The NBA was lost for years when Michael Jordan retired – it was Shaq & Kobe’s Lakers vs. the world, but ratings and interest plunged until LeBron and the Super Team era emerged a decade after MJ’s departure.
MLB has gone through a down cycle since 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Its biggest stars were embroiled in steroid and other performance-enhancing drug scandals, a stench that lingered for years.
In recent years, 24-year old Bryce Harper has emerged as a possible face of the league, though his theatrics have rankled the old school MLB crowd. Plus, his Nationals keep coming up short in the postseason. Kris Bryant of the Cubs was a top jersey seller last year, and the centerpiece of Chicago’s 1st World Series in 108 years. He’s not having the MVP hangover that Cam Newton of the Panthers suffered in 2016, but his stock was never as white-hot as this guy…
Aaron Judge. Four months ago, only die-hard Yankee fans who saw his meager 95 plate appearances last season knew his name. Now, the 25-year old 6-foot-7, 282-pound behemoth is the most popular player in the sport, leading the league in a slew of power categories while mashing tape-measure home runs nightly. It’s very early in his career, but there’s already “multiple MVPs” talk and chatter about the Hall of Fame. Yes, both seem pretty insane.
When you break a Joe DiMaggio record one week, and get millions to tune into the Home Run Derby the next, you’re kind of a big deal. The Yankees have had a rough run in ticket sales dating back to 2009, but Aaron Judge can change that.
I’ve long thought that not having a popular feeding system to MLB has hurt the sport – college basketball and college football help make fans aware of rising stars. But the case could be made that Judge is such a huge deal right now because nobody knows who he is.
Were you aware he was a 3-sport star in high school (tight end in football, center in basketball), and was recruited to Notre Dame and Stanford to play football?
In a sports culture where everyone is looking to crown young stars as the Next ___ while they’re teenagers, Judge is a rarity – a 25-year old who becomes a star overnight. Whether it’s sports or music or modeling or politics, we’re always looking to identify future stars early.
David Ortiz was only a middling prospect in Minnesota before popping with the Red Sox – going from 10 homers in 2000 to 41 in 2004 to 54 in 2006; Jose Bautista bounced around a few teams before exploding at the plate in Toronto, and a few other stars have slipped through the cracks and blown up later in their careers.
Judge is a rarity, and an outlier at the plate because of his size. Playing in the media capital of the world, leading the Yankees back to the playoffs, and shattering home run records? All of those are a recipe for TV ratings.
MLB should embrace Judge and shove him down our throats the way the NFL force feeds Tom Brady, and the NBA gives us more LeBron than we can handle. Market the hell out of him. Have him on the morning TV circuit, and the late night one, too. Line him up to host Saturday Night Live next winter. The Yankees need to magnify his presence on social media. All of this is not to distract Judge from the task at hand – winning MVP, taking New York to the World Series – but rather raise awareness about the overnight sensation.