Baseball and Coca-Cola: A Match Made in America

This article was written by Rob Edelman

This article was published in From Spring Training to Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors

Fernando Valenzuela in a 1987 ad for Coca-Cola (Library of Congress)

If the most iconic sports-related Coca-Cola television ad features a child offering a Coke to an injured football star—Mean Joe Greene, the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer—countless hurlers and hitters have hawked the product across the decades. The Greene spot first aired in 1979; however, starting in the early 1950s, the Coca-Cola Company has produced scores of TV ads employing baseball imagery.

Brooks Robinson is the star of a 1964 Coca-Cola spot, filmed in glorious black-and-white. He is shown hitting an inside-the-park home run. Then, he drinks a Coke while talking about the hit and revealing his thought processes while rounding the bases. A 1966 ad includes a montage of split-second views of sports stars in action. One of them is Willie Mays. Variations exist of a second 1966 Mays spot featuring the Say Hey Kid in the outfield, racing after a ball just as it is hit and making a running one-handed catch. Then he is shown in the dugout and locker room—and in close-up, drinking a Coke. A 1987 ad, designed for the Spanish-speaking market, spotlights Fernando Valenzuela, then coming off his lone 20-win season. El Toro is shown at a Little League game and in the stands, wearing a baseball cap with a Coke logo. A 1984 Diet Coke spot features a montage of celebrities, including Chuck Yeager, Christie Brinkley, and forever-dieting Tommy Lasorda.

Some Coke ads were produced for local markets. In 1966, the Milwaukee Braves relocated to Atlanta, the corporate headquarters of Coca-Cola. Bobby Bragan, the team’s manager, starred in a spot titled “Stadium Tour.” The ad includes vintage black-and-white images of the interiors and exteriors of Atlanta Stadium, the team’s home through 1996. (In the mid-1970s, Atlanta Stadium became known as Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.) Bragan is the narrator, and he emphasizes that Coke will be available in the newly-christened big league ball yard. Other Coca-Cola ads have been linked to local teams and regions. A series of 1989 spots, collectively titled “Under the Sun,” feature brief clips of Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Dodgers batters at home plate.

A majority of baseball-related Coke ads do not highlight big-league teams and celebrity endorsers. These spots underscore the sport as an integral part of the fabric of America, with shots of ballplayers mixed in with those of cute little children, older ones graduating from school, Americans in the military, or American astronauts. A typical spot, from 1973, consists of a montage of summer scenes: friends walking up a hill with a sunset in the background; a surfer atop a wave; fireworks; and a baseball glove. One from 1991 emphasizes “family”: an elderly couple; women and children; and a boy holding a bat and enjoying a Coke. 

Willie Mays is featured in a 1952 ad for Coca-Cola (Library of Congress)

Some ads feature actors playing athletes or fans. A 1952 ad, titled “Baseball Boy,” depicts an adolescent who is obsessed with the game. A girl he apparently likes is unimpressed with his pitching motion. The ad jumps ahead in time, with the boy now a college player. The girl has altered her view of his athletic abilities, and the two savor a Coke. “The Big Pitch,” a 1958 ad, features a hurler throwing a game’s first pitch. Afterward, he enjoys a Coke. A 1967 ad, titled “Baseball,” consists of photos of ballplayers in competition, edited together to simulate movement. A batter stands at the plate. A pitcher hurls the ball. The batter hits the ball, and slides into a base. A 1985 ad, titled “Fly Ball,” features an outfielder running backwards and making a leaping catch, with his glove right in front of a boy in the stands. The ballplayer then tosses the ball to the youngster. Other ads mirror changes in American society. In “The Curve Ball,” a 1991 ad, a young black man demonstrates his ability to throw a curveball while his white friend tosses a fastball. The two men share a camaraderie, and drink Coke. One hardly can imagine this ad airing on television in the 1950s. 

During the late 1960s, the modern-era feminist revolution was making its first rumblings. However, one forward-thinking Coke ad, which aired back in 1962, features a female pitcher playing softball. She pitches—and drinks Coke. The point of the ad is that the product gives you “Zing!” The Establishment conservatism in the face of feminism is reflected in one 1968 spot featuring a little girl attempting to pitch in a game in which her teammates and opponents are boys. A batter hits a ball right into her glove, but she does not know what to do with it—much to the annoyance of her teammates. Her cap falls off her head. She picks up the cap, instead of throwing the ball. Predictably, she is chastised because she “plays like a girl.” 

As equal opportunity for women became more generally accepted within the American mainstream, the tone of ads featuring girl ballplayers also changed. Several variations exist of a 1976 spot featuring a baseball coach talking about his team and explaining how he serves them Coke — particularly from new, two-liter plastic bottles. The ad’s “punchline” is that his players are girls, and he is depicted as being proud of them and happy to be their coach. A 1980 ad for Sprite, a Coca-Cola Company product, begins with a girl swinging at a pitch and missing. She perseveres and, at the end, swings her bat and hits the ball. 

In all these ads, an attempt is made to visually and verbally link Coca-Cola with youth, vitality, and good feelings, to make the product synonymous with all that is upbeat about America. It is no surprise, then, that baseball has been so much a part of Coca-Cola advertising. 

ROB EDELMAN is the author of Great Baseball Films and Baseball on the Web (which cited as a Top 10 Internet book), and is a frequent contributor to Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. He offers film commentary on WAMC Northeast Public Radio and is a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and other Maltin publications. With his wife, Audrey Kupferberg, he has coauthored Meet the Mertzes, a double biography of Vivian Vance and super-baseball fan William Frawley, and Matthau: A Life. His byline has appeared in Total Baseball, The Total Baseball Catalog, Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, The National Pastime: A Review of Baseball History, The Baseball Research Journal, and histories of the 1918 Boston Red Sox, 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947 New York Yankees, and 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. He is the author of a baseball film essay for the Kino International DVD Reel Baseball: Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 1899- 1926; is an interviewee on several documentaries on the director’s cut DVD of The Natural; was the keynote speaker at the 23rd Annual NINE Spring Training Conference; and teaches film history courses at the University at Albany (SUNY).



All of the ads described here were viewed compliments of The Coca-Cola Archives. For further information, go to: