The New York Times’ Tal Pinchevesky on the growing celeb status of the New York Mets’ Endy Chavez, and how the outfielder’s remarkable Game 7 NLCS catch might’ve benefited the insurance company AIG.

On July 13, Chávez will be recognized with the kind of treatment typically lavished on the game™s biggest stars: The first 25,000 fans at Shea Stadium will receive an AIG-sponsored Endy Chávez bobblehead to commemorate the catch.

œI heard they™re trying to make the bobblehead about the catch ” I™m excited to see what they™re going to do, Chávez said in a recent interview. œWhat can I say? I feel proud.

For Chávez, who had spent much of the 2005 season on the Philadelphia Phillies™ bench, the sudden fame prompted by one memorable play took him by surprise.

œI knew I could play defense, he said. œBut I™m not used to robbing home runs. It was a special moment in that game, a Game 7. We had no tomorrow.

Three weeks after Chávez™s catch, AIG revealed its third-quarter earnings for 2006, with a net income of $4.22 billion compared with $1.75 billion for the same quarter in 2005. In the month after the catch, AIG shares surged to their highest value in 21 months.

No one is suggesting that single play led to those financial achievements, but AIG has boosted its investment in baseball. Aside from the Chávez doll promotion, AIG has renewed its Homers for Kids program at Shea as well as a similar charitable effort with the Houston Astros. The company also recently announced its sponsorship of 14 Class AA baseball teams and 6 Class A clubs, which will involve wall signs featuring the AIG logo and slogan.

AIG officials declined requests to be interviewed. In a statement, the company said that it was œproud to be associated with the New York Mets and Mr. Chávez™s catch.

Terry Lefton, an editor at large at Sports Business Journal specializing in sports marketing and sponsorships, said the catch demonstrated the potential power of baseball marketing to AIG.

œThis got them juiced about baseball, Lefton said. œThey had a good quarter, which didn™t necessarily include the time during which the catch was made. It™s hard to draw a straight line and say X is caused by Y. But I can see why AIG would want Chávez. They are part of that catch.

If Endy can do that much to boost AIG’s bottom line, said firm should brace themselves for the inevitable fallout after their 2006-07 sponsorship of Manchester United led to the Red Devils losing the FA Cup final, 1-0 to Chelsea on Saturday. Perhaps there is no greater evidence that stateside interest in English club soccer has jumped the shark than Chris Berman dubbing Chelsea’s Ivory Coast superstar striker, Didier “I Want A New” Drogba.