MLB looks to Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge to connect with fans
MIAMI — Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge have become the face of baseball as a gleaming, modernist ballpark and a city known for its Latino culture host the All-Star Game for the first time. After decades of falling behind, the sport finally has stepped up its national promotion.
There’s huge room for improvement: Not one player from baseball is among the 100 most famous athletes in the world.
LeBron James, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods dominate water-cooler talk far more than Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, the starting pitchers in Tuesday night’s game at Marlins Park.
“I feel he’s won 15 rings,” Harper said of Brady on Monday. “If you win, you’re going to get noticed.”
Major League Baseball hopes to break into a wider public consciousness with this new generation — for the first time since at least 1961 there are no All-Stars with at least double-digit selections.
After Rob Manfred succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner two years ago, MLB required sponsors to market top talent. But the tradition-bound sport is still trying to rebound from a quarter-century of labor wars that ended in the late 1990s.
“There is little doubt that top baseball players are less recognized than the top athletes in many other sports,” said Marc Ganis, president of the marketing company Sportscorp. “Basketball players and the NBA set many trends and are relevant in pop culture. NFL dominates in the U.S. and the second-most popular sport is also football — college football.
“Baseball has the potential to be the cultural star in places like Latin America and Japan, where so many great players come from these days. But in the U.S. and in the Eurocentric, English-primary world, basketball, NFL, soccer, tennis and at certain times golf stars connect more with fans, especially younger fans, and sponsors who covet those fans,” he said.
Judge beat hometown slugger Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of the field to win Monday night’s Home Run Derby at 5-year-old Marlins Park, a sleek retractable-roof ballpark with splashes of Joan Miro colors, a Red Grooms home run sculpture and a Clevelander night club with a swimming pool just beyond the left-field wall. MLB hopes to continue momentum from the Chicago Cubs’ first title since 1908, which drew the highest television rating for the World Series in a dozen years.
“We know that fans connect locally every day with the teams that they root for and love, and our job is to try to…