Is This a Bad Omen for the Future of Baseball?

Of the four (sorry soccer) major professional sports leagues in the U.S., I would have to pick baseball as my favorite.

It’s the one I played most as a kid (but not very well), and I could recite the entire Phillies lineup and imitate the batting style of every player. I’m guessing that helped to imprint the sport on my mind. I also enjoy basketball and football, but not quite to the same extent as baseball.

Plus, there’s something magical about going to a baseball game on a warm summer night, sitting under the stars and watching the game unfold.

So imagine my surprise when ESPN just came out with its World Fame 100 Issue, and there were no baseball players on the list.

To compile the list, ESPN reporters from across six continents were asked to identify the planet’s top athletes. Then the director analytics ran nearly 400 athletes through a formula that factored in endorsements, social media following, and Google search popularity.

Some of the highlights of the list, besides the lack of baseball players, were the following:

  • a Chinese table tennis player made the list at number 71
  • 38 soccer players made the list, the highest of any single sport (Ronaldo was number one on the list and Messi was number 3), and more than all Americans on the list
  • 10 tennis players made the list, with Roger at number 4
  • 11 golfers made the list, with Phil Mickelson the highest at number 5
  • 13 basketball players made the list, with Lebron the highest at number 2
  • 8 football players made the list, with Tom Brady the highest at 21
  • 5 fighters made the list, with Ronda Rousey the highest at number 16
  • 4 cricket players made the list – yes, you read that correctly, four
  • 4 race car drivers made the list; it may be my lack of ignorance about race car driving, but I’m not sure why the drivers are considered athletes
  • 2 swimmers made the list – Ryan Lochte and Ning Zetao of China
  • 1 badminton player made the list
  • 0 hockey players made the list, so baseball is not alone

Ben Alamar, the head of analytics at ESPN, believes that the lack of baseball and hickey players on the list shows that such athletes are not international household names. As a result, these players lack global endorsement deals that would put them on the fame map.

While I was thrilled to see two swimmers on the list (I wonder where Phelps would have shown up when he was at his peak), it’s pretty obvious to me that I might be classified as the ugly American when it comes to sports. I think our four major professional sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) and its athletes are the biggest and the best, but the above list shows that is far from the case.

I hope this does not mean that baseball could one day fade away (I would be fine if that happened to hockey) due to a lack of international recognition. But it seems that soccer has done pretty well globally despite a lack of popularity for a long time in the U.S.

I think the solution is obvious – baseball needs to start developing leagues around the world, as well as do a better job of marketing its superstars.

If not, it could be strike three…


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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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