I thought the Homer Hanky concept was played out several playoffs ago — though I’m on record proposing a Homer Blankie to commemorate our return to the post-season outdoors. Nevertheless, fans appear to still love the tiny shrouds, and I guess it’s become a tradition in a game full of them.
In that spirit, former Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire has a fun read on the Hanky’s 1987 birth at his “McGuire on Media” blog. McGuire, now a journalism professor at Arizona State, recounts the Hanky as a $100,000 salvo in the then-new circulation war with the Pioneer Press:
[Strib marketer Terrie Robbins] proposed to produce an initial 200,000 hankies for the first days the playoffs at a cost of $100,000. For that money she promised a big circulation boost and an eventual break-even. The circulation boost would come because after an initial give-away of 60,000 hankies, the only way to get a Homer Hanky was with a coupon in the paper. Star Tribune Publisher Roger Parkinson looked at her and said, “do it, but we’d better break even!”
McGuire also notes the Twins’ fears about the whole concept:
Terrie had conferred with the Twins and had their permission, but when she went back to them just before the playoffs the fellow she had talked to “got really white. He had no idea I was going to pull it off.” That meeting started an attempt by the Twins and Major League baseball to kill the Homer Hanky. If Terrie has her way nobody will ever let history contend baseball supported it. Twins officials were convinced they were going to be the “laughing stock of baseball.” They even threatened that the white hankies were going to distract hitters and force the umpires to cancel the games and the playoff series. She says they angrily charged such a cancellation would be Terrie’s fault.
I haven’t asked McGuire’s boss at the time — my current boss, Joel Kramer — to verify all this, but I’d like to believe it went down exactly this way. I’m not sure how often newspapers throw 100K at a single promotion these days, but McGuire’s recollection of the moment Gary Gaetti hit that first playoff home run is priceless.
By the way, the print version of the Pioneer Press hasn’t mentioned the 2010 hanky.