Hit Sign, Win Suit

There it is. You can even see the Schafer sign. It looks like the first “e” is the one they lit up.

In modern times, we see signs at ballparks, usually at the All-Star Games, that say, “Hit it here and win $1,000,000”, and we cheer, hoping a player will actually hit it there. The problem is that usually those signs sit 500 feet away, on the upper deck.

The use of signs such as this one isn’t a new phenomenon, and one of the earliest instances of this was in Ebbet’s Field. A beautiful park in Brooklyn, New York and home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbet’s Field housed the famous Abe Stark sign.

Abe Stark was a business man in Brooklyn and owned a clothing store at 1514 Pitkin Avenue. In order to drum up business, he bought an ad on the right field wall (on — not over, past, way past, or impossible to reach). It was 3 feet by 30 feet and occupied the lower part of the right field wall. It said, “Hit Sign, Win Suit. Abe Stark. Brooklyn’s Leading Clothier.” Above it was a Schaefer beer ad, which was actually functional for the park (the “h” illuminated when the play was scored a hit, and the “e” lit up for an error).

If a batter hit the ball off the sign (and the scorer verified it), the batter won a suit from Stark’s store. How many hit the sign? Well, it depends on which sign you mean. The first, in the 1920’s, covered the entire right field wall, top to bottom, and it is believed that many hit the sign. In 1931, the sign was moved to its final 3 by 30 spot under the scoreboard, and the batter had to hit it on the fly. It was a very tough location, one that could be guarded with a good right fielder. The numbers are impossible to track down. Stark said he gave out around 5 a year, but most other sources indicate that if it hit once a season, it was lucky. Mel Ott is believed to have gotten the first two in 1931, and Pee Wee Reese said that when Carl Furillo was in right “nobody ever hit it.”

Actually, Furillo benefitted a little from the sign. When a customer observed that Furillo had saved so many balls from hitting the sign and thus saved Stark from having to give away suits, Stark presented Furillo with his own free suit. Furillo would later add a couple suits to his wardrobe by plunking the sign himself.

Stark bought the space originally for $250, and it would go up to $2,500 by 1958, when the park closed. Today, the spaces probably sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars (maybe more — does anyone know or even how to find out?).

(Thanks to Ron Rollins at Baseball Over Here for the idea)


2 Responses to “Hit Sign, Win Suit”

  1. The Common Man Says:

    That’s a great story! I love it!

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I wish we’d see this more in today’s game. It would give people something to cheer for, but I think it would be better to have a fan win the suit instead of a player.

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