Of all the ideas to improve baseball and bring it to a place where it can overcome the massive generational shifts impacting the entire sporting universe, one of the most common is that the game needs to develop a “Face of Baseball,” a young and marketable superstar capable of drawing in casual observers. The hill is so packed with those wishing to die on it that grave sites are going at a high premium. The argument is so ubiquitous that it’s rapidly becoming easily tuned-out background noise.
Some who push it have their hearts in the right place and care deeply about the future of baseball because it means something to them. Others only know how to engage by suggesting rule changes, complaining about unwritten rules without digging deeper into their role, or comparing it to another sport.
This is not to say there’s not some merit.
But considering the relative silence following last night’s’ Bryce Harper — Mike Trout clash in Los Angeles, I’m left wondering what exactly has to happen in order for the immediate impact of these players trusted to preserve relevance to be felt. What will it feel like? If the two biggest players in baseball can go mano a mano with home runs in a rare interleague matchup and few notice, does that needle of interest make a noise? Does it move at all?
Obviously, the fact that the Harper — Trout battle played out on the West Coast on a weeknight in the middle of the regular season means it was fighting an uphill battle. At the same time, this was only the second time they’d shared a field outside of an All-Star Game. Harper’s Washington Nationals are in a pennant chase. Trout’s Angels are still within striking distance of the wildcard and he’s only recently returned from an injury.
This could be going too far, but the lack of buzz following a game in which the sport’s best showed why they are the biggest stars within minutes of each other is a signal that starting a ratings fire will take much more than simply banging two mighty sticks together.
Again, I’m applying a macro meaning to a micro event and fully understand the uphill battle this event was climbing. And I realize that my assumption that it didn’t rate is more feeling-based than fact-based, at least for now. But that’s why my question — the biggest one — is what those pushing the “just need a face” crowd think it will feel like when the groundswell of interest begins. It seems as if the perfect storm testing this thesis came to fruition last night, with minimal impact on the ecosystem.