Stars aplenty, but does ‘The Face of Baseball’ exist right now? – USA TODAY
While becoming an All-Star is a great honor, what a player does in the game could leave a lasting impact on his legacy.
USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI — In time, the gathering of young talent at this 88th All-Star Game might be remembered as one of the finest in baseball history.
Monday at Marlins Park, a cross-section of excellence convened under one roof: Established aces Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, seasoned but still young stars like Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Giancarlo Stanton, and the newest, biggest talent on the scene: Towering Yankee slugger Aaron Judge.
There’s almost certainly a Hall of Famer or three in the bunch. Another certainty: No one in this group will enjoy a level of widespread recognition as the generation that preceded them.
In recent years, baseball bid farewell to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mariano Rivera and others who could carry a segment of Saturday Night Live as easily as they could a late-inning pressure situation.
In their place is a group arguably more talented and dynamic on the field.
Yet this generation must vie for fame, endorsements and glory amid a cluttered landscape. Mixed martial arts, esports, social media, fidget spinners – none existed as Generation Jeter came of age.
So as baseball searches for an elusive and nebulous face to present the marketing world, its greatest stars acknowledged Monday that it might never happen.
“So, who’s the most comparable to Derek Jeter and his resume?” mused Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who nonetheless did not crack the seven-figure mark in 2016 endorsements, according to Forbes. “It’s pretty much impossible to do, right?
“It takes a big combination of things to find that guy.”
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Indeed, talent market, on-field success, looks and appeal might never coalesce for a ballplayer like it did for Jeter. Yet even in current conditions, the market penetration of baseball’s greatest players seems out of proportion to its on-field talents.
According to the most recent survey conducted this spring by Q Scores Company, which measures the appeal and recognition of celebrities, Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant ranked highest among major leaguers – 33rd overall, with a 48% recognition factor among sports fans ages 13 to 64.
Kershaw ranked 167th. Harper? Just 253rd among 547 athletes.
In fairness, retired athletes enjoy the greatest recognition and in fact comprise the entire top 10, with Cal Ripken tied for second place. But the gap between LeBron James – in 14th place and at 87% recognition the No. 1 face among the USA’s big four team sports – and baseball’s brightest is vast.
One note: That survey did not poll fans on Judge.
He will be included on the next survey, according to Q Scores executive vice president Henry Schafer, and it will be interesting to see what a half-season of dominance playing for the Yankees – he’s broken Joe DiMaggio’s rookie home run record with 30 – means nowadays.
Monday night, Judge only further raised his profile by winning the Home Run Derby, beating Miguel Sano in the finals and blasting a 501-foot shot along the way.
All-Stars on both squads can’t help but track his narrative. The earn-it mentality of big leaguers goes on pause to a degree as they realize that what’s good for Judge is certainly good for them, too.
The face of baseball? Right now, says Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer, it’s Judge.
“First of all, he plays in New York. Second, he’s a presence,” says Archer. “He’s doing it on the biggest possible stage. He’s a good person, you can tell.
“He has a lot more to accomplish, but he may be the next coming of Derek Jeter.”
Harper has been there. Still just 24 – younger than Judge, for one – the Washington Nationals slugger is already in his fifth All-Star Game and features the entire catalogue of blue chip MLB endorsements – from Gatorade to T-Mobile to Under Armour. Yet despite his MVP caliber of play and youth, Harper hasn’t yet approached LeBron territory.
Harper, who spent much of Monday coolly deflecting inquiries about his 2018 free agency, says more than anything else, Judge creates more appointment viewing for MLB – which has its own significant currency.
“He’s must-watch TV,” Harper says of Judge. “You turn on the TV and see him play and you think, ‘Man, he’s gonna hit a home run about nine miles right now.’ And you want to see that – as a baseball fan, as a player.
“You look at Scherzer, you look at Kershaw – they (might) strike out 20 tonight. They’re must-watch TV.”
And from Monday’s Home Run Derby into Tuesday’s game, Judge has been the man everyone wants to see. His rooftop power gives him a cachet Jeter lacked when it comes to baseball’s sexiest currency – the home run.
Monday, in his first major turn in the spotlight, Judge adopted a Jeterian stance to his burgeoning stardom – and whatever grander role it may take.
“We have a good selection of guys here who can be that face,” he said. “I think we’ll be fine getting by with the guys here.”
Fair enough. But shouldn’t a guy like Seager – a power-hitting shortstop on a perennial contender in the nation’s second-biggest market – be a household name?
“Seager’s unbelievable,” says Kershaw. “One of the top 10 talents in the game. But we’re in L.A., and a lot of this (media) stuff happens in New York. L.A.’s obviously one of the biggest markets in the game, but you don’t see it on the East Coast.”
Yet even Seager admits that on the streets of L.A., recent Lakers draftee Lonzo Ball surely would be more recognizable.
“That’s fine. Lonzo’s going to be a great player,” says Seager. “I don’t think anyone on our team wants to soak up the glory – we just want to go out and win and compete for a championship.”
OK, so maybe Seager won’t be the guy to soak up the headlines. And perhaps That Guy wasn’t, in fact, among the 71 supreme talents gathered here Monday.
Yet those that are here are supremely confident the game can flourish without him.
“Football and basketball has just taken over in terms of marketing and promoting. But we have the people,” says Archer. “We have the guys. It’s just a matter of time, but we’re going to jump on the scene just like those other sports.”
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