Monday, May 25, 2009

Provoking Thought by Baseball...
Gender-Targeted Style  

From an anthropological perspective, one of the most amusing aspects of the American culture's marketing subculture is the idea that gender (in this case, male<--->female) makes for great marketing. In small, pre-industrial societies, the concept is very powerful. In large, diverse, cultures where the means of communication have been industrialized and work categories are less strictly gender-based, the differences (for marketing purposes) between males and females is blunted.

That hasn't stopped the publishing industry from pursuing the idea that almost any idea worth peddling is worth trying to squeeze into a category. Oh, yes, very few of my female friends would take a free subscription to Maxim (but not none of them); and few of my male friends would either. But both would agree Australian Handyman is the best-ever read. So books frequently get targeted by publishers for gender-specific audiences, and this trend gets enhanced by authors making pitches to publishers...because the authors realize the publishers will be more inclined to take a bite at their positioned pitch.

On the other hand, Baseball is wonderfully gender-neutral. Women constitute roughly 46% of game attendees, & that's the largest proportion of female fans for any of the big professional sports. (and for those of you who want to suggest, "well, it's still not half", I challenge you to discern the difference between 45% and 50% in eyeballing the crowd specifics at the next MLB game you attend)

In spite of that, there are a matched set of gender-specific gender-directed Baseball books, and both are well worth reading by both women and men, if the underlying subject is of interest.

The new one is Parables from the Diamond, a devotional-without-calendar by preacher Phil Christopher & journalist Glenn Dromgoole, subtitled Meditations for Men on Baseball & Life. Each of the one-page essays has a title, a quotation, some reminder about a life issue and a thumbnail reminder. For example, "It Was 'Almost' a Home Run" or "A Broken Bat Still Has Value" reminds the reader that sometimes 'almost' is useless, and that once things pass from one state to another, they have value for different purposes.

The book is targeted to men, specifically, and Baptists in particular. Maybe the authors wanted it that way as part of their faith; maybe the publisher wanted it because they wanted the marketing boost or were ignorant about the broad span of women's interest in the sport. But almost all the insights have meditative value for women and men both, and for non-Baptists (like me) as much as anyone else. Because lessons in Baseball are so embedded in the intellectual and ethical/moral structures of most people in the baseball-mad countries of the Americas, tying back to Baseball for enlightening perspective has every bit as much value as non-faith based devotionals as tying Management lessons back to Baseball has for readers of this weblog.

I recommend the book, a gentle reminder of important life lessons I rarely write about, focusing on the Management, not Big Life Issues, insight Baseball has to offer. Of course, there are exceptions when I wax philosophic about Big Life Lessons.

Jackie Koney & Dierdre Silva finally published their mega-year, mega-publisher book, It Takes More Than Balls: The Savvy Girls' Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball, designed to help other women get up to speed on the game's mechanics and history. I've met the authors at SABR meetings and ballpark events before, and their writing is engaging and smart. So why is it aimed at women, not people-in-general? Well, I suspect the gender-specifying lust of publishers is a part of it, but among men who don't know about baseball, how many of them will admit they need lessons or background? Sheet, there are male guys in SABR who need lessons but pretend they're experts.

Ergo, I heartily recommend Silva & Koney's book (or ballpark outings) for any novice you know who needs or wants to know more about the game; it's witty, informative and endorsed by Cal Ripken Jr. which is not something I can say about my own book.

Whether it takes balls or more than balls, there's always a marketing idea worth stretching. And if there's a worthwhile book or two behind it, well, that's magic. Because Baseball, Management and Life all take balls, and all take more than balls.

...for you on this Memorial Day. A heart-rending memo (if yer in a rush, skip the prologue & scroll straight down to the memo) about the deprivations suffered by U.S. REMF troops in Iraq we all have to hope have been addressed forcefully. And it will help guide your own conduct towards the troops returning from Iraq who may be suffering from one or more of the problems delineated.

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