This week, together with the World Series, marks one of the high points of the baseball season, in terms of it getting an extra slice of national attention. And, from my perspective, it went great! The Home Run Derby was thrilling and fun, and the All-Star Game was an excellent representation of the game today.
In the All-Star Game, the sport’s best player, Mike Trout, even hit one of the record 10 homers in the game. That’s perfect!
The rub, though, as it always is with Trout, is that while he is the sport’s clear best player, he is far from its most recognizable or celebrated. To that end, Commissioner Rob Manfred offered his perspective on why Trout is not marketed as effectively as he could be.
“Player marketing requires one thing for sure – the player,” Manfred said, per ESPN. “You cannot market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those to whom you are trying to market in order to have effective marketing. We are very interested in having our players more engaged and having higher-profile players and helping our players develop their individual brand. But that involves the player being actively engaged …. Mike’s a great, great player and a really nice person, but he’s made certain decisions about what he wants to do and what he doesn’t want to do, and how he wants to spend his free time and how he doesn’t want to spend his free time. That’s up to him. If he wants to engage and be more active in that area, I think we could help him make his brand really, really big. But he has to make a decision that he’s prepared to engage in that area. It takes time and effort.”
Normally, you’d say that Manfred’s comments were probably well-intentioned, and they probably aren’t even inaccurate. But the reality is that we’re in an environment where every little thing becomes an absolute conflagration between the players and the owners, so when the Commissioner – the leader of the owners – offers this kind of feedback about a star player, it’s going to be especially poorly received and parsed vigorously.
I will say, though, that I didn’t expect the biggest rebuke to come from a member team:
— Angels (@Angels) July 18, 2018
There may as well have been a middle finger emoji in there somewhere.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Angels would come to Trout’s defense, even if I wouldn’t have expected a statement like this. They know him best of all, know what kind of person he is, know what drives and animates his activities, and don’t want him to be seen as a guy who isn’t doing his fair share for the good of the sport.
The reality of baseball is that it does not breed the same kind of celebrity that a star quarterback or power forward does. Less of the team’s success is dependent on that ONE player, and some nine or ten players are spread around in their visibility in a given game. It’s just different than football and basketball.
I do think MLB could be doing more, though, and it starts with continuing to ease up on the ways they do and do not let fans do the legwork of spotlighting players. That means fewer DMCA takedown notices, and more embracing of guys like the Pitching Ninja. I think they’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a ways to go.
As far as what the players, themselves, should feel an obligation to do? Well, obviously putting in the work to play a great game of baseball is priority one. Being available for fan engagement at some level is also of critical importance. Spreading the game of baseball to kids, yup, that’s way up there, too. Beyond that, if you’re able and willing to make yourself available to be marketed as “Pro Baseball Player,” I think there’s a lot of value to the continuation and long-term success of the sport there. But just like with Trout’s situation, I don’t know that you can fairly tell a guy to get out there and be more visible for the cameras.