Aaron Judge deserves all the praise he gets.
The slugger is shattering records and already passed Joe DiMaggio for the most home runs by a New York Yankees rookie in a single season when he hit his 30th before the All-Star break. And speaking of the break, Judge also became the first rookie to win the Home Run Derby outright Monday.
But he shouldn’t be the face of Major League Baseball.
Despite the fact that Judge’s first full MLB season is only halfway over, it seems plenty of fans and analysts alike already are primed to crown him one of the greatest baseball players ever. And with that often comes the honor of being “the face of baseball,” when really, there shouldn’t be a single face at all.
People who live in the central United States can tell you this. It seems pretty convenient that now that Derek Jeter is gone as “the face,” people have stepped in and decided another Yankee deserves the title, fueling those who believe sports media, in general, has an East Coast bias. But ultimately, that’s a key part of why there shouldn’t be a single representative, even if you don’t agree that teams like the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers get most of the MLB spotlight.
The fact of the matter is, baseball works on a local level, and MLB needs to promote more stars to attract a more diverse group of people to the game. Because what does Judge mean to, say, an Arizona Diamondbacks fan, who wouldn’t see much of the outfielder in the National League anyway and who already gets 162 games of the team’s own star in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt?
Baseball is much bigger on an international scale than many of the sports Americans love, too. Putting a single American player on a pedestal while mostly ignoring players from other countries won’t help baseball grow with potential fans or players from Latin America, Japan, South Korea or any number of nations with a less developed interest in the game. The league has a huge diverse market of people from all different races and backgrounds to tap into, and it doesn’t use this to the fullest.
Players also seem to get excluded from being “the face” when they don’t fit this perfect archetype of a baseball player — Bryce Harper is t oo cocky, Yasiel Puig doesn’t respect the game, Jose Altuve is too small. But there’s no reason they can’t all exist on a spectrum that’s on the same level of stardom. And this is another point that harkens back to baseball being more local than national; you can’t expect fans who want to make baseball fun again like Harper to be into the idea of a clean-cut Yankees player setting the standard.
MLB doesn’t have to stick to one guy. In a season where home runs are being hit at a historic rate, there are five players within five homers of Judge’s league-high mark of 30 — George Springer (27), Giancarlo Stanton (26), Joey Votto (26), Cody Bellinger (25) and Mike Moustakas (25). But instead of a hyped-up home run race à la Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, Judge is almost the only one getting front page news.
Judge’s emergence no doubt is exciting, but it isn’t anything new. So if MLB really wanted fans to buy into the hype, it’d start by getting them to cheer for their own players first.