ESPN’s Jayson Stark attempted to answer the ever-shifting Who is the Face of Baseball question. He concluded that no one has stepped in to fill the vacancy created when Derek Jeter retired. It’s a solid conclusion.
Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra explored the topic in a follow-up piece and suggested it will be some time before the next Face of Baseball emerges. It’s another solid conclusion.
Both writers point out the challenges individual players face in breaking through. Dominant pitchers take the mound every fifth day. Dominant hitters ome to the plate every 45 minutes or so in an average game. Although baseball is full of individual matchups, there is more focus on the team at large. It’s the most regional of all sports. A 162-game schedule spread over six months prevents off-the-field drama from capturing eyeballs whereas downtime in the NBA and NFL breeds controversy and conversation.
The Face of Baseball mantle is, of course, a nebulous and intangible thing. The mere existence of a FoB does not mean baseball is thriving nor does the absence of one prove it’s failing. Major League rosters are not currently bereft of future first-ballot Hall of Famers. There’s plenty of talent. Hell, Mike Trout could go down as one of the best to ever put on a uniform. The same can be said for Miguel Cabrera.
It’s probably not a good thing for baseball that no shining star has assumed the role. Some of that can be explained, at least for right now, by the Chicago Cubs assuming the role by committee during last year’s curse-breaking year.
But perhaps identifying the Face of Baseball isn’t as important as recognizing that there’s dramatic cosmetic surgery being done to make the sport appeal to a younger generation. Baseball is getting a facelift. It’s getting work done, whether it be a revisiting of rules — both written and unwritten, a focus on pace of play, replay, or any number of innovations meant to transform the game to suit a more fickle public.
The next player to ascend to the role will do so in a much different climate than the one gave rise to Derek Jeter. Baseball has lost relevance in the two decades since Jeter’s first World Series run. How different might the game look by the next time a transcendent superstar comes along? Will those who loved it before the wholesale changes be able to recognize it?
The push to self-improve is obvious and understandable. But if the makeover is too dramatic, those who love baseball’s old look may not find the new and improved model appealing. The next Face of Baseball is less pressing than what face baseball will present when that time comes.
As I’ve written before, this is a dangerous procedure. Changing one’s self too much in the quest for new love can backfire. One might not like what they see when the bandages come off. More importantly, an otherworldly talent who captures the public a la Babe Ruth may not be enough to reverse things, should he come along.