Arena: The MLB's New Era is Upon Us
A new era in the MLB has begun just in time to breathe life into a fading fanbase.
It’s no secret that Major League Baseball fans have dropped like flies in recent years. According to a 2015 Bloomberg Politics poll, 67 percent of Americans believe that Football has wrestled the crown of “America’s Pastime” away from baseball. Likewise, the NBA has drastically risen in popularity worldwide. In 2017, die-hard baseball fans remain as loyal as ever, but casual fans have become disillusioned with the MLB’s slow pace, lack of star power and the aftermath of the steroid era.
While casual fans have changed the channel, a new age in baseball has dawned.
It all starts with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant. What do these guys have in common? They are all 25 or below and have each won an MVP award. At 25, Trout already has two MVPs and was likely on his way to a third before sustaining a serious thumb injury early this season. While those three may be the headliners of this new era, the influx of young talent across the MLB has electrified the sport and put it back in the spotlight.
Through 68 games, New York Yankees rookie RF Aaron Judge is on pace to hit 58 home runs with a .331/.439/.702 slash line. He is also built like an NFL defensive end at 6’7”, 282 lbs. His hulking stature and sheer strength have already elicited comparisons to the Great Bambino – a premature but intriguing comparison. At 25, Judge is a realistic threat to win the triple crown as he leads the AL in home runs while currently placing second in Batting Average and second in RBIs. For a rookie, those numbers are astronomical, unprecedented and have MLB fans buzzing that “the Yanks are back.”
If Judge were to crack 60 home runs, he would be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds hit 73 back in 2001. The thing is, Judge is not even the only rookie putting up extraordinary numbers. Dodgers LF Cody Bellinger is fresh off setting a rookie record with 10 home runs in 10 games. He has gone yard 22 times through the first 54 games of his career and won’t turn 22 himself until July! If Trout, Harper and Bryant are this new era’s headliners, Bellinger and Judge are the promising opening act.
The two rookies have been so good, in fact, that they have overshadowed their equally as promising young teammates. Dodgers SS Corey Seager won the rookie of last year and is only 23. Yankees C Gary Sanchez made headlines last year, slugging 20 home runs in only 53 games and 201 at bats. That’s a home run every 10 at bats and would have averaged out to 61 home runs had he played the full 162 game season.
The long list of young players who have burst onto the scene does not end there. We cannot forget about Boston’s trio of Under-25 dynamos – Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and rookie Andrew Benintendi. The triumvirate of studs should make the Red Sox competitive for the next 10 years and have quickly made fans forget about the Big Papi-sized hole in the clubhouse.
Having young stars in big markets like Los Angeles, New York and Boston has always been huge for the MLB. Those teams have the largest fan bases in the league and when they do well, the MLB does well. Sports fans are always looking for the next best thing and when those rising stars are in big markets, the MLB cashes in. Time will tell if players like Judge and Bellinger can sustain their remarkable success, or popularity for that matter. But being in major markets should give them at least some semblance of a sustained spotlight.
That's not to say that there are no young stars on smaller market teams. On the contrary, players like Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Baltimore’s Manny Machado and Houston’s Carlos Correa have helped invigorate their respective franchises (especially Arenado who is the current favorite to take home the NL MVP award this year). But those players do not move the needle with casual fans, who have not even realized how shockingly good Colorado and Houston have become.
There is no way to tell which of all these young players can sustain their play over the course of a lengthy career and no way to tell whether or not fans will pay as much attention once the aforementioned young players become known commodities. For example, Albert Pujols became only the ninth player to join the 600 home run club this year and nobody seemed to bat an eye. Perhaps it was because all eyes were fixated on this year’s up-and-coming studs.
As casual fans flip back through TV stations now that the NBA, NFL and NHL seasons have come to a close, they will see that the MLB has become a young man’s league. The game is now dominated by a new era that may just be the best we have ever seen.