There was a time when baseball dominated the summer headlines, especially around the Fourth of July. That was traditionally the time when teams would look around and either consider themselves contenders or figure that it was time to think about making deals and looking to the future. July was also the time when the two leagues chose their All-Star teams, and that was considered a prime period as well.
But a funny thing has happened to MLB, although it’s doubtful the league office finds it very humorous. The first week of July has been dominated by two things: the NBA and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. While the women were on their way to winning a fourth World Cup and being considered in many circles the greatest women’s soccer squad ever, NBA free agency was generating a ton of stories, with all sorts of unlikely moves, the topper being the teaming of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in Los Angeles, but with the Clippers rather than the Lakers. Baseball wasn’t even the third biggest story a lot of days, because 15-year-old Coco Gauff, the youngest player ever to qualify for Wimbledon, overcame dropping the first set and managed to reach the Round of 16, something no one expected.
Against all that backdrop, MLB had its All-Star voting, chose its squads and prepared for this week’s game in Cleveland. The sad thing about this year, at least for baseball fans, is that there are actually a lot of great stories that could be generated from the All-Star game, but for whatever reason, the sport’s marketing folks don’t seem to have a clue.
There are 31 first-time All-Stars in the two leagues for 2019. That’s the most since 2016. Both the National and American League have a host of great young players. The National League’s starting outfield includes one former MVP and two probable future MVPs. There’s also the Houston Astros, who lead all teams with six selections, and the amazing thing there is Jose Altuve, the man usually considered their best player, isn’t one of them.
Yet the sport seems to be putting all its PR eggs in the Home Run Derby basket, a dubious one-night stunt that can generate some quick headlines, but is hardly the sort of thing that sustains interest. It doesn’t help matters any that two teams, the Dodgers and Yankees, already have big division leads, and the Braves are making some distance between themselves and the other teams in the NL East as well.
But MLB has some highlight players that could and should definitely be better known. The Braves Ronald Acuna for instance, is the best combination of power and speed at the top of the lineup since Rickey Henderson was in his prime. The Dodgers Cody Bellinger is on pace for a possible triple crown season. The Yankees are set to shatter the MLB home run record, and indeed in both May and June, the two leagues set records for the most home runs. Of course, strikeouts are also at a record clip.
It’s really hard to understand exactly what MLB is doing sometimes. For instance, they regularly black out within 200 miles games of teams being aired on ESPN, which means Braves games get blacked out in Nashville, a stunningly dumb decision. You can see Reds or Cardinals games, but aren’t able to view the team closest to your market, even though the Braves are selling out regularly in a new ballpark.
There are also continual clashes between cable systems in places like Washington D.C. and Los Angeles that are denying the fans in those cities a chance to regularly view the Nationals and the Dodgers. Sometimes you truly wonder who’s running this sport?
The game remains, even with these flaws, a great one. But increasingly it’s one whose fan base continues to age, and whose inability to promote itself continues to put it behind the publicity eight-ball.
With MLB’s second half set to start after the All-Star game, baseball fans can only hope that the people who run the sport at some point wake up and understand that in 2019 their sport is often being eclipsed by the NBA, NFL, MLS, sometimes even the NHL, tennis, golf and auto racing.