Remember last year, during the All-Star break, when commissioner Rob Manfred responded to questions about MLB’s struggles to promote the historically great Mike Trout by shifting blame onto Trout himself? Remember how Manfred said Trout would have a “very big” brand if he’d work more with MLB, which incidentally has failed to propel a single star into broad cultural stardom since Derek Jeter? Remember how you guffawed at the absurdity of Manfred’s case?
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MLB is back at it, one year later, in response to similar questions about the popularity of reigning MVP Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox. Betts’s case sort of punctures the theory that much of what has robbed Trout of cultural prominence is the Angels’ lack of playoff success—Betts has played four full seasons in Boston, and been to the playoffs three times, and won a World Series, and in the estimation of Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, that team success plus his many individual accomplishments should’ve propelled Betts into the upper stratosphere of sports celebrity. Per the Boston Globe:
“Mookie should be a household name,” Clark said. “Mookie should be a one-name guy. You say [Cristiano] Ronaldo. You say [Lionel] Messi. You say Mookie. You should know who Mookie is. And, outside the baseball world I don’t know how many people do.
“He should be in the conversation with non-baseball fans. Mookie [should] be one of them. No doubt about it.”
A lot of this is just a function of how baseball works, and doesn’t need to be rehashed, except to say that a given player’s path to the majors is really opaque compared to, say, basketball and football, and it’s telling that Clark views “one-name” status as flowing from MVPs and championships when it was bestowed upon LeBron James before he’d graduated from high school. But the more interesting part of Clark’s comments is how they were received by Major League Baseball. Clark wants MLB to step up its efforts to market its best players to non-baseball fans; MLB’s response, once again, is to blame the victim:
One source from the league office heard what Clark had to offer on Betts’s lack of promotion and told the Globe that MLB tried to push Betts, but the majority of time Betts has declined.
The source alluded to its “Let The Kids Play” commercial as one of the promotions MLB tried to involve Betts in, yet the outfielder would not to participate.
For what it’s worth, I am a baseball fan and off the top of my head I could not tell you a single player who participated in the “Let The Kids Play” campaign, and I doubt very seriously that any of my non-baseball-fan family members have even heard of it. It remains adorable and wonderful that MLB’s answer to the many challenges of propelling a baseball player to stardom in the 21st century is “do more of our commercials.”