The selection of two high-energy, new-school Chicago Cubs standouts in this year’s All-Star Game voting sends a critical message to Major League Baseball.
As baseball struggles with an aging fan base and declining attendance at big league games, things are alive and well on the North Side of Chicago. The team will send three representatives: Jon Lester, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, to the All-Star Game next week.
If I were Rob Manfred, I’d pay attention to those latter names.
Make no mistake. Both of these guys are extremely deserving of their selection. Baez, in the midst of a career season, continues to carry the load for this Cubs team. Chicago has lacked either Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant for much of the season – yet enter Monday night’s game at 51-36.
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If you’re keeping track at home, that’s pretty much identical to where the team sat at this point two years ago. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. We’re here to talk about how having two high-energy, young players named to the All-Star team needs to shape the future of the game.
Earlier this season, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle put Baez on blast. Hurdle, as well as the Pirates’ broadcaster Steve Blass, took exception to the Puerto Rican native. Why? Because of his ‘flashiness’.
The Pirates skipper offered similar thoughts on Contreras – before flying off into tales about respecting the game. But make no mistake. There’s no lack of respect in either of these guys. Old-school guys in the game have an issue with them because neither fits into the typical mold of a baseball player – at least not in their minds.
Moving toward the future of the game
But as each prepares for their first All-Star Game, guys like Hurdle – and everyone who thinks like him – need to take stock. You want to inspire the next generation of player? Then you need guys who bring passion and energy to the game on a daily basis – not just ones who keep their heads down and go about their business.
I mean, think about it. No one cares about guys like Paul Goldschmidt or Joey Votto. Their skill is undoubtedly respected and acknowledged. But no one talks about how Votto works counts. On the flip side, everyone wants to make highlight-reel grabs like Baez or cut down a runner on a Contreras-style back pick.
Major League Baseball desperately needs to market their young stars better. We’ve got arguably the best player ever in Mike Trout – yet he somehow remains under-the-radar. Next week’s All-Star Game can be the ‘jumping off’ point for the league.
Take guys like Contreras, Baez and even Bryce Harper. Push them to the forefront of the game. Let their unbridled passion and emotion for the game inspire the next generation of baseball fans. It’s time to embrace the next wave – or risk losing countless young fans looking for an athlete to admire.