Who is the Face of Baseball?
Jayson Stark [ARCHIVE]
September 12, 2013
t Facebook t Twitter

It was just two months ago, right here, that we asked a question which, for commissioner Bud Selig, ought to rank right up there with, "What's the meaning of life itself?"

That question: Who is the Face of Baseball in the summer of 2013?

Well, now we know.

And guess what? It isn't Miguel Cabrera. It isn't Mike Trout. It isn't Bryce Harper. It isn't even the legendary Mariano Rivera.

The Face of Baseball, according to more than 1,000 fans surveyed by our friends at Turnkey Intelligence last month, is a player his sport would rather vaporize than promote.

And by that, of course, we mean the one, the only Alex "Currently Appealing My 211-Game Suspension" Rodriguez.


Amazingly -- or, then again, maybe not so amazingly -- Alex Rodriguez was the first player named by 22 percent of the 1,028 fans polled by Turnkey when they were asked, with no names and no other info provided: "What MLB player would you define as the 'Face of Baseball' today?"

We'll get into what that means in a moment. But first, you need to know a little more about this survey.

We got such overwhelming response to the Face of Baseball piece in July that we wanted to know more.

We wanted to know not just who is the Face of Baseball right now, but who is most likely to turn into the future Face of Baseball.

We wanted to know whether fans are more likely to watch a game in which their favorite Face of Baseball is playing.

We wanted to know if avid fans feel the same way as casual fans.

We wanted to know whether the American public even believes that baseball needs a Face. Or Faces.

Turnkey, one of America's most prominent sports-polling firms, then worked with us to look into all of these questions, in a survey conducted over three days, from Aug. 20-22. The results were eye-popping. Read on and see if you agree.

The A-Rod factor

How could nearly one in four theoretically normal American sports fans possibly pick A-Rod as the Face of Baseball?

Our theory: Timing was everything. And virtually all of the sports-business authorities we consulted for this piece agreed.

This survey was conducted during a period when A-Rod news was pretty much everywhere, from "SportsCenter" to the "Today" show. You couldn't escape it unless you covered your ears, covered your eyes, canceled your cable subscription, blew up your computer and moved to Borneo.

But it also turned out that the closer you lived to Borneo -- as opposed to a big league ballpark -- the more likely you were to choose A-Rod as The Face. We asked Turnkey's senior vice president, Steve Seiferheld, to break down the data a little more closely. Here's what he found:

- Only 17 percent of fans who lived within 20 miles of a major league stadium picked A-Rod as their Face, compared to 25 percent of those who lived more than 100 miles away.

- But when we split the survey group into self-described "avid" fans versus "casual" fans, we found that casual fans who lived more than 20 miles from a big league stadium were more than twice as likely (30 percent) to choose A-Rod as their Face than avid fans who lived within 20 miles (15 percent).

So clearly, the further removed (literally) you were from baseball's on-the-field action, the more likely you were to be influenced by the off-the-field headlines -- and to pick Guess Who as your No. 1 Face of Baseball.

This makes total sense, says one of America's most highly regarded sports-marketing authorities, Bill Sutton, director of the Sport and Entertainment Management MBA program at the University of South Florida.

It's those fans "without a real connection to today's players who would be more dependent upon the media for their opinion," he says, "and would choose A-Rod."

But the A-Rod vote may also tell us something else, says Paul Swangard, the esteemed managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. Namely, it tells us that all the recent coverage of baseball's PED issues has "absorbed so much attention that baseball can't get out from under its own shadow."

So the A-Rod vote leaves us wondering about this fundamental question, says Seiferheld: "Is he the face of baseball or the face of PEDs?" Well, much to the dismay of the sport he continues to play, Alex Rodriguez is clearly a little of both.

Other nuggets: Only 13 players were named by at least 10 fans -- and one of them (Chipper Jones) is retired, while a second one (Babe Ruth) hasn't made a home run trot in 78 years. … Ruth got as many votes (2 percent) as Buster Posey, Joey Votto or Albert Pujols. … 376 players got at least one vote. … And when asked to name the Face of Baseball without being given any names to choose from, 11 percent of those surveyed said, "None."

The Jeter factor

To help turn this conversation in a different direction, Turnkey then gave the same group of fans a list of 29 active players -- a list that did NOT include Alex Rodriguez -- and asked them to choose up to three players they would identify as the Face of Baseball today.

The No. 1 name on their list was a fellow A-Rod may have heard of.

In one of the least surprising revelations in this survey, Derek Jeter not only got the most votes, he got nearly as much support (38 percent) as the next two players combined -- Miguel Cabrera (25) and David Ortiz (17).

But what was more stunning was the lack of consensus for just about anyone.

Only ONE player (Jeter) was named by more than 25 percent of those surveyed? Only TWO players (Jeter and Cabrera) were named by more than 17 percent? Mike Trout got only 16 percent? Bryce Harper got just 9 percent? Names like Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg and Joe Mauer got less than 5 percent? And remember, everyone surveyed could pick up to THREE players, not just one.

Really? Wow. If we fed the same poll question to NFL fans, what percent do you think would name Peyton Manning? Just take a guess.

"With everything he does off the field? Peyton would be 99 percent, maybe 100," says Sutton. "It would have to be almost unanimous."

No kidding. And Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers wouldn't be far behind. Or what if we gave this same survey to NBA fans. Where would LeBron James and Kobe Bryant rank? Not in the 20th or 30th percentile. You can bet on that.

So what does this tell us about baseball? Well, lots of good things, actually, if you consider the sheer number of players who got votes -- but certainly not all good. If transcendent young stars like Trout, Harper, Harvey, Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado and even Yasiel Puig aren't all over America's radar screen, something has to be amiss. Right?

"This, to me, says these players are not exposed and people don't know...
Next >

t Facebook t Twitter
Back to Top
ESPN Mobile Web Home
En Español
ABC News Headlines
Help and Feedback
Terms of Use
Interest-Based Ads
Privacy Policy/Your California Privacy Rights