Major League Baseball is faced — no pun intended — with a weird situation, as it’s full of amazing young players yet no one stands out as the “Face of Baseball.”
Jayson Stark dove deep into the topic in an article published Wednesday on ESPN.com, and there seem to be plenty of reasons for this somewhat unsettling reality. It’s clear MLB currently lacks star power, though, and perhaps nothing illustrates this more than some polling data contained within Stark’s very thought-provoking piece.
Luker on Trends, the company that runs the ESPN Sports Poll, surveyed more than 6,000 American sports fans (age 12 and older) between November and February. According to Stark, only three baseball players showed up among America’s 50 favorite pro athletes (excluding Tim Tebow and Bo Jackson).
The three? Derek Jeter (No. 13), Babe Ruth (No. 30) and Pete Rose (No. 50).
Jeter retired in 2014, Ruth retired in 1935 and Rose, who was suspended from the game in 1989, retired in 1986.
In other words, America’s three favorite baseball figures haven’t played in a combined 116 years.
Now, obviously we’re dealing with a very small sample size here. And, as Stark notes, respondents were invited to name either active or retired athletes, an option that resulted in NBA legend Michael Jordan landing atop the rankings. But the highest-ranked active MLB player on the list, according to Stark, is Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo at No. 51, and even that might simply be a product of the Cubbies winning the World Series in October to snap a 108-year championship drought.
For additional context, among active athletes, 15 NFL players, six NBA players, two soccer stars (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), two tennis stars (Serena Williams and Roger Federer), one swimmer (Michael Phelps), one NHL player (Sidney Crosby), one sprinter (Usain Bolt), one NASCAR driver (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), one mixed martial artist (Conor McGregor) and one golfer (Tiger Woods) all appear on the list before a single active baseball player.
Of the respondents who identified as “avid” baseball fans, 2.9 percent said Rizzo’s teammate, Kris Bryant, is their favorite baseball player, making him the top dog in that category. It’s a tiny number when compared to LeBron James’ star power. According to Stark, 23 percent of people who consider themselves “avid” NBA fans said James is their favorite player.
Maybe Bryant, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper or one of MLB’s other young studs can change the way America thinks about baseball. But for now, it’s a rather faceless sport.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images