MLB doesn’t need a 'face of baseball,' and the proof is in the playoffs

Does MLB really need a “face of baseball?”
Does MLB really need a “face of baseball?”
Image: Getty Images

Mike Trout has as many MVP awards as career playoff games played, with three, and for as much talk as there might be in baseball — even from the commissioner — about MLB’s need for the best player of his generation to take on the mantle of the face of the game, no amount of marketing can make up for the fact that when the spotlight is brightest, the biggest star is nowhere to be found.

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It’s the nature of baseball that it’s a team game and one player, especially a position player, cannot carry a team to October by themself. As the sports landscape has changed over the decades, and the regular season has become more of a background hum through summer, with attention more regionalized due to the proliferation of teams, the game’s best players don’t necessarily wind up taking center stage in front of the biggest audience.

Among active players, the career leaders in postseason games played are as follows, with their ranking among their contemporaries in Baseball-Reference’s wins above replacement in parentheses.

Yadier Molina (16) - 100

Albert Pujols (1) - 77

Josh Reddick (47) - 73

Justin Turner (34) - 72

Jose Altuve (20) - 63

Carlos Correa (37) - 63

George Springer (39) - 63

Joc Pederson (143) - 61

Alex Bregman (50) - 57

Yuli Gurriel (131) - 57

That’s only one of the top 15 active position players in WAR. It’s not just Trout whom you don’t see regularly in the playoffs. Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Evan Longoria, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Brett Gardner, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, and Giancarlo Stanton all have seen some October action. Some even have rings. But you can’t just turn on the TV in October and expect to see the best players of this era.

In basketball, on the other hand, there are role players high on the list of playoff games played, but the superstars are there in a big way. Here are the active NBA leaders in postseason games, with their spot in the active list for Win Shares in parentheses.

LeBron James (1) - 265

Andre Iguodala (10) - 170

Danny Green (62) - 150

Udonis Haslem (55) - 147

Serge Ibaka (28) - 146

Kevin Durant (3) - 144

J.R. Smith (68) - 140

James Harden (4) - 133

George Hill (30) - 132

Kawhi Leonard (19) - 129

Chris Paul, fourth on the active Win Shares list, has 114 career playoff games played and counting. Dwight Howard, in fifth, is at 118. LaMarcus Aldridge, retired now, but active through this season, appeared in 72 postseason games. Stephen Curry is at 112. Carmelo Anthony has been in 82 playoff contests.

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Even in hockey, the best players tend to be in the playoffs a lot. Obviously, as in basketball, many more teams in hockey make the playoffs than in baseball, but again, the stars stick around and get seen. Here are the top 10 active NHL non-goalies in playoff games played.

Zdeno Chara - 200

Patrick Marleau - 195

Joe Thronton - 186

Sidney Crosby - 174

Evgeni Malkin - 170

Joe Pavelski - 161

Patrice Bergeron - 156

Corey Perry - 153

David Krejci - 152

Ryan McDonagh - 147

Not every great player of the era is on this list, like Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, and Anze Kopitar, but all of those guys have won the Stanley Cup and seen plenty of postseason action. And the list of active players most seen in the playoffs is composed almost entirely of future Hall of Famers, with a couple of longshots for enshrinement, and also Corey Perry, who, for all his Corey Perryness, does have an MVP.

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When people watch the biggest basketball and hockey games of the season, they’re usually getting to see familiar faces who are among the greats of their era. The NFL, obviously, is driven by elite quarterbacks. That just isn’t the case in baseball, and that’s part of the problem with looking for someone to be the “face of the sport.” It doesn’t really matter who that is if you can’t get that face in front of the cameras when the sport has its biggest audience.

The way for baseball to fix this isn’t to try to force the issue, but to recognize that its product is inherently different from the other major sports and market itself accordingly, because while the playoffs are the most important, exciting, and watched part of the year, it’s not necessarily when the best players will be playing.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.