Yasiel Puig got his first taste of the bright lights in New York City on Wednesday during a doubleheader against the Yankees. The Dodgers star went 4-for-9 with a double, home run and three runs scored.
For all the fanfare and publicity that Puig is generating for himself and the Dodgers in the huge Los Angeles media market, you have to wonder if there would be a bigger star in baseball right now than him if he were on the Yankees.
Think about it, after his four-hit day on Wednesday, Puig tied Yankee great and Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, as well as Terry Pendleton, for the third-most hits through the first 15 games of a career with 27 (h/t ESPN Stats and Info).
The New York hype machine is certainly something that no one can stop. Take, for instance, the exhaustive, completely over the top and nauseating love fest that went on with now-former New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin during the 2011-12 NBA season.
Look at a player like Derek Jeter—arguably the most popular player in all of sports, certainly in Major League Baseball. But he never hit for a lot of power and was good at putting the ball in play. Would he have been nearly as relevant in the sport throughout his career if he played anywhere else?
Lin was a nice story on his own. An undrafted free agent from Harvard University who was cut by Golden State and Houston, playing the most important position on the floor, hitting game-winning shots and putting up good numbers all-around certainly warrants some attention.
But the media in the Big Apple took things to a whole different level with "Linsanity." He got a feature on 60 Minutes, had a documentary made on his life and became arguably the most popular player the Knicks have had since Patrick Ewing. And he did all of that playing in just 35 games.
There were articles written, like this one from Jay Caspian Kang of Grantland.com, talking about how stupid the Knicks were for letting Lin go, how ownership was completely failing this franchise and why they would never win anything.
Lin had become the next Michael Jordan in the eyes of these people, at least in terms of popularity. Now that he is in Houston, how many times did you really hear anything about him this season?
Puig's journey to the big leagues got off to a surprising start, when he signed with the Dodgers for the incredible sum of $42 million over seven years last June.
Looking at it now, that seems like a bargain, and we can question why teams like the Yankees and other big-market clubs didn't get in on the bidding, but hindsight being 20-20, it is really hard to blame the other 29 teams for not going in that hard on him at the time. Especially when you consider what teams were going off of.
Teams only got to look at Puig in batting practice sessions last year, and according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the scout who wanted to sign Puig for that high dollar amount seemed nuts at the time.
But, now that we have seen what Puig is capable of, not just in the big leagues, but what he showed during his stay in Double-A, you can see how he would have been an instant success in a market like New York.
While Puig won't hit .474 all season, there is a lot to like about his swing and the way it would play in Yankee Stadium. To begin with, of his five home runs this season, three have gone to the opposite field. Of those three, two of them came at Dodger Stadium, which is a big park and not an easy place to hit a home run, much less go to the opposite field.
Yankee Stadium, on the other hand, is notorious for the short porch in right field. His power would play even better in that ball park, especially since he has shown a knack for being able to wait back on off-speed pitches and drive them out like he did against Atlanta on June 6.
Instead of having "just" five home runs through 15 games, perhaps he has a couple more, and the legend of Puig grows even bigger.
The Los Angeles market, while huge in its own right, doesn't exactly do well to promote Major League Baseball players. There is the whole issue of games on the West Coast starting at 10 p.m. ET, when a lot of people are catching up on their DVR or going to bed.
He certainly has found a way into the hearts of Dodgers fans. According to the Los Angeles Times, between June 6-9, Puig merchandise moved approximately 3,000 units, a record for any player in team history.
Alicia Jessop of Forbes Magazine noted that Puig's agent and marketing team need to act fast to capitalize on opportunities to market him because of the volatile nature of baseball.
The best way to leverage this success would be to work to sign the young player to two or three endorsement deals with luxury brands or consumer goods products. This number of deals would require Puig to film a limited number of advertisements, allowing his main focus to remain on his playing.
Plus, whether this is fair or not, it is harder to market an international player to an American audience due to language barriers. Doesn't it strike you as odd that Miguel Cabrera doesn't get more endorsement opportunities, while C.J. Wilson is doing spots for Head & Shoulders?
Just think, two years ago, when Matt Kemp was the best player in the National League, he and the L.A. media couldn't drum up enough support for the MVP award because the Dodgers didn't make the playoffs.
But if you put him on the Yankees, there would have been numerous articles written about Ryan Braun winning the award like there were when Justin Morneau won the 2006 AL MVP award over Derek Jeter.
(For the record, neither Morneau nor Jeter would have been my choice for AL MVP that year, so I would have caught it from both camps.)
Those of us who love the game of baseball have already made Puig appointment viewing, regardless of what time the Dodgers play or who they are playing. But for casual fans, it is hard to go out of your way to watch him when games start later than they would care to keep watching.
And there are a lot of things that get lost in translation when you are staring at a box score or watching a highlight.
New York would make sure that Puig gets seen by anyone and everyone with a pair of eyes. I am not advocating he go to the Yankees, nor am I saying he would be a better player with them. It's harder to be better than Puig has been through 15 games.
What I am saying is that the biggest city and media market in the country provides a certain opportunity for the game of baseball to capitalize on. Of course, given the size of the Los Angeles market, it would help Puig's visibility if the Dodgers were actually contending in what has turned out to be a rather mediocre National League West.
Fernandomania was over 30 years ago and a lot has changed since that time. Baseball is much more regional today than it was when Fernando Valenzuela took the sports world by storm.
You need a truly transcendent talent, as well as the right market, to make a player more visible to an overcrowded media landscape. Puig could turn into that player eventually—no, he isn't there yet—but it would be easier to do it in New York with the Yankees than Los Angeles.
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