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Most Popular Baseball Players in the World

by Rob Joyce

July 26, 2018 - 10:35 am
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Major League Baseball has a marketing problem. For a variety of reasons ball players just aren’t as popular to the average person than in other sports, and it became a bit contentious during All-Star Week. Q-score is a popular study comparing the popularity of famous folk, and it was discovered that Mike Trout – that’s “best player in the world” Mike Trout – is as popular as Kenneth Faried, a perfectly fine NBA forward averaging 11.4 points and 8.2 rebounds for his career.

Commissioner Rob Manfred basically threw Trout under the bus, the Angels and Trout responded, it wasn’t a great look. Either way, it’s clear that baseball players aren’t on the same level of recognition as in other sports by any number of metrics (Q-Score, Forbes, ESPN’s World 100, SportsPro Media, etc.). Combining all those (and then some), here are the five most popular players on the planet, it appears:

5) Kris Bryant, Cubs:

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His Q-score peaked in 2016, when he helped lead Chicago to its first World Series in 108 years, and he’s among the fans’ most well-liked players. Being the face of a national brand like the Cubs will do that. He’s not a big personality (then again, few in baseball are in 2018) but he’s likable, plays in a big market, helped end a century-old curse, had the second-highest selling jersey in 2017, and is exceptional at baseball.

4) Mike Trout, Angels:

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He’s a normal guy who loves (I mean loves) weather and the Philadelphia Eagles, and married his high school sweetheart. He also just happens to be on pace for perhaps the greatest individual season in MLB history.

Trout’s on-field credentials can’t be argued: in six full-time seasons entering 2018 he has two MVPs, finished second three times and finished fourth last year despite missing 48 games. There are all sorts of tales of him doing charitable work and being great with kids, none of it for show, but because he’s a good guy. It’s not on Trout to go out and be controversial or flashy – his play is good enough that if MLB can’t market him when he plays in the Los Angeles area, that’s on them.

3) Shohei Ohtani, Angels:

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Even semi-injured, he’s an international phenomenon. The two-way Japanese ballplayer chose the Halos over essentially all 29 other teams in an effort to play in the majors as both a pitcher and hitter, something that hasn’t been done consistently for over 100 years. Though an elbow injury will limit his pitching, the slugger is hitting .282 with seven home runs in 149 at-bats.

More importantly for this list, he’s the most popular athlete in Japan, and he’ll be a lock to have one of the top-five most popular jerseys for 2018 when the numbers are released. He’s not on the same level as others in terms of talent (at least not yet) but he’s right up there to the average sports fan internationally in terms of recognition. And, yes, more popular than his all-world teammate.

2) Aaron Judge, Yankees:

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He’s 6-6 with a frame as big as his gap-toothed smile. Bursting onto the scene last year with an AL-rookie record 52 home runs, Judge looks poised to officially fill the Derek Jeter-sized hole in Bronx popularity. He hits the ball a mile, won the Home Run Derby last year, he led baseball in jersey sales in 2017 and helped lead the Yankees to Game 7 of the ALCS. And he does all this with a big smile and a clean off-field persona. He’s perfect for that organization.

Playing in the biggest media market in the world doesn’t hurt either.

1) Bryce Harper, Nationals:

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He’s been one of baseball’s most well-known names since his MLB debut at 19, by which point he had already drawn a Sports Illustrated cover and countless headlines. His on-field play has been up-and-down compared to the hype, but he’s baseball’s best example of self-marketing. He signed the biggest endorsement deal by a baseball player ever with a 10-year deal with Under Armour, has an agreement with a hair and beard product, and is in a few national commercials.

He’s fiery, a little combative at times on the field, and is either beloved or disliked. Either way, those emotions lead to being well-known. And he’s the most well-known player on the planet.

1b) Tim Tebow, Binghamton Rumble Ponies:

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He’s not an active Major Leaguer, but let’s be honest: he’s probably the real number one on this list. And that’s not an exaggeration.