Star-Starved Baseball Needs a Savior
What Manny Machado’s signing and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s emergence tell us about the future of the game.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because baseball doesn’t have a face.
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Are baseball megastars a thing of the past? Manny Machado’s decision to sign a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres all but eliminates his chance at true star power. Machado chose the background of sunny San Diego, where the historically hapless Padres are the least notable of MLB’s six West Coast teams. Which raises a big question: Are there any real stars in baseball?
Since the retirements of Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, baseball has struggled to cultivate stars whose fame crosses into celebrity in the way NBA and NFL players do. Blame it on the unwatchable length of 162 regular season games or regional allegiances, but today there are very few active ballplayers your mother could name. Machado’s free-agency mate, the still-unsigned Bryce Harper, is the best bet. His penchant for moonshots and fiery disposition make him a Bonds-esque star minus the juice (we hope). Plus, his hair bodes well for future photoshoots. But his play has been inconsistent, and we still don’t know where he will land this season.
Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout is easily baseball’s best talent, but playing in the Dodgers’ shadow means he’s not even the most popular ballplayer in his own city. Yankees third-year right fielder Aaron Judge hits the ball farther and harder than you thought possible, and he’s shown some media savvy early on, but he’s got to stay healthy.
It feels like we’re missing a Griffey, the kind of player with a signature swing and swagger that every kid in America emulates. With that in mind, it’s time to get to know 19-year-old Toronto Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Vlad 2.0 has the same offensive tools as his Hall of Fame father, with even more pop. Boasting long blond braids and a swing as sweet as Griffey’s, Guerrero clubbed 20 homers and hit .381 in the minor leagues last season — and is already a fan favorite north of the border. He deserves Zion Williamson-level hype as he joins the majors this year.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
WGC-Mexico Championship, PGA Tour (Sunday, 1:30pm ET on NBC). A pair of top-20 finishes at age 43 shows El Tigre’s comeback remains in force, while a sharp-tongued 28-year-old is the world’s No. 2. Who finishes higher?
Ones to Watch
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks center. Today’s young hockey stars are reaching the NHL more ready to play than ever before, and Pettersson is the latest example. With 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) on the season so far, the 20-year-old rookie has a team that was at the bottom of every preseason ranking on the brink of a playoff berth.
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon Ducks guard. The NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, the Ducks point guard is an elite scorer with a flair for the dramatic. Currently averaging 19.7 points, eight assists and 7.2 rebounds per game, Ionescu has the Ducks (24–2) ranked second in the nation and is arguably the most pro-ready player in women’s college basketball. The Las Vegas Aces are officially on the clock.
Basketball abroad. Aiming to build on the success of its Basketball Without Borders international development program, the NBA — in collaboration with FIBA — will launch its first professional basketball league outside the United States in January 2020. The 12-team Basketball Africa League is the next step in the NBA’s efforts to globalize the game, with Jordan Brand and Pepsi on board as sponsors, and former President Barack Obama in a yet-to-be-determined “hands-on” role.
Shoe brands. If Duke’s worst fears come true, there will be a 30-for-30 documentary on Zion Williamson’s exploding shoe in no less than a decade, after his busted footwear led to a knee injury and a home thumping by North Carolina on Wednesday. Nike stock took a 1 percent dive Thursday (losing more than $1 billion in value), while new basketball competitor Puma tried to capitalize with this now-deleted tweet proclaiming the mishap never would have happened in its (steel-reinforced?) kicks.
Why Esports at the Driving Range Makes Perfect Sense, by Matt Foley in OZY
What happens when you head to the driving range and a gaming tournament breaks out? Topgolf fanatics are about to find out. But fret not, golf fans — this partnership bodes well for the future of both sports.
Why Did the NBA Pay a YouTube Star to Fly Halfway Around the World for All-Star Weekend?, by Theoden Janes in The Charlotte Observer
Not long ago, Bhuvan Bam — a resident of Delhi, India — couldn’t find his way to the three-point line on a basketball court. Then he got a call from the NBA.
Trevor Bauer Is More Concerned With Being Right Than Being Liked, by Ben Reiter in Sports Illustrated
An excellent look into the mind and processes of Cleveland Indians ace Trevor Bauer, whose obsessive search for truth and deep-seated stubbornness made him one of baseball’s most important — and detested — stars.
How Former Ref Tim Donaghy Conspired to Fix NBA Games by Tim Eden in ESPN The Magazine
One hundred years after Major League Baseball’s “Black Sox” scandal, does game-fixing still exist in American professional sports? The story of Tim Donaghy provides answers and a whole lot more questions.
It takes a lot to make a midweek, mid-major college baseball highlight go viral. “Say no more,” says Liberty’s Ayden Karraker.
— Liberty Baseball (@libertybaseball) February 19, 2019