Growing up, July 4th weekend meant firework shows, pool parties, and cookouts.
And 1990s baseball.
Yes, just like present-day 2022, in Morrison, Tennessee, we were counting down the days until SEC football season kicked off. However, that didn’t dominate the June and July sports schedule. I loved watching baseball.
Backyard Home Run Derbys and Wiffleball games were classic summertime requirements.
We got together, drafted the rights to our ‘steroid era stars,’ then went outside and not only played a game with detailed lineups for the American or National League but mimicked everything about those players, down to their distinct batting stances and style.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s smooth swingman motion and Gary Sheffield’s arm workout at the plate. Jeff Bagwell’s wide squat across the batter’s box. We’d rest the bat on our shoulder like Cal Ripken Jr., or our forearm practically covered our face while we pretended to be Mo Vaughn.
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, Mike Piazza, Kenny Lofton, Kirby Puckett, Jay Buhner, Pudge Rodriguez, Fred McGriff, Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones… the list goes on and on.
Baseball didn’t just have star players, they had individual brands.
Players were recognizable for their personal characteristics at the plate or on the mound, and then you’d see the same guys on commercials selling shoes, video consoles, batteries, tires, credit cards, fast food, car manufacturers, realty companies and more.
We knew them by name… and by their nickname.
The Kid, The Big Hurt, Crime Dog, Iron Man, Mr. Padre, Juan Gone, Raffy, Big Mac…
Now try to list unique style or endorsement deals associated with current rosters across the same professional league.
For the sake of narrowing the focus a bit I’m sticking to hitters, not pitchers, but either way the league’s stars in 2022 are making a ton of money in salary, but very little in endorsement money.
It’s difficult for me to understand why we don’t see more (or any) MLB players on commercials in general. Everywhere you look there’s an NFL player pitching us a product.
Even Jimmy Garoppolo has a national presence. Baker Mayfield isn’t wanted by the Browns, but he’s a household name across America because 12 months out of the year we’ve seen him endorsing an insurance company.
No knock on Jimmy G or Mayfield. More power to them. But isn’t it strange we see them in ad campaigns while it’s difficult to find a single baseball player providing value to a national company?
There’s a lack individuality and charisma with today’s game of baseball, and that’s not just solely a player issue. MLB hated Trevor Bauer well before his two-year suspension because he dared to connect with fans through Vlogs that took us behind the scenes, in the clubhouse and on a road trip.
It’s not as if MLB lacks current star-power. Like many of you, I’m not a massive baseball fan anymore. I’m casually finding a game without appointment viewing, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to rattle off a list of guys who offer a true star quality.
Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., José Altuve and several others.
But unlike the late-90s/early-2000s list, this group of stars doesn’t have a long list of companies rushing to partner with them.
Trout has been the closest player to reaching Griffey status. In 2014 he became only the second player to land a Nike signature cleat, the first being Griffey’s Swingman line.
The problem is the Angels are a non-factor, while Griffey was a part of a Seattle Mariners club that won 100 games, a feat the Yankees are on pace to surpass this season.
Judge is next in line to achieve platinum status by becoming the face of an entire sport, but are companies rushing to sign him the same way teams will be this offseason? Recent trends tell us no, but the 1997 kid in me wants to believe the answer is yes.
I also want to walk outside tonight to fire up the grill, enjoy the free fireworks shows throughout the neighborhood and possibly see some kids playing Wiffleball down the street. It will remind me of the late 90s, except a lineup won’t be drafted and the batting stances will all look the same.