MLB Network recently asked Major League Baseball fans to answer a deceptively simple question: Who is the face of MLB? The fan vote resulted in a victory for... San Francisco catcher Buster Posey?
That's unfortunate, because no matter the official results, any sane baseball fan knows Giancarlo Stanton is the real face of MLB in the post-Derek Jeter era.
Here in Miami, Stanton is the unquestioned face of the Miami Marlins. One could go as far as saying perhaps his presence and recent free-agency demands are the reason the team changed its frugal, cut-throat ways. A recent ESPN column details how Stanton sat across from team execs at the negotiating table and told them point-blank: Do better, or their Monopoly money means nothing to him. A flurry of off-season moves resulted in the team agreeing to pay second-year, star-in-the-making Christian Yelich $50 million to keep him in South Florida, and it seems to indicate the Marlins did not take Stanton's demands for change lightly.
Giancarlo Stanton is the face of MLB and baseball in Miami. Here's why:
Chicks dig the long-ball. Hell, everyone digs the long-ball.
Buster Posey might have the MLB playoff national exposure Stanton has yet to enjoy, but the SportsCenter-highlight edge that Giancarlo has on Posey more than makes up for the Marlins' lack of postseason appearances. Stanton has already sent 154 baseballs over the fence in the 634 games he's played thus far in his career. And the dingers he hits aren't just any old four-baggers. They're the kind of shots that make you hold your loved one and gaze into the sky like it's the Fourth of July.
One might argue that Derek Jeter made a living off slapping baseballs into the opposite field, rounding first base, giving himself a low-five, and unbuckling his shin guard, but Jeter is an outlier in this discussion. He had many things going for him that added up to his popularity, far down the list of which was 79-foot singles. Your co-worker is much more likely to ask you if you saw the Stanton 457-foot bomb last night than he is about the four Buster Posey singles. That's just the state of the game and what piques fan interest most. Interest in the sport of baseball was at an all-time low in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged a yearlong home-run derby. It would have taken a few truckloads of down-the-line doubles to duplicate the same buzz.
Let's not make this weird; Giancarlo Stanton isn't not good looking.
Part of being the face of baseball is, you know, having a face that doesn't suck to look at. Stanton has a not terrible face to look at. It's rumored that Stanton hits the gym once in a while too. Apparently this is something that became quite obvious to people when he stripped naked and painted himself gold for ESPN Magazine last year.
Good looks won't get you everything in life, but they will get you most of it. You just have to show up places with your good looks, and if you overachieve while looking good? Forget about it — you're going places. Good looks is the tiebreaker in life; it's the reason most bartender-for-hire-ads on Craigslist ask potential applicants to include a picture with their resumé. If looks are the tiebreaker when it comes to being the face of something, Stanton wins.
One can totally see Stanton making cameos in Entourage-like shows in the future, or playing parts in movies that just require being shirtless and holding a sword; the Rock can't be everywhere at once. Stanton even changed his name from the generic "Mike" to the exotic-sounding "Giancarlo." Your girl feels a different way just saying "Giancarlo" — it's science. Now, go have your girl say "Buster" and see how she feels.
Geography: If people are sleeping when you play most of the time, they don't see your face as much.
Yasiel Puig plays in Los Angeles, Mike Trout plays for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Buster Posey plays in San Francisco – that matters. The argument here isn't that California markets don't stand alone as huge financial players, because they do. It's just that when you add up every MLB market, the lion's share of fans doesn't live on the West Coast — so chances are their eyeballs are closed when those teams play rather than being fixated on a TV set. Miami might not be the hugest market for baseball, but it's still Miami, and being on the East Coast is an advantage when it comes to worldwide marketability.
Puig has the best chance to overcome the "East Coast bias" factor here for multiple reasons, one of which he plays for the Dodgers, a franchise that's recognizable worldwide. But he doesn't speak much English, which hinders his ability to be the face of the sport.
Mo' money. Mo' problems.
Stanton signed a jaw-dropping 13-year, $325 million contract heading into this season, and along with that sort of contract comes expectations. The contract itself might be somewhat of a mirage, being that it's super-backloaded and includes an option down the line when Stanton can opt out and get paid even more. But people don't pay attention to that — they see THREE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE MILLION DOLLARS. Most of sports' highest-paid stars are automatically in the face-of-the-sport discussion. Take, for example soccer's Barcelona star Lionel Messi ($64.7 million last year) and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo ($80 million, including endorsements). Those are the soccer names you probably think of first.
Stanton will have additional people watching him this season, for good or bad, because of the money now behind his name — that's a buzz that will get the attention of even the most nonchalant fan. Everyone knows what $325 million means, and they want to see who is making that much crazy cash to play a game.
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Only nine players through age 24 have hit more homers than Stanton's 154 – nine people ever. Stanton leads a crop of young talent that is challenging him for the face of Major League Baseball, a list that includes guys like Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, and Andrew McCutchen. Being this good this fast means Stanton might be only getting started when it comes to national marketability. This is an obvious advantage over a guy like the New York Mets' David Wright, who is 32 entering this season. If the Marlins continue to build a perennial contender, and it seems they are pointed in that direction, postseason appearances will fill the only void in Stanton's face of MLB argument.
With nearly every factor on his side, Stanton is set to be not only the face of the Marlins for a long time but also the face of the post-Derek Jeter MLB.