Pablo Sandoval is on the verge of eating his way out of baseball, and the San Francisco Giants and their Panda marketing blitz are as much to blame as Sandoval’s apparent inability to push back from the dinner table.
Regardless of whoever first came up with the “Kung Fu Panda” nickname, there is no doubt that the San Francisco Giants and their marketing machine seized upon it almost immediately to pump money into the team. The Giants worked feverishly on converting an image of a happy-go-portly Sandoval into massive dollars in the form of ticket sales and fuzzy panda hats (available in two colors) at the ballpark.
There were MLB-licensed panda shirts and signs, and a gigantic advertisement poster of Sandoval with the tag line “There’s Panda Inside” slapped on the side of AT&T Park. When he hit a homer, they cued not only the requisite hype-music, but also a giant “Panda-monium” which flashed in multi-colors on the scoreboard.
They were essentially making fun of the fat guy in the room who didn't mind being made fun of.
It would be easy to jump all over Sandoval as exclusively responsible for his predicament, because most of us make tough diet decisions all the time, and without a spot in a Major League lineup hanging in the balance. We give up the extra piece of cake, begrudgingly go salad versus fries, drink almost undrinkable diet soda and avoid the dessert bacchanal at the Mandalay Bay’s buffet extravaganza.
Most of us make these so-called healthy choices for our own well-being and vanity. Moreover, we often cast judgment on those who don’t make these same healthy decisions as we do, because deep down, we’d probably all love to be saddling up to the all-you-can-eat chicken wing pile versus going the rabbit food route. Misery loves company.
We remove the imagery of the overweight and unhealthy from the chronicles of our popular culture, and then add “Guess the Celebrity Fatty” pictures to the covers of our supermarket checkout rags. We put ridiculously skinny and attractive news reporters in fat suits, and then watch as hidden cameras expose the cold public scorn and blatant discrimination our reporter-come-actress faces as she tries to get a job or an apartment.
We eat our carrot sticks, we hit the gym, we judge and we shake our heads…and we’re doing it right now to Pablo Sandoval. More important to the professional livelihood and future of Sandoval, so are the Giants. Problem is, they started it.
As widely reported, San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean has thrown down an ultimatum to Sandoval—commit to a smaller waistline this offseason or have fun in the minor leagues. Team dinners at Morton’s steakhouse next summer in Chicago while in town to play the Cubs…or ones at a Bennigan’s in Fresno with the Grizzlies AAA club.
Your choice, buddy…but not that simple.
Turns out, Sandoval might not be as good as the Giants initially thought or perhaps not mentally strong enough to withstand the amount of pressure the Giants and their "Panda" marketing blitz threw on his back. Arguably, it would be a lot of pressure for anyone to withstand, much less a young player with one good year under his belt.
It is hard to imagine now, in the wake of a World Series championship and Brian Wilson and "The Machine" appearing on Jay Leno, but "The Panda" and Tim Lincecum were about all the Giants had to market a year ago.
Now, the very obese theme of this extensive, MLB endorsed, check-out-our-jolly-panda-bodied-player campaign is being flogged by the Giants as evidence of Sandoval's apathy. No longer used to endear and market to the fan base, Sandoval’s roomy frame is now being criticized and used to threaten his career.
Apparently, the panda t-shirts and hats aren’t selling like they did when he hit .330.
In the end, if Pablo Sandoval doesn’t shape up this offseason and squanders his once-in-10-lifetimes opportunity in the Majors, it will be mostly on his shoulders.
That said, simply ignoring the role the Giants have played in this situation is just being intellectually ignorant. It casts the blame all upon Sandoval, while ignoring the fact that his overweight body might be the physical response to a man not being able to live up to lofty expectations. It omits the San Francisco Giants' involvement in the creation of the entire "Panda" phenomenon, the money they made off this image, and the subsequent pressures on Pablo Sandoval to live up to this impossible marketing cartoon.
The Giants may indeed be shaking their head in disgust come next year at an out-of-shape Pablo Sandoval, but will bear a large responsibility if that outcome comes to pass.