Major League Baseball is rising — so who is the face? – Yahoo Finance

But Trout plays on the LA Angels, which hasn’t made it to the World Series since 2002, never in Trout’s time. The face of baseball needs to be known to casual fans, and needs to be seen in the postseason. It’s about public awareness, not personal stats.

Bryce Harper, “making baseball fun again”

Nationals slugger Bryce Harper may represent the inverse argument of Trout: he has achieved fame (maybe notoriety) outside of baseball, so he checks that box, even though there are players that have performed better this season.

Last year, Harper told ESPN that baseball, “is a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself.” Soon, he was sporting a hat, parodying Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign motto, that said, “Make Baseball Fun Again.” Harper appeared nude on the cover of ESPN’s “Body Issue.” He’s got the looks, the hair. He’s got the priciest baseball endorsement deal ever, with Under Armour. All of this adds up to a convincing case—but many traditional fans don’t like Harper’s edgy behavior or views on the sport. There is certainly not universal love for Harper, the way that there was for Jeter. Harper is controversial. But maybe baseball needs a controversial star.

Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Altuve

Here are three more popular choices fans like to shout out: Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, and Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. These are all terrific players, but none is a real candidate for the solo face of baseball.

Kershaw gets limited time on the field (and thus exposure to fans) because he’s a pitcher; Stanton is limited by the small-market, losing-record team he plays for; and Altuve, at 5-foot-6, is an exciting oddity mostly getting attention for how good he’s been in the latter half of the season and now the playoffs.

The Chicago Cubs, as a team

Here’s a different kind of thought: What if the most famous face in baseball right now isn’t one face, but a group? One could argue it’s the Cubs.

Together, they’ve got a range of likable personalities: Kris Bryant, who was a rookie last season and already figures prominently in advertising campaigns for companies like Under Armour and fashion label Express; Javier Baez, last year’s NLCS MVP, who played for Puerto Rico in this year’s World Baseball Classic, and who has visible fun playing the game; Anthony Rizzo, a three-time All-Star and Golden Glove-winning big kid who brings a positive energy to the team; and Kyle Schwarber, who was memorably brought back from injury rehab just in time for the World Series, to name a few of the core starters.

None of these players on his own (though some may argue Bryant) is individually famous enough to be the face of the league, but even casual sports fans know that the Chicago Cubs, with a lovable group of exciting young players, won the title last year and broke a 108-year curse. The Cubs, as a team, are currently the most famous part of baseball, more than any one player.

There’s always Derek Jeter, new co-owner of the Marlins

Here’s a thought even more outside the box than the current Cubs: What if it’s still Derek Jeter?

Yes, he’s retired, but recently enough that every sports fan in America knows who he is and remembers his gameplay. In his final season, the league, the team, and sponsors like Gatorade and Nike carried out a summer-long celebration like the sport had never seen (remember “RE2PECT”?).

In retirement, he has been anything but quiet: he launched a website, The Players’ Tribune, that has become (for better or worse) the de facto place where athletes announce their news or tell harrowing personal stories; he launched a children’s publishing imprint; he owns a 24-Hour-Fitness gym in New York City. He has demonstrated a new playbook for retirement that future stars will follow. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who retired two seasons after Jeter, names Jeter as his role model for retirement. “Everybody knows what he’s about, and he still is.”

And now Jeter is the co-owner of the Miami Marlins, and the face of the team’s front office, so beginning next season he will still be very much in the sport day to day. (Whether fans like the personnel decisions he’s making is a different issue.) He’s not playing, but he is likely the most famous, and universally popular, individual working in baseball.

There is no ‘face of baseball’ right now — and that’s a problem

The final possibility, if you don’t buy Judge or Trout as candidates: MLB has no single “face of the sport” right now. That’s a problem in its path to growth with young fans.

The NFL has Tom Brady, who is unquestionably the face of the sport. Even if you hate the New England Patriots, very few Americans do not recognize Brady. In the NBA, the ‘face’ is surely LeBron James or Steph Curry — both pass the general fame test, both have signature sneaker deals with Nike or Under Armour that make them the single face of a national sports marketing campaign.

The fact that it is such an open debate in baseball suggests a vacuum. The NHL has the same problem: Sidney Crosby, widely thought to be its best player, is hardly famous outside of hockey. Everyone in America once knew Wayne Gretzky (“The Great One”); not so for hockey these days.

Perhaps the 2017 World Series — especially if the Cubs are there again, or if Judge leads the Yankees there in his rookie season — will give an answer.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwriteSportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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