MLB has Black superstars to market, but it’s just not a priority right now.
MLB has been making concerted efforts to promote the game, identify and develop a talent pipeline within the African-American community, but Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price says the league isn’t doing enough to market viable superstars of color at the major league levels such as Mookie Betts.
One of the major knocks on baseball is that it has no African-American superstars with the marketing reach of a Ken Griffey Jr. or Derek Jeter, to engage young people of color.
“OK, that’s a joke,” Price, one of a handful of black pitchers in MLB and the last Black Ace, told MassLive.com
“I saw the Brewers first baseman [Jesús Aguilar] has a commercial on MLB Network. Great player. Great player. I love watching him play. I’ve heard nothing but great things about him from Travis Shaw and all those guys. But he’s not Mookie Betts. We’re trying to grow this game in the African-American community. Put that guy [Betts] on commercials. That’s how this game grows. MLB is probably the worst at marketing their players. They need to do a better job of that. We’ve talked about that to the union and [MLB commissioner] Mr. [Rob] Manfred many times.”
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When Mike Trout received his $430 million deal, most of the baseball world was in agreement that he deserved the money based on his performance. As far as transcending the game as the face of baseball is concerned, no one outside of the sport knows who he is.
Trout plays baseball in LA, is the game’s premier baller, but MLB doesn’t market him or put him in commercials and he has no desire to be that guy. Betts, on the other hand, plays in one of baseball’s largest markets, was the MVP in 2018 and is dripping with personality. If baseball truly wanted to attract more African-American players then the efforts start at the top.
While the grassroots initiatives and diversity series have led to more players getting drafted and earning college scholarships, the true inspiration comes from the African-American players who are already excelling at the MLB level and on TV frequently.
“Market the African-American stars in baseball better,” Price said. “And the other players. Everybody. Market us better. Mookie Betts doesn’t have a single commercial. He’s one of the most marketable people in all of baseball. He plays for the Red Sox and he’s African American. Zero commercials. A very likable person. He could be the face of baseball. And zero (primetime) commercials. He just won MVP. MLB just needs to step up.”
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Price isn’t lying. The problem is, MLB isn’t hurting financially. The TV deals, exorbitant ticket pricing, and the money-generating fun parks have provided baseball with a nice financial cushion.
While the League acknowledges that it’s a problem that African-Americans comprise less than 8 percent of total rosters — and the numbers don’t reflect the deep tradition of African-American excellence in MLB started by Jackie Robinson — there’s no extra pressure for baseball to go out of its way to promote a Mike Trout, Mookie Betts or Aaron Judge.
Even if it makes common sense to ride the popularity of these guys. Because they are African-Americans excelling in baseball, Black Knights like Betts and Judge already have a buzz outside of the baseball arena. There faces should be splattered all over MLB. Every Black kid from the streets of Compton to the back skirts of Mississippi should know who these Black titans of baseball are.
But they don’t and MLB isn’t pressed to do anything about it.
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Promoting teams, rather than players is always a safer route for MLB.
It allows owners to collude to keep salaries down and also avoids the situations we’ve seen in the NFL with Antonio Brown — and more frequently in the NBA — where superstars dictate trades and are perceived to wield too much power.
If anything, MLB has a greater focus on the international stars that are entering the league like Ron Acuna Jr., Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The American stars still seem undervalued. We need to see more of these kinds of commercials.
MLB has got it half right. They are providing opportunities for young African-Americans and female players through various diversity camps and initiatives. Incrementally building a future where African-Americans aren’t strangers to the sport. At the same time, there are Black players with star power right now that MLB could be promoting and it’s just not happening.
About time somebody mentioned it publicly. Maybe MLB will respond. A campaign promoting the less than 75 African-American players in baseball and familiarizing them to the masses is long overdue.