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Sunday, October 10, 2021

Where did all the stars go? MLB’s brightest lights are out for the playoffs

If you pay attention to baseball, none of this is new or news. MLB is not a star-centric league like the NBA. Starting pitchers might be the quarterbacks for the day, but even the best sit in the dugout something like 80 percent of the time. “Moneyball” was an inflection point. The Tampa Bay Rays exist. In a six-month season, depth is king.

And yet, when we talk about all the ways the sport needs to change to save itself — and boy do we talk and write and pontificate about that — the limited impact of even the best players isn’t on the list. Games are too long, too slow. The league is too stodgy, too old school, deploys too many shifts and the pitchers are too good. But when it comes to the undeniable exciting talent in the game, the popular take is to blame bad marketing as if the basic facts aren’t working against them.

Maybe MLB isn’t coming up with the right commercials to turn Ohtani, Tatis, Harper and Guerrero into household names. Or maybe they’ve never played in a World Series.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 10, 2021 at 11:23 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: star power

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   1. DL from MN Posted: October 11, 2021 at 09:19 AM (#6045389)
If you want to capture kids you don't use commercials, you use video games. LeBron James and Sonic the Hedgehog both were the stars in a feature film for kids because they're both already well known by kids as video game characters.
   2. TomH Posted: October 11, 2021 at 10:40 AM (#6045437)
the poor Rays; a team of no-names. Who let them in the playoffs?? Let's have Trout and the Angels instead!
   3. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:06 AM (#6045449)
Basically these big stars become big stars because they get attention. If this person wants to see other players made into big stars she can write about them rather than whining. Just looking at the 8 teams left;

Correa led MLB in WAR, he's pretty good
Bogaerts is one of the steadiest guys in the game, not flashy but a great player
Arozarena can do it all and is developing a postseason rep
Anderson is a lot of fun and seems to be the heart of a division winner
Freeman has been a star for a long time now
Yelich had a disappointing season but he's a couple years removed from being NL MVP
Posey is a three time World Series champion, All Star and putting together a potential Hall of Fame career
Mookie Betts

And that's without even looking at the pitchers.

As a side note I was just grabbing the guys that popped into my head but I grabbed five minorities including two African Americans which for a sport that justifiably takes some heat on that front, that's a good thing from a PR perspective.
   4. JJ1986 Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:20 AM (#6045455)
My daughter likes players with more facial hair. Too many of the stars are perfectly clean shaven.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:26 AM (#6045460)
My daughter likes players with more facial hair. Too many of the stars are perfectly clean shaven.

Problem is, if they all go with the shaggy beard look, you can't tell them apart.
   6. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:36 AM (#6045464)
Problem is, if they all go with the shaggy beard look, you can't tell them apart.


That's beardist.
   7. Russlan thinks deGrom is da bomb Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:39 AM (#6045465)
This isn't really the point of the article but it certainly is fair to say that baseball players are not nearly as famous as their NBA counterparts. For example, I am pretty sure that more people would know more of the top-20 basketball players than they would the top-20 baseball players, and I think that gap increases with the younger portion of the population.
   8. JJ1986 Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:44 AM (#6045470)
More seriously - Franco and Arozarena are awesome. Anderson and Robert are awesome. Betts is awesome and Trea Turner is fun. The Giants have Posey/Crawford/not-Belt having a renaissance. Bregman and Altuve and Correa are villains to root against. Acuna is out and the Brewers best players are their starting pitchers, but that's the only series that's really light on star position players.
   9. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: October 11, 2021 at 12:01 PM (#6045475)
Acuna is out and the Brewers best players are their starting pitchers, but that's the only series that's really light on star position players.

It includes two of the last three NL MVPs. (Not saying you're wrong, just saying that if baseball marketed its stars at all, Yelich and Freeman would have some cachet.)
   10. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 11, 2021 at 12:33 PM (#6045477)
For example, I am pretty sure that more people would know more of the top-20 basketball players than they would the top-20 baseball players, and I think that gap increases with the younger portion of the population.


It's funny you say that, because when I saw this article, I was reminded of similar hand-wringing halfway through the NBA playoffs when people realized that something like 14 out of the top 15 best-selling jerseys were no longer playing. Then Giannis won the title and became possibly the biggest star in the NBA.

One way become stars is by doing legendary things in the postseason. If Tim Anderson ends up hitting .600 in the World Series, or Arozarena hits two game-winning homers, or Corbin Burnes throws a Game 7 shutout, they'll become big stars.
   11. BDC Posted: October 11, 2021 at 12:35 PM (#6045478)
National fame often comes with repeated postseason exposure. (Beverage to Tom :) There are exceptions, but being in the World Series several times over a short span of years made great stars of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter. Or in the LCS/WS era, George Brett, who only played in two Series but starred in some LCS when there were fewer playoff games to diffuse attention.

Slight drawbacks of expanded playoffs are some amount of playoff fatigue and some amount of randomness. Somebody can have a strong LDS or LCS but five other guys are also stars over those couple of weeks. There has not been a repeat WS winner since 2000. These are also strengths (more baseball, more teams getting a chance; I am not a purist about the playoffs). But strengths can have costs.
   12. Jesus Luzardo Maraschino Posted: October 11, 2021 at 03:34 PM (#6045517)
MLB’s brightest lights are out for the playoffs


The real problem is that the Brewers didn't put Brent Suter on the postseason roster. Also the Yankees lost so Mike Ford and David Hale didn't advance.
   13. The Honorable Ardo Posted: October 11, 2021 at 03:51 PM (#6045522)
As a kid growing up in the '90s, Ken Griffey Jr. was a huge mainstream media star despite a lack of postseason success.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: October 11, 2021 at 05:38 PM (#6045543)
So ... how could the rules be changed to make star players more valuable? The main issue is that the manager/team has no control over the circumstances or even the number of times that Mike Trout comes to the plate. So there are a couple of possibilities that spring to mind (both anathema obviously):

1. There is no set lineup. Batter A can bat anytime batter A is not on base.

2. There is no set lineup but no batter can bat more than once in each 9-PA set. Needs clarification but basically the earliest a player can get their second PA is the 10th PA of the game for their team ... but they can bat both 9th and 10th if the manager wants. His first one can be anywhere 1-9, the second one anywhere 10-18 ... assuming he's not on base.

3. Lineup restarts every inning.

#1 (truly absurd) and #3 lead to an explosion of PAs for Trout. #2 gives him probably only a few extra PAs but presumably more RBIs, maybe more WPA (or whatever) and endless debates about strategy for us nerds.
   15. BDC Posted: October 11, 2021 at 05:49 PM (#6045547)
#2 is similar to cricket, right? It would be worth a try in some minor league, just for fun & to see if some manager could break it.
   16. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: October 11, 2021 at 06:31 PM (#6045554)
If Tim Anderson ends up hitting .600 in the World Series, or Arozarena hits two game-winning homers, or Corbin Burnes throws a Game 7 shutout, they'll become big stars.


Anderson, maybe, since he plays in Chicago (and even then, it's for Chicago's other team). Becoming a "big star" in Tampa or Milwaukee is pretty much impossible.
   17. Walt Davis Posted: October 11, 2021 at 07:20 PM (#6045566)
BDC ... actually I think #3 would give us a result closer to cricket. The vast majority of bowls in cricket are seen by the best hitters. In cricket, the batter is of course out when they make an "out" but those are so rare that a huge share of the production comes from the first 4-5 guys in the lineup and the worst hitters may well never come to bat in a match. #1 also similar in that Trout would bat until he got on base then hopefully the next batter brings Trout home and Trout bats again. For #1, let's start with a runner on 2nd every inning to make it more cricket-y.

Becoming a "big star" in Tampa or Milwaukee is pretty much impossible.

FWIW ... as I mention regularly, down here on mlb.tv, we only get a handful of commercials (clearly not enough people are watching) so most of our between-innings is eaten up showing us the same highlights over and over. Randy Arozarena's 2020 postseason is, by far, the biggest single source of highlights. I assume these run at least occasionally in other markets. Somebody at mlb.tv decided that Arozarena has some star potential.

And obviously LeBron became a star in Cleveland; Giannis in Milwaukee. Mookie in LA, Jeter in NY, etc. are perfect storms but in this day and age of highlights, on-demand video, text updates, etc. being in a small market clearly doesn't rule out stardom. Baseball's problem is they struggle to make stars of anybody. Some of that is the nature of the game doesn't fit with the current standards of "excitement" but I really don't understand why Mookie isn't as popular as, say, Griffey was which suggests marketing failures. (Or at least he doesn't seem to be.)
   18. McCoy Posted: October 11, 2021 at 07:27 PM (#6045570)
The Brewers had Prince Fielder and Christian Yelich was well on his way to superstardom until he went full cromulent and of course Ryan Braun.
   19. base ball chick Posted: October 11, 2021 at 07:28 PM (#6045571)
MLB trashed talked the players - greedy etcetcetc

MLB owners decided to go for money NOW and not worry about getting young fans. well they got their wish. you can't watch your own team unless you get the local cable. that's stupid. especially because people under like 35 don't get cable any more. the average MLB fan is a 60 something White guy and HIS idea of STARS!!!! is some guy who has been retired for at least 30+ years

so between MLB badmouthing players to get more $$$ out of the game and nobody knowing anyone on their own team, (the rays are obviously the worst and one of the reason is they get rid of any guy after his 3rd year) there are no MLB stars.

trever bauer was good at marketing himself but he really only got about 100,000 views at most from what he posted. but he's, well, not a STAR!!! even if he is a good pitcher - certainly not like griffey or sosa or david ortiz the last STAR!!!!!!vc. the other guys just haven't tried, best i can tell, to market themself
and yeah i know things b different since griffey.

you can't b a STAR!!!!! without your face all over the intar netz and well, let's say i couldn't get my own kidz into baseball and when a serious fan can't interest her own kidz in baseball there is a problem. NONE of my kidz friends - and they ran with different crowds, were into baseball.

i really don't see how there will ever b STARS!!!!! again.
   20. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 11, 2021 at 09:18 PM (#6045601)
National fame often comes with repeated postseason exposure. (Beverage to Tom :) There are exceptions, but being in the World Series several times over a short span of years made great stars of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter. Or in the LCS/WS era, George Brett, who only played in two Series but starred in some LCS when there were fewer playoff games to diffuse attention.

It hardly took World Series exposure to make Cobb, Ruth and Gehrig into household names. What it took was establishing themselves as superstars in an era when baseball's publicity monopoly was shared only by college football. Musial put himself on the map by winning one batting title after the other, and Mantle's tape measure home runs were the talk of baseball before he ever even played in his first regular season game, let alone his first World Series.

You can make a better case for the others you mention, because during their primes baseball was but one of several sports competing for the entertainment dollar, and expansion diluted the exposure of players during the regular season
   21. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: October 11, 2021 at 09:40 PM (#6045612)
On a related note, I mourn the death of the marquee pitching matchup. Neither guy is going to be there late in the game once they hit that 100-pitch/3rd time through order/6+ inning mark. Where's the excitement and buzz around the buildup to that?
   22. BDC Posted: October 11, 2021 at 09:46 PM (#6045620)
It hardly took World Series exposure to make Cobb, Ruth and Gehrig into household names. What it took was establishing themselves as superstars in an era when baseball's publicity monopoly was shared only by college football

That seems to me unknowable. Part of how you establish yourself as a superstar in any sport is by winning championships. Take Christy Mathewson: he seems to be much bigger in retrospect than any World Series, but the establishment of his legend is inseparable from the 1905 Series.

I'm really just saying that the showcase goes a long way toward making the stars. There are exceptions, but it sure helps to play in the World Series.
   23. Booey Posted: October 11, 2021 at 10:25 PM (#6045656)
So ... how could the rules be changed to make star players more valuable?


Well, not technically a rule change, but pitchers could be made more valuable by you know, ACTUALLY letting them pitch 250 innings a year again. NBA players wouldn't be quite so marketable either if all the big stars were pulled after the 3rd quarter (in non blowouts) and the end of the game was decided by anonymous and interchangeable bench players. World Series heroics are a big part of the legacies of star pitchers like Mathewson, Koufax, Gibson, Randy Johnson, and Schilling...and none of those performances are likely to have been allowed today. The epic pitching duel in game 7 of the 1991 WS that turned John Smoltz into a star and eventually secured Jack Morris' spot in the HOF? Would never happen now. Even the postseason dominance of Madison Bumgarner from waaaaay back in 2014 seems like a whole different era.
   24. Booey Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:03 PM (#6045691)
Other problems standing in the way of MLB players becoming big stars:

MLB management - No other sport cannibalizes their own stars the way baseball does. I'll always believe their pursuit of Biogenesis was beyond idiotic. It's one thing to address a scandal if it slaps you in the face and Congress forces you to, but to actively pursue scandals on your own time and dime and willfully demonize some of your biggest stars (AROD, Braun) is mindblowingly stupid. I assume their thought process went something along the lines of, "LOOK HOW SERIOUS WE ARE ABOUT RIDDING THE GAME OF PED's!"...but it was hard not to also see the flipside, and read it as, "LOOK HOW INEFFECTIVE AND EASILY BEATABLE OUR TESTING PROGRAM IS! MOST THESE GUYS BUSTED PASSED EVERY TEST!"

Fans - From PED's to sign stealing (and I'm guessing pitchers using foreign substances will soon fall into this group once a few big names get busted), modern baseball fans are hysterical about cheating in a way that previous generations of baseball fans weren't and a way that fans of other sports still aren't. Tearing down stars seems to be just as much fun for many fans as actually cheering them on. Big stars are probably just more cheaters who haven't been caught yet. The innocence is gone and I don't think it's coming back. I don't see any baseball event captivating the nation the way the great homerun race of '98 did ever again, and fan cynicism is a big reason why.

The trends of the game itself - Let's be blunt; the current style of the modern era just isn't as exciting as...well, pretty much any other era in baseball history. TTO baseball is boring. Games seem to be decided more by managerial decisions and computer data than they are by the players. It's hard to sell most of the best players as big stars to the public when they're just not putting up big numbers anymore. Major milestones are on the verge of plummeting. Record chases - single season or career - are basically all out of reach. No one hits for high averages. No one steals bases. High RBI totals are rare. 20 game winners are rare. Complete games and shutouts are almost non existent. There's lots of homers, but they're divided evenly amongst the roster much more now than ever before. They're high overall because everyone and their mother is working to increase their launch angle and hits 20-30 a year, not because the top guys are hitting any more than usual. Now that it's been definitely proven that there's one correct way to produce maximum value, there's been a homogenization of the stats where everyone's numbers pretty much look the same. Gone are the days when low power stars could put up the same value as the top TTO sluggers by hitting .350 (Boggs, Gwynn, Ichiro) or by stealing bases (Raines, Lofton) instead. Variety is fun, and the lack thereof hurts the game, IMO.
   25. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 11, 2021 at 11:07 PM (#6045693)
It hardly took World Series exposure to make Cobb, Ruth and Gehrig into household names. What it took was establishing themselves as superstars in an era when baseball's publicity monopoly was shared only by college football

That seems to me unknowable.


It's very knowable, if you look at the status of baseball in the early 20th century, when every town and factory fielded a baseball team, and when baseball dominated the sports pages.

Part of how you establish yourself as a superstar in any sport is by winning championships. Take Christy Mathewson: he seems to be much bigger in retrospect than any World Series, but the establishment of his legend is inseparable from the 1905 Series.

So how did Ty Cobb establish his legend? By hitting .262 in three losing World Series? How did Walter Johnson, who didn't even pitch in a World Series until he'd already won 377 games?
   26. BDC Posted: October 12, 2021 at 06:49 AM (#6045728)
Andy, I'm saying "here's one factor" and you're saying "No, that factor couldn't exist." This is some sort of rhetorical fallacy but I can never remember the names for them so it will have to go unnamed :)
   27. Ron J Posted: October 12, 2021 at 07:49 AM (#6045735)
The solution to this is obvious. One team gets into the playoffs by fan voting. That way the game's biggest stars should appear on the game's biggest stage.
   28. DL from MN Posted: October 12, 2021 at 09:28 AM (#6045751)
Ken Griffey Jr. was a huge mainstream media star despite a lack of postseason success


He had his own SNES title.
   29. Commissioner Bud Black Beltre Hillman Fred Posted: October 12, 2021 at 10:20 AM (#6045760)
The solution to this is obvious. One team gets into the playoffs by fan voting. That way the game's biggest stars Kansas City Royals should appear on the game's biggest stage.

FTFY, based on past all-star voting.
   30. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 12, 2021 at 11:01 AM (#6045763)
Andy, I'm saying "here's one factor" and you're saying "No, that factor couldn't exist." This is some sort of rhetorical fallacy but I can never remember the names for them so it will have to go unnamed :)

And I'm saying is that in some of those cases you originally cited, Cobb and Musial at the very least, postseason exposure wasn't a factor at all in propelling them to stardom. If you'd simply used your more recent examples, I wouldn't have bothered to reply.

If all you're saying is that the post-season exposure factor "could" exist, then sure, but more to the point it's what players do in the postseason that makes them into household names among even casual baseball fans. If Gibson or Reggie or Jeter had been postseason flops, their whole narrative would be entirely different.
   31. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 12, 2021 at 11:07 AM (#6045766)
Ken Griffey Jr. was a huge mainstream media star despite a lack of postseason success

Yes and no. Griffey didn't need postseason success to become a mini-legend, but in his first two postseason series (the 1995 DS and LCS) his combined batting line was .364 / .442 / .818 / 1.260, and his career postseason OPS was .947. I wouldn't call that a lack of success as much as a lack of more opportunity.
   32. Bret Sabermatrician Posted: October 12, 2021 at 11:27 AM (#6045775)
As a new convert to cricket, I can say the Indian Premier League has been fun. T20 matches are 3 hours long, but they move fairly briskly. It basically takes normal cricket and compresses it enough so that guys have to swing a bit more. Plus it's like a 3 hour math game where teams have to constantly monitor how many runs they need I. However many balls they have left. The last few overs are normally pretty stressful.

I'm pretty excited to see the T20 World Cup on ESPN+ for the next month (6 and 10 am EST most days).

Not sure how you could translate baseball into a short form game tho. Maybe like 5 inning games, 6 man batting lineup but the same # of fielders, strikeout means the batter is out for the game and replaced, 3 balls/hbp means a free run, pitchers have to complete at least an inning, DH only, max/min outfield and infield, pitch clock or a free run... make it so it's the same game, but in a different format that co-exist with the full game.

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