Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says Mike Trout, the very best baseball player in the world and one of the best in history, isn’t popular enough because he doesn’t want to do commercials:
“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,” Manfred said in the hours before MLB’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park. “I think we could help him make his brand very big.
“But he has to make a decision to engage. It takes time and effort.”
It’s important to establish what’s being measured, here. Trout is a star and a legend among baseball fans, but the Angels are crud, and I for one am not going to stay up very late at night very often to make appointment viewing out of a crappy baseball team losing games. So Trout’s popularity even among baseball fans could be higher, and would be higher if he played on a contender, or even an equally lousy team based on the east coast. But USA Today’s Gabe Lacques positions this popularity deficit in terms of athletes overall:
Until Mike Trout reaches a level of popularity and cultural relevance at least proximate to an NBA All-Star power forward or a Pro Bowl quarterback in the NFL, questions will abound as to why Major League Baseball does not market him more.
If that’s the measuring stick—say, Carmelo Anthony and Tom Brady—Manfred’s “we could help him make his brand very big” statement is just flatly absurd. Baseball is terrible at propelling its stars into the broader consciousness. There are no baseball players who are famous outside of baseball. Random New Yorkers couldn’t name a single fucking one of them. A survey of 6,000 American sports fans placed just one baseball player—an inactive one—on a list of the 50 most popular athletes. No baseball player has even once made ESPN’s big World Fame 100 annual list of most popular athletes. If the problem is that Trout isn’t engaging, it must also be the case that no baseball player has engaged since Derek Jeter retired.
Obviously baseball’s commissioner can’t come out and say Mike Trout isn’t as popular as like 40 different NBA players because the Angels blow and MLB is increasingly culturally irrelevant, but there’s something undeniably screwy and fucked-up about Manfred blaming Trout for what is essentially baseball’s problem. The most popular baseball player in the world is less popular than like the fifth-most popular golfer. If MLB has a playbook of moves for making someone famous, they’ve certainly done a fine job of not using it.