In the event that you missed it, Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote an article yesterday that brought into question whether or not there was an identifiable face of MLB.
Stark used the findings from a poll that was on ESPN’s website to determine who some of America’s favorite athletes were. I find a few problems using this kind of data to determine if there is a “face of baseball.” If you ask a basketball fan who their favorite athlete is out of Mike Trout or LeBron James, who will they answer? If you ask a football fan if they prefer Tom Brady or Kris Bryant, 10 out of 10 times Brady wins. My point is, asking non-baseball fans who the face of baseball is, is about as effective as asking me who the face of hockey is. Is Wayne Gretzky still a thing?
There were multiple reasons given for why baseball does not have a superstar. Everything from the game needing to change, players not expressing themselves enough, and not enough publicizing through marketing of professional baseball players. While I do agree on a certain level with some of the comments made, others stand to be questioned.
Changing the Game
I’m a firm believer of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” hence my opposition to the game play expediting intentional walk rule change. There is nothing wrong with the sport of baseball. Some may view it as slow and boring, but quite the contrary. Every pitch is fascinating if you are one to be enthralled by the movement that someone like Clayton Kershaw can put on a baseball. No, baseball players are not running up and down a court for two hours and I’m okay with that. Is there anything more interesting or intense than a great pitching match-up? I would argue that baseball is one of the sports with the most going on as every movement, pitch, swing, take, or stolen base has some form of strategy behind it.
Players are more than welcome to express themselves and take those opportunities when they can. When this happens, though, the players become damned by the fans for expressing themselves too much. Don’t believe me? Jose Bautista‘s bat flip. Four words and your argument is invalid. Love him or hate him, the kind of intensity that bat flip brought was something that lit up the sports pages and has created somewhat of a rivalry between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. I’m also going to leave this nugget here, just to make you mad.
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This is one of the arguments that I do agree with. There has not been nearly enough marketing for Major League Baseball. While they are headed in the right direction with Under Armor, that is just the first step. There are still large leaps needed when it comes to publicizing baseball in order to attract younger generations.
I believe that San Diego Studios is headed down the right track for this. Millennials and newer generations are all about video games, for the most part. San Diego Studios and their game MLB the Show are drawing in video gamers in crazy numbers as they create a link between NBA and NFL video games.
Baseball is clearly growing, not just in America but worldwide. Participation in the World Baseball Classic showed that baseball has grown to be a world sport. Clearly not on the soccer level, but baseball is still on the rise. The World Series had better ratings than the NBA Finals last year. You know, the finals featuring the two faces of the NBA, Steph Curry and LeBron James? Not bad for a sport with no superstars.
So, Who Is the Face?
There are many players that come to mind as to who the face of baseball could be. Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Manny Machado are just a few that come to mind. I don’t think that there is a singular face of baseball. Instead, I believe that baseball is filled with superstar athletes that command a portion of each region of the country. It also depends on what you like as a baseball viewer. You want to watch displays of power? You’re going to be a fan of the work that Giancarlo Stanton does. You enjoy great pitching? Kershaw, Bumgarner, Syndergaard, Max Scherzer. Glove work gets your blood flowing? Look no further than Machado or Nolan Arenado.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention youngsters like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, or Javier Baez. You could even go as far to say that Trea Turner may be breaking into the same category as the aforementioned. Those are a lot of possibilities for a sport that has no superstars.
Sure, the sport needs to work on face time for its athletes. But to say that there are no superstars is just asinine.