The NFL has Tom Brady. The NBA has LeBron James. The NHL has Sidney Crosby. Who does Major League Baseball have as its face right now?
Where are all those sure Hall of Fame talents who play the game the right way, elevate their teams, have a championship résumé, not to mention a flair for the dramatic, and embrace the role of ambassador for the sport?
OK, let Balls put it another way: Who’s the one guy that you absolutely, positively have to watch at the All-Star Game on Tuesday? That is, if you plan to watch it at all.
If that question had been asked previously in the expansion era, it would have drawn some obvious responses. The 1960s had Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, among others. The 1970s had Pete Rose. The 1980s had Cal Ripken. In the 1990s and 2000s, Derek Jeter would have been a popular choice.
As MLB became more local in scope while free agents moved about at a higher rate, however, candidates became fewer and far between. Ask who’s the Face of Baseball now, and you’ll get a lot of wild stabs and blank stares.
ESPN Magazine recently heralded the Baltimore Orioles’ Manny Machado as “The New Face of Baseball.” Except that the FOB doesn’t hit .230 and sat out the All-Star Game.
It could be Bryce Harper, who possesses as much natural talent as anyone. Except that his reputation is more SOB than FOB, and his Washington Nationals haven’t won a single playoff series.
It should be Mike Trout, the best all-around player of his generation. Except that the Mantle play-alike has yet to appear in a postseason game. Besides, he admittedly wants no part of the title and all that goes with it.
Maybe it will be Kris Bryant at some point. He’s likable, plays in Chicago and is a World Series champion. Except that, like Trout, he prefers to live under the radar.
Too bad Buster Posey doesn’t like the sound of his voice, either. The future Hall of Famer would have been ideal for the gig.
Maybe New York Yankees strongman Aaron Judge will be the FOB someday. Except that the 25-year-old has yet to make his postseason debut.
If Los Angeles Dodgers stud Clayton Kershaw pitches every other day — and dominates the postseason for once — maybe he’ll be the guy.
The truth is, given the glut of players and teams, it’s more difficult to stand out in a crowd than ever. Could be that MLB won’t have That Guy any time soon, but it sure would be better with him.
THE WAY THEY WERE: In 1961, the National League overcame a 4-3 deficit when Hank Aaron singled, Willie Mays doubled, Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch and Roberto Clemente singled in the ninth inning at Candlestick Park.
That’s 12,997 career hits and six World Series championships worth of Hall of Famers in a row. And you can’t beat that.
TIME FOR A CHANGE? It was almost 15 years ago to the day when Balls witnessed the most electric All-Star event in recent history.
At the Home Run Derby.
Roids suspects Sammy Sosa and ex-Athletic Jason Giambi put on an air show for the ages. While Slammin’ Sammy launched rockets through the back windows of Miller Park, Milwaukee woke up like never thought possible. The moonshots were so high, so far, hors d’oeuvre could have been served on them.
Oh, then they played the All-Star game the next day, and the fans were bored out of their heads.
When clueless commissioner Bug Selig called the game off because of a shortage of relief pitchers, it was the end of the Midsummer Classic as we knew it. Since then, television viewership plunged from 16 million one year earlier to just 8.7 million last year.
Fact is, in terms of entertainment value, the Home Run Derby has become the summer version NBA’s Dunk Contest and Long Distance Shootout, the most popular of the All-Star events. Might be time to get the game over with on Monday then stage the real show one night later.
JUST SAYIN’: As lame as the MLB All-Star Game has become in recent years, it still beats the heck out of it counterparts for one reason: Defense is not only is part of the game but strongly recommended.
GREAT TEAM CHEMISTRY: Now, if the MLB really wants to juice up its All-Star bash, it can invite Giambi, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and select others to participate in an old-timers’ home run derby.
Hey, Bonds says he can still put ’em out of AT&T Park, right?
Mad scientist Victor Conte can throw out the first pitch. And motormouth Chris Berman can come out semi-retirement for more, “Back-back-back-back . . .!”
MIAMI VICE: The alleged showcase event will be held at Marlins Park in Miami, where Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria did much to swindle $488 million in public bonds to pay for more than 80 percent of it.
Five years later, Loria reportedly plans to sell his otherwise sorry franchise for $1.2 billion. That’s roughly eight times what he paid for it 15 years ago.
Those are your tax dollars at work, girls and boys.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE … Stu Miller?
Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? A compliment?! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and who knows, you may get your name in the paper before long.