Is Cy Young Winner Trevor Bauer Key to MLB’s Future?

Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer is the future of MLB

The National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer is a polarizing figure in baseball. Revered by some and disliked by others, his unapologetic outspokenness on every subject as well as a fiery on-field demeanor practically demands attention. Whichever side of the fence you land on, he would not have it any other way, because he is instantly recognizable.

Note: This story was originally published on July 23, 2020.

As sports fans, we are in the business of passing judgment. Every flag tossed by the officials, every flop by a player, every mound visit, and every red card we decide right then and there how we feel about whoever is in the middle of it all. We can decide to hate a team simply because we do not like the way one player looks or sounds in an interview if they make sociopolitical statements or even if we do not like how they dress.

Of course, there are exceptions from Peyton Manning and Michael Jordan to Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo, with every Sidney Crosby and Usain Bolt in between. You might not like every one of those names, as every athlete has detractors, but these are household names in sports that are known on a global scale and are generally well-liked and trusted by the masses. The commissioners and presidents of their sports choose to market them not only for their excellence as competitors but for the betterment of the league as well.

There is really only one particularly glaring omission from leagues that subscribe to this practice, and if you give him a minute, Bauer could throw together a PowerPoint presentation as to why the oldest professional team sport in the country has missed the boat.

To some fans, the Cincinnati Reds’ right-hander is one-dimensional, but that could not be further from the truth. The hothead persona that casual fans attach to him belies a much greater piece of Bauer the person: businessman, philanthropist, entertainer and outspoken critic. However, it is his marketing savvy that seems to set up his endgame. He believes he can fix some of the biggest issues that have plagued America’s pastime for decades and are leading it down a dark path to the future. Absurd, right? Maybe not.

On March 8, before spring training was even called off, Bauer took the mound for the Reds in Arizona where he pitched four innings of one-run ball in an abbreviated warm-up start. That’s not significant except that after the game, Bauer rushed to where he had set up a catered event complete with seating and a presentation for 50 major leaguers that had been invited to a branding workshop (all paid for by him) on how they can maximize their marketability.

A “Trev Talk,” if you will.

Things like this are not being done by MLB itself and that is problematic because they simply are not cultivating new (young) fans. Bauer’s remedy? Empower individual players to develop their own brands and be more accessible to a fanbase starved for new recruits.

In short, if the league will not make you a household name, you have to take charge for yourself. The event that night was full, and Bauer’s Twitter timeline was awash with appreciative comments from the attending players who thanked him for what they had learned.

Of course, these are things that he has had cooking for a long while, but then the shutdown came as a result of the pandemic. That, in conjunction with the constant delays of a restart, allowed people online the opportunity to start seeing Bauer’s work in real time. In addition to the branding and marketability work he has done with major leaguers, he also opened a mentorship program in the summer for minor leaguers as well. Here is a golden opportunity to bring fans to the game by embracing a lost art in baseball: an opportunity to grow right alongside a recognizable prospect that until now had been a name on a list.

Bauer has always tried to give back and this year has been no different, even during the stoppage. When contacted by David Carpenter (also in the Reds organization) about getting a group together to play a “sandlot” style game, he immediately said yes. Not only that, but he also helped to recruit other major league players to take part and had it streamed by his media company, Momentum.

In addition to several players pledging donations to various causes, Bauer set up a GoFundMe to aid stadium workers who had lost work because of the shutdown. Just prior to that event, for the third year running, Bauer started his usual “69 days of giving,” donating money to charities and causes suggested by fans. He believes in connecting with the communities, who in turn are not only appreciative but they become fans.

Throughout all of this, Bauer had his eye on the negotiations unfolding between MLB and the MLBPA, who continue to find themselves at odds. Of course, he had plenty of harsh words for Rob Manfred and the owners after they reneged on an agreement that was put in place in March and took to Twitter to explain exactly what was happening. This was appreciated by many who were having a hard time knowing what was going on, but social media being what it is, he was also hammered by others who were siding with the billionaires over the millionaires. Still, he continued to engage with fans in debate by answering questions, drawing comparisons, and getting down to the crux of the issues.

Bauer and his new agent, Rachel Luba, would have discussions on each offer and counteroffer for the benefit of the fans who were on the outside looking in. The videos were posted on the pitcher’s popular YouTube channel for anyone who wanted to keep up with the latest developments. Bauer thinks that transparency is essential and wants fans to be as knowledgeable about the business side of things as the people behind the closed doors. You do not find that very much in a lot of sports, particularly the buttoned-up MLB.

There were many interviews, too. Media outlets know that he is always willing to talk and he is never at a loss for words with opinions at the ready. It is part of his brand.

During one such interview (a FaceTime with ESPN), the producers mistakenly left his phone number on the screen. You would think a player would change the number immediately, but in this case, you would be wrong. Instead, Bauer left instructions on his voicemail message on how to enter for a signed baseball and a pair of autographed cleats for good measure. Naturally, his voicemail filled up immediately and he moved the contest to social media. Bauer did not get a new phone until after tens of thousands of text messages pretty much completely took over. The fans loved it, he thought it was hilarious, and the Twitter mentions poured in.

Shortly thereafter, he announced on Twitter that he had some time available and would do a FaceTime Q&A session. One question per person, screenshots and recording encouraged. Once again, he was as accessible as always and after fans flocked to the Q&A, the number of attendees rendered FaceTime useless on his end. Again, everyone had a laugh.

Perhaps the biggest direct fan interaction that Bauer has had throughout the summer is via the YouTube channel. He has a series called “Tips with Trev” where he discusses everything from gameday preparation and pregame routines to how to position your fingers for certain pitches. The mood is always light and fun and offers insight that fans rarely get to hear directly from players.

In another series called “Breaking Point,” he details and sketches over the video and goes frame-by-frame on at-bats against him that were critical moments of games or showdowns with batters in the league. He solicits specific suggestions from the fans both on Twitter and the channel page and does not discriminate against any requests. As confident as Bauer is, he can always be the king of self-deprecation so when fans clamor for him to detail Max Kepler homering off of him five times in a row, not only does he oblige but he even names the video “Max Kepler OWNS Trevor Bauer!”

He also has done several videos called “Live ABs” where a few big-name players get together at a remote park or perhaps smack in the middle of the desert. They talk trash, joke around, and get some training in all while social distancing. People at home get to see the athletes in a different situation and it rapidly became a fan favorite. Well, except for Astros fans, as Bauer has been pretty relentless on the trash can scandal and it comes up in these videos often.

There are several installments on the channel, featuring several different pitchers and hitters. People that watch the videos and may not know very much about a certain player find new favorites in the process.

It is not all fun and games, but it still comes back to players connecting with fans on a far more personal level. Much of it is calculated, sure, but not underhanded. Bauer and Ken Griffey Jr. announced that they would both be investing in a sports and culture venture called “PlayersTV” where individual players can post loads of content pertaining to their on- and off-the-field lives. NBA stars like Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are among players from other sports that also take part.

Through Momentum, Bauer has launched “Voices from the League,” which focuses on prominent black athletes in baseball discussing past experiences and strides that are being made with a focus on equality. Bauer has also opened up in personal videos, one of which details the bullying he endured as a high school student, what he learned, and how he got past it. He posted it specifically addressing younger people in the hopes that they will see it. Bauer is compassionate, yet another thing that endears him to the fans that are willing to listen.

These are just examples during a few months of downtime. Imagine the other irons that are in the fire. Aside from helping others in the industry connect with fans and create marketability in a league woefully inept at taking the reins on their behalf, he’s also helped fans understand some of the nuances of the game and provided entertainment to boot.

Plus, you can’t forget the pro athletes playing socially-distanced beer pong from their own homes and rock, paper, scissors tournaments. The balance between business and fun is delicate, but Bauer walks the line with precision and honesty.

Bauer truly gives his all on the field and endures those snap-judgments of fans everywhere while becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the league. Maybe Bauer cannot fix baseball himself, but it would not be for lack of trying. He is by far the most qualified candidate.

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