Could the Home Run Derby Help Save Baseball from Itself??
If you didn't tune in at some point Monday night to watch Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby, you missed one of the most exciting, fun events on this years sports schedule.
Which by the way was NOT something you could say about the Derby in years past.
For those of you who missed it, New York Mets Rookie Monster/Slugger Pete Alonso won the thing after a long, grueling, tension filled but incredibly exciting mano-y-mano battle with Toronto Blue Jays Rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (yes, he's the son of former MLB legend). Those two along with Atlanta Braves Rookie Ronald Acuna and Los Angeles Dodgers youngin' Joc Pederson made for an event that will be recounted for years.
Alonso won the event even though he didn't hit the most total homers, he didn't hit the longest homer or hardest hit homer. In the finals against Guerrero, he hit 23 bombs, the last coming on the final pitch as the clock struck zero.
As amazing and awesome as Alonso's performance was---it may have been upstaged in the semi-finals when Guerrero and Pederson put on a show that will be...well, it had to be seen to be believed as the two sluggers went to an overtime period and then a second and third overtime period before Guerrero prevailed.
Alonso was consistent--20+ homers for every 4 minute period and he outlasted Acuna, who put on a dazzling display by hitting balls to every corner of the Cleveland Ballapark.
I'm sure ESPN will re-run this whole event--even though it took some 3+ hours to finish and it is worth your time to find it as it is arguably "Must See TV" if you are a baseball fan.
Listen---the most glaring takeaway of everything in this event: The competitors--all of them were in their early 20's...or in the case of Guerrero and Acuna--20/21. Which in theory should tell you baseball's best days may still be ahead of them.
And that's the takeaway from all of this. It's now on Major League Baseball to correctly market this "New Generation" of baseball players because to be perfectly honest, they are SERIOUSLY talented.
Just look at the All-Star game lineup for the National League, the oldest starter: 29-year old Atlanta Braves 1B Freddie Freeman. When was the last time you could say that about an All-Star game known more as a popularity contest for aging, big-name former stars then the up and coming talent of the game.
Seriously. There was almost no arguing about who got "Left Off" the All-Star rosters this year. And for good reason.
We all know MLB has had some serious image problems over the past decade or so. The game has wained in popularity while Football and Basketball remain the Kings of American Sports despite baseball allegedly being "America's Game". They now have the perfect opportunity to change the perception that nobody cares about baseball because if you ask most grown ups, they'll tell you they at least pay attention to the game on occasion.
Honestly MLB's biggest stumbling block over the past decade has been themselves. The league does a horrifically bad job of marketing themselves in the modern era of Social Media and conversation. The NBA is willing to let any and everybody share game highlights after games end on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. Baseball---not so much.
The NFL has a somewhat archaic way of sharing their messages too, but the Shield also recognizes everyone watches their games no matter what they do and it doesn't matter too much if they share video...or anything else.
If I'm MLB, I'm promoting the heck out of this new generation of "Young Guns" guys on the field like Acuna, Alonso, Josh Bell, Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman, Guerrero, Pederson and even Carlos Santana of the Indians are guys you can market. Easily.....
But you need to promote them.
The league has already missed an opportunity with probably the most talented player to enter the league in the last decade--Angels star Mike Trout. Trout does things every night that could be considered "Super Human" yet outside hardcore baseball fans--nobody knows him. Trout should be the face of the game, the guy out front in every promotional opportunity---yet he isn't. He plays for a mediocre team rarely on National TV on the West Coast.
Heck, Joc Pedersen isn't even the best player on his dominant Dodgers team. Their current best player, Cody Bellinger is also an easy marketing opportunity--except nobody knows who he is. Same with Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich, the reigning National League MVP who is actually playing BETTER this season.
Listen--I get it. Baseball is largely not a game that can be completely overwhelmed by one person. One great player can't offset 8 less great players in a lineup. I get that. But there are so many great stories out there.
Alonso plays on a largely dysfunctional team (the Mets) but is a great story as a 24-year old rookie who played at the University of Florida and is now the best player on a team in a super large market. Utilize that. Let us see his story and face on a bunch of different promotions.
The NBA rose to challenge the NFL is success because they recognized the need to promote their biggest stars and make the league about them. I don't always like or agree with the "Super Team" concept, but it works. NBA TV ratings grow every year and their online presence is unmatched as the league largely lets players do what they want with little to no strings attached.
The NFL is the dinosaur in the room but their roots and popularity date back a long, long time. And for all of their faults, they recognized the need to promote their Quarterbacks and other glamour positions as stars.
Baseball could easily learn from both. You have a slew of young guys to pull from. Even guys like Acuna who are struggling to learn English are super easy to market. We see him here in Atlanta and just his presence alone is magnetic to fans who see him to crazy, superhuman feats almost daily. Use him to market to your Latin American audience. The Braves have done it locally and it has worked. Watch Acuna and his best friend, Braves 2B Ozzie Albies during a game. Look at how much fun they are having joking with each other and enjoying what they're doing.
For all the talk about a "Boring" game that takes too long to play, baseball has the people to transcend that belief. For all the bluster about Major League Baseball being focused on improving the pace of play---the pace of play has never REALLY been the issue with the game. NFL games take 3 hours minimum to play largely due to the TV timeouts and has even less actual game action than baseball does.
It's time to focus on the talent at hand Major League Baseball. Promote what you have. Make some stars. You have the template in front of you with the other sports. It's worked for them. There is absolutely NO reason it shouldn't work for you.....