotten about, as both Getty and Brut are visible. Moore, with little competition, wins 1984 BotY:

Here's the "Breutered" Matt Young:

1985 was another sad year for BRUT. Only a few possibilities, but usually they ended up as blockers, or with BRUT just out of frame. We're left with three BRUTs, though they're all borderline: #171 Bill Stein--tiny piece of bottle visible next to neck; #445 Tippy Martinez--odd blurring; and #774 Dennis Lamp, who, after about four other close calls over the years, finally has a visible, though completely blurry BRUT. Martinez wins BotY by default:

My Topps book ends with the 1985 set. But after looking at some of the 1986 set online, I came to a sad realization: The BRUT sign, after eight successful seasons, has been remodeled. The bottle is still there, but it's larger and tilted:

By the time this photo was taken in April 1987 (found on the Web), the bottle tilted even more:

As you can see when you click to enlarge it, the old "FOR MEN" has been replaced by "it smells like a man." This third Brut sign stayed until at least 1988. The picture below (found on Web) is from Opening Day of that season:

In a picture I found that shows a Camel 75th anniversary ad, the BRUT sign is completely gone. Camel started in 1913, so that pic was probably from the '88 season or maybe offseason, pre-'89.

By 1990, the world of Yankee Stadium outfield advertising was vastly different from its 1976 debut. On 8/6/90, the layout looked like this:

Position 1--The Wiz.
2--Getty (who for years had taken up both 1&2, first with their "High Octaine, Low Prices" sign, then with just the big logo, which later had a rule around it.
3--The electronic out of town scoreboard, which started as a Yankee logo in '76, but survived in that spot from 1977 to 2008.
4 & 5--Prudential-Bache, which formerly showed the "Rock Solid. Market Wise." slogan. Before that, this was the coveted BRUT spot.
6-8--The electronic linescore with official digital time sponsored by Armitron. Before this it was Seiko, and before that ('76-'84), an analog clock, which may have been Longines, as that was the clock at the "old" Stadium. [Update, 3/5/09--a shot of the analog clock from the '77 WS shows that it was Seiko then, too.] This linescore spot would remain constant through 2008.
9/10--Hitachi. This was the French's mustard spot that appeared on so many cards from at least '77 through the '80s, with the "BIG HIT" slogan in the later years.

Then you've got the break in the frieze in dead center. Below it, the batter info electronic board, which had been the video replay board from '76 into the '80s.

11 & 12--Marlboro. This one had been there since '76.
13, and half of 14--The new video board, which had been the batter info board with digital clock. This new (as of the mid '80s) board was 1.5 sections of frieze wide, and stayed there until the end, 2008.
Right half of 14, $ 15--Budweiser. Old batter board had extended into this spot.
16 & 17--Citibank, which at one point had a 3-D ball sticking out of its "It's Your Citi" slogan. This spot is where the Manufacturers Hanover "Super Checking" sign was in '76, that you see on the Chambliss ALCS HR. In '77, they changed their sign to a license plate, with the words "No. 1 in Auto Loans" below the company name. (This is visible on Bob Montgomery's 1978 card.) Eventually this became Fleet, then Bank of America.
18--bonton, which had started as a Yankee logo in '76 and '77 at least, and ended up as the utz sign with that weird utz girl on it.

By this point there were also ads in the lower spots below all the major signs, as well as the red neon sign that would light up between innings in center field.

There were a lot more signs that came and went in the '90s and 2000s, but you'll have to do that research yourself. Some were the kind that changed from one image to another in that "vertical blinds" style, which would confuse research. Just do an image search to see the final ad lineup. But don't be fooled. Some articles as recently as 2008 used what they thought of as a "modern" shot of Yankee Stadium--apparently not noticing the Fleet Bank sign, signifying pre-2005.

So to wrap up, we had 89 cards over eight Topps sets (1978 to 1985) showing a piece of the bottle or lettering of the original Brut sign, which lasted from '77 to '84. You also have to remember that Topps stickers used different shots, as did some O-Pee-Chee cards, and various other photos by the company used still more. So the amount of Bruts shown on different items is much higher. And I don't really know how often it snuck into Fleer and Donruss shots.

What was the point of this? Well, the Brut sign was as much a part of the remodeled Yankee Stadium as the replica frieze was. I wish people would come to terms with the fact that that stadium where Babe Ruth played was a different place. The only Yankee Stadium I've ever known is the one that was being built when I was born, and which is being demolished right around now. I hadn't intended this to be my Yankee Stadium tribute post, but I think this is the perfect way to do it. It was where the hated Yankees played, and I think I've given you plenty of other negatives about it here, but it was still a place to watch baseball, and it was the first baseball stadium I ever went to, as well as the one I went to the most over the first 25 years of my life.

I'll never forget the little walking bridge with the flute player. The walk from the parking lot across the baseball diamonds outside the park. The excruciating wait to get out of the parking garage. The steepest upper deck on the planet. The soggy pretzels which Mike taught me to put mustard on. The ride down in the car as a kid, spotting the landmarks along 684, the Hutch, and the Deegan: The football-shaped building, the walking bridge over highway in Armonk, the Stella Doro breadsticks factory, the Stadium Motor Lodge (which terribly changed its name to "Stadium Family Center"), King Lumber (ph: 232-5151, or as my Yankee fan friend remembered it, "Donnie, Tolly, Cary, Cary"). And being comfortable in the backseat on the way home on a school night, even though the chilly air steamed in through the cracked windows.

I never went to Yankee Stadium without my Red Sox gear on. Not once. I could've avoided a lot of static by not wearing it. But I was always proud to be a Sox fan, whether they were in dead last, or defending World Champs. Yankee fans told me I had guts. Or, you know, threw stuff at me. But it was never boring.

I think they should've had celebrations for the '76-'08 stadium only. Okay, I'm not sayin' King Lumber needed to be involved, but why not just admit that you had a 70s stadium, it lasted 30 years, and now you're done with it, and it had its own distinct features that had nothing to do with the place where Joe DiMaggio played?


Jere at his first game, Red Sox vs. Yankees at Yankee Stadium, 9/20/80:
Mom's psyched, dad's pissed! Check out my Sox shirt. My sister must have taken this picture. And this one, from our seats that day:
Note our pal BRUT.

Jere (right) with Pat at Sox/Yanks game circa '87:

The "Stadium Family Center," post name-change, taken from car on my way to Sox-Yanks game on my 20th birthday, 9/8/1995:

Jere in the walkway ready to taunt the newest Yankee, Roger Clemens, on 5/26/99:

Picture I took of Chan on the day of the famous Trot Nixon 9th inning HR game, 5/28/2000:

Pic of Stadium I shot from subway, Memorial Day 2003:

First time I ever witnessed a world champion Red Sox team, and first time one ever appeared on the field at Yankee Stadium, Opening Night, 2005:

Reb's pic of Jere Brut-blocking in May 2006:
(better view of shirt--another of my altered classics--is here)
Sorry, I have no pics from the other notable games I saw there: the Mel Hall game, the Clemens blowing a 9-0 lead game, the Mo Vaughn foul pole HR on Opening Day game, the high scoring July 1st, 1983 game three days before Righetti's no-hitter, the last game I saw before 9/11--on my birthday, three days before, and one of my favorite baseball experiences, the September '04 game when Mariano said, "catch the ball" to Kenny Lofton. Or any games against non-Red Sox teams, of which I saw many, including the one against the Twins when I caught the Randy Bush BP ball.

Probably the last photo I ever took of the place, December 2007, with new Stadium just starting to go up next to it:

What I could find of my Yankee Stadium ticket stubs, receipts, and those Kinney parking passes:


Thanks to anyone on ebay I stole card pics from, and to the people in this message board thread, where I found some others. Sorry I couldn't link to a pic of each and every Brut card, but search any of them online (ebay is a great place for that) to see the Brut-ness.

Your first game was on my 12th birthday!
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An Amazing Portrait of "The Toilet II":

I have up my Video Tribute to Shea Stadium, including a Quasi Red Sox Nation Piece.
I love this post. I've come back to it numerous times over the last few years for various reasons. Please don't ever let it be taken down. :)
Awesome, thank you so much. I hadn't looked at this in years, I forgot how much research I did! You know I got contacted by Brut about it? They wanted to use it somehow on their web site or twitter or something, and I had agreed on the condition that they make sure to note that the author of it was a Sox fan. But nothing became of it--I think the guy wanted me to slightly re-do it for them and I just didn't have time....

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