Editor's note: This is our reaction to Sanrio's press release on Monday regarding the company's partnership with Major League Baseball to produce specialty merchandise for all 30 teams beginning in 2014.
DENVER--In a long awaited move for MLB's ever-so-critical 11-to-17-year-old female demographic, the Sanrio company, most well known for their timeless "Hello Kitty" mascot, has partnered with MLB to make sure that there isn't a niche of overexposed, tired pop culture that can't have your team's MLB logo slapped onto it.
Hello Kitty, introduced in 1974 in Japan, made its first appearance in the United States in 1976. The cute, welcoming mascot met its first bout of controversy during the 1977 MLB All Star Game when NL starters Steve Garvey and Davey Concepcion had scotch-taped the iconic feline to the side of their baseball caps in an attempt to market themselves to their young fangirls. For countless reasons, both copyright- and creepiness-related reasons, both Garvey and Concepcion were asked to remove the logos from their hats 20 minutes before the ceremonies opened.
Since then many MLB players including Jack Clark, Mark Langston, Jeff Cirillo, John Rocker, David Eckstein, and Dmitri Young have all sported some form of the bleach-white cat in their ballpark attire, from Rocker's keychain (ostensibly a gift) to "Da Meat Hook's" pink-and-red lunchbox. Over and over have the players of Major League Baseball attempted to show the kind of openness to cultural exchange that the great game of baseball longs for. Similarly, famed NPB players such as Tsutomu Wakamatsu (Yakult Swallows) and Choji Murata (Tokyo/Lotte Orions, now the Chiba Lotte Marines) have attempted to reciprocate this form of cultural exchange by playing with a 'Snoopy' mitt (Wakamatsu) and showing off a 'Muppet Babies Fozzie' stencil on Murata's batting helmet.
Regardless of these attempts, breaking down cultural barriers between the two countries--even through such a celebrated pipeline of cultural exchange as baseball--has proven to be difficult. The "Cust vs Kodansha Ltd." case of 2002 was viewed by some as a free expression issue as the former Rockies left fielder Jack Cust was publicly lambasted for his open display of the robot-intelligence character "Chi" (portrayed as a young girl wearing a frilly dress) from the popular manga "Chobits" during a clubhouse interview, with the Japanese publishing company protesting the unlicensed merchandise and the American fanbase asking "what is this weeaboo bull?"
Cust remained indignant toward these protests, saying "look, it's just a silk shirt, OK? I've seen some Rule 34 material of Chi-baby that would make your toes curl, so how about y'all quit complaining about a damn shirt?"
Still, proponents of a further unification of Japanese and American cultures hope that this Hello Kitty marketing push will help both sides of the remaining issues find common ground through the game of baseball and through well-accepted cultural icons. Until that time when the free exchange of witty writing, visually stunning art design, and a plethora of intruding tentacles is as free-flowing between these two nations as high end electronics, we can only hope that 'Hello Kitty' and the Sanrio Corporation truly "Tear Down This Wall." I, for one, long for the day where Spongebob Squarepants adorns Jumbotrons and outfield batters eyes feature large-scale murals of Gundam robots fighting gigantic mechanized Fred Flintstones.