It was almost like a match being dropped in the forest.
The question began being asked in spring training: Who is the face of Major League Baseball?
Now, it seems to have spread like a forest fire and is a non-stop topic of conversation around the game. Seemingly, everyone has a nominee for the face of the game, an unofficial title if there ever was one, and a position that has been vacant since New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter retired following the 2014 season.
Not surprisingly, Commissioner Rob Manfred is mentioning Yankees rookie right fielder Aaron Judge as a top candidate.
The 25-year-old is the sport’s hottest commodity after hitting 30 home runs in the first half of the season for baseball’s most-storied franchise, which also plays in the nation’s biggest media market. Judge’s popularity rose even higher on Monday night when he won the All-Star Home Run Derby with a marvelous display of power at Marlins Park in Miami.
“He’s absolutely phenomenal,” Manfred said. “I mean, there is no other word to describe it. He is a tremendous talent on the field, a really appealing off-the-field personality.”
However, Judge seems reluctant to take on such a responsibility at a point in which he has played less than one full season in the major leagues.
“I’m just trying to take everything one day at a time at this point,” Judge said.
Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark believes baseball would be better served to have multiple faces of the game.
“There are a lot of exciting young players in our game today that have great stories to tell,” Clark said. “Over time, you are going to see them telling those stories, and I think their stories and personalities will connect with the fans.”
Clark did not provide any details on exactly how or when these stories will be told. However, he is certainly correct when he says there a lot of exciting youngsters throughout the major leagues.
The list is seemingly endless, from Judge to fellow rookie sensation Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as such players as Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Gary Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard.
And, yes, we’re omitting plenty of other talented youngsters.
Trout stands out above and beyond everyone on the list. Just 25, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder has already won two American League Most Valuable Player awards and finished second in the voting on three other occasions.
However, Trout is a reluctant superstar. Though accessible, he loathes talking about himself and usually redirects the subject to the team when asked about his personal accomplishments.
“The way I was raised in this game is that it is about the team, not you,” Trout said at last year’s All-Star Game. “I’m aware of what I’ve accomplished and I am proud of it, but it’s a team game, not an individual sport.”
Therein lies the problem of finding the face of baseball. The game itself does not allow for individualism.
If a batter stands and admires a home run for too long, he will likely see a brushback pitch in his next at-bat. If a pitcher gets a little carried away celebrating a strikeout, he will probably be glared at by the opposing batter.
“Baseball is a team game and always will be,” Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw said. “Still, we have a lot of great players in the game today. I’d love to see them get more recognition nationally. We lag behind the NFL and NBA in that regard, and I understand that all of America loves football. But we have a lot of guys in this sport who deserve attention.”