Judge and Bellinger: With Stars Budding in New York and Los Angeles, the Future is Bright
On Monday, Major League Baseball was dealt two crushing blows involving the game’s biggest stars.
Harper and Trout Make Headlines
First, the Angels revealed that Mike Trout would be sidelined for 6-8 weeks after requiring surgery on a thumb injury he sustained sliding into second base. Prior to the announcement, Trout was batting .337/.461/.742 with 16 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 106 plate appearances. The rest of the Angels roster was batting just .226/.298/.341 with 39 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 1,809 plate appearances.
Second, Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper was involved in a brawl with Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland after Strickland intentionally hit Harper with a fastball. Harper charged the mound, tossed his helmet in Strickland’s direction, and punches were subsequently thrown. Harper was quickly given a four game suspension. After an appeal, the suspension has been reduced to three games.
But now more than ever, baseball is in a position to deal with these types of situations. This is because although Trout and Harper are widely recognized as the game’s two best players, the sport is currently in the midst of implementing its next great stars: Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger.
Judge and Bellinger Represent the Next Wave of Talent
While much of the discussion recently around the baseball world has focused on Trout and Harper, Judge and Bellinger have continued to do what they do best- hit baseballs, that is.
It’s not just that Judge leads Major League baseball with 17 home runs and leads the Yankees with a .323 batting average, 37 runs batted in, 39 runs scored, a .423 on base percentage, a .689 slugging percentage, and an astonishing 1.112 OPS.
No, it’s not just that Bellinger leads the Dodgers with 11 home runs and 29 runs batted in since making his debut about a month ago.
And no, it’s not that the Yankees and Dodgers are in first place, both with a respectable chance of reaching the World Series.
It’s the markets. It’s the fact that the Yankees play in New York and the Dodgers play in Los Angeles. It’s that as good as these players are, their superstardom is capable of reaching never before seen heights because of the perfect mix of talent and location and timing. Undoubtedly, Major League Baseball is in a phenomenal place moving forward.
America’s Pastime No More?
It’s long been known that MLB has had a problem marketing its greatest stars, especially when compared to other sports. Even when Derek Jeter and David Ortiz were playing for big league teams, baseball had a problem finding a face of the game.
The best example of a sports league marketing its players is the job the National Basketball Association has done with acclimating fans to its players. Athletes that play basketball are among the most popular figures in the world. Players such as Steph Curry and LeBron James are seen everywhere with clothing and shoe lines, commercials, and other media that strikes a chord with popular culture.
Even the National Football League has thrived with making its athlete’s faces instantly recognizable- and those guys wear face masks when they play. Undeniably, football is the most popular sport in the United States and has capitalized as such.
Both of these sports have been able to realize that the world is shrinking. Some of the biggest football and basketball players are located in spots like Green Bay, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Portland, and Cleveland. These are not traditionally dominant markets.
New Media Has Redefined Athlete Culture
The emergence of social media has allowed players in these markets to blossom. This has created an even playing field in which any athlete can become a household name.
But baseball is different. Baseball is America’s Pastime, a sport firmly entrenched in in tradition and legacy. Certain franchises in baseball transcend their markets and even the new-wave forms of media.
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are certainly two of these franchises. Even more than LeBron James and Steph Curry, the Yankees and Dodgers are deeply entrenched in American culture and with Judge and Bellinger setting MLB on fire, it is critical that the game does not botch its opportunity to make these players superstars. Judge and Bellinger must lead the charge as the new faces of the sport.
The Circumstances Could Not Be More Perfect
Judge and Bellinger play for two historic franchises. They play for winning teams, and teams that are expected to remain winning for the long term. They are tall in stature, hit mammoth home runs, and provide versatility in their skill set. Judge and Bellinger are also both home grown prospects, capable of reaching great heights as fan favorites.
These are the players that need to fix baseball’s star problem. The sport has never had an issue producing great players, but is has long dealt poorly with creating athletes that transcend the game. There’s little reason to believe that Judge and Bellinger cannot develop into these players as their careers progress, assuming baseball accepts them as they should. For Major League Baseball, the future is now.