This past week over the All-Star break, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took jabs at the absolute best player in the world in Mike Trout. He said, ““Mike has made decisions on what he wants to do, doesn’t want to do, how he wants to spend his free time or not spend his free time, I think we could help him make his brand very big.” He continued, “But he has to make a decision to engage. It takes time and effort.” Major shade is being thrown at Trout here, and while many may agree that Mike Trout is not nearly close to where he should be in worldwide popularity, it is not completely his fault, or really his at all. It isn’t like he is demanding more money, giving up the way he plays, or anything by that means. He is trying to live as simple of a life as he can, by being a baseball player and loving what he does. He doesn’t need the fame and fortune, and I respect that. However, there is something that could be said for how the MLB markets all of their players, bringing me to the topic at hand.
Bryce Harper is probably the most well-known current day player there is in the entire league. He is in all of the commercials, he has looked the part since day one with either the wavy hair:
Or just the pure swagger:
Bryce Harper is simply the most important player to this sport.
All the popularity runs through Bryce Harper. If he is going well, so is the MLB. When it is going bad, it feels as if there are less eyes on the product. Maybe it is due to the fact that he was the 16 year old who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated because he threw absolute flames and hit absolute bombs:
Actually, what do I mean maybe? He has been the Chosen One since that moment, by the people and by the MLB. Rob Manfred can do all he wants, trying to blame baseball’s popularity struggles to the young people because Mike Trout doesn’t want to do a commercial, but it is truly because of Bryce Harper. And do not get me wrong, I love Bryce Harper, he is the other favorite player of mine who wears 34 (sup Big Papi), but his struggles this season and being inconsistent or hurt every season continues to hurt the game of baseball because he has been the MLB’s GUY. Simply put, performance wise, Mike Trout is everything the MLB dreamt of Bryce Harper being, and it just didn’t happen that way.
Sure, Bryce has been awesome in years past, including winning the NL MVP in 2015 with the numbers of .330 AVG, 42 HR, 99 RBI, and a 1.109 OPS, which are amazing numbers and helped baseball a ton it felt that season. While this season, it is COMPLETELY different. It feels this season, more and more focus are on the popularity, or should I say the lack there is, and it feels Bryce Harper may be part of that blame. As much as I hate to say it, so much attention hits him in the face every single game. I feel if he was given more freedom like Mike Trout instead of having the spotlight on him every single moment, it would be completely different. Yet, Harper is hitting a career worst .214 so far with a decent number of homers 23 and 54 RBI. The .833 OPS is pretty good considering his struggles, but simply put, everyone expects so much more, including Bryce himself.
If you want to fully understand how important he is to the league, look at the highlights of the Home Run Derby this past Monday, or at least the last round:
Electrifying. Bryce Harper is the epitome of excitement and popularity. He is so important to the game of baseball, like him or not. You can be cheering against or for him, that is why he is the most important to the league. Not Trout, not Kershaw (well if he was healthy that’d be great), not Betts, and not Judge, it is a will be Bryce Harper. This offseason will all be focused on Bryce for a reason, because he is the center. How much money will he get? Where will he go? Can he bounce back? All these questions will be asked because he matters so much to baseball.
Now I could be wrong (I’m not), but Bryce is just that important. What do you think though? Is the popularity of baseball somewhat run through the success of Bryce Harper? Or is it running through the way Trout is advertised? Or is it something else altogether?
As always, let me know!
– Scott Edwards, Creator of WTF Sports