J-Roll™ Says MLB Doesn’t Do a Good Job Promoting its (Black) Athletes

And he’s right. 

With quotes appearing today in Ken Rosenthal’s column, which is the borderline NC-17 full-frontal scene to Captain Bow-Tie’s Disney french kiss dugout drop-ins on FOX (read: better, juicier), Jimmy Rollins talks about the lousy job MLB does promoting its black stars (and players in general): [FOX Sports]

“We threw a lot of good ideas out there [when we met with MLB in 2006],” Rollins said. “They had some things they were doing with Spike Lee, getting him on board with some short, mini-movie type things, something like that. Obviously, we haven’t seen any of it. Neither have the MLB fans. In short, nothing has come of it.

“You can promote yourself as a player. You can always do that. But that doesn’t help brand the game. The overall agenda was, ‘How do we brand black players in the game with baseball? It’s not an easy thing to do by any means.

“Young black kids today look to the glamour sports, what appear to be glamour sports. Take your helmet off on the sidelines, clown on the touchdowns. In the NBA, you do a dunk, give the Incredible Hulk to the crowd, things of that nature. Those things hit home. In baseball, if you hit a big home run and do anything other than run around the bases, you’re a clown.”

I asked Rollins if Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielderwere the kinds of African-American players that should be the focus of baseball’s efforts.

He had an interesting reply.

“(Justin) Upton is on his way up,” Rollins said. “Football, basketball, they take guys on their way up. They make money off them, promote them before they even make their top dollar.

“Baseball, it’s history and numbers and all that. You’re great once you’re old and out of the game. You’re good when you’re in the game. But everything comes back to, ‘Look at the history, the golden age of baseball.’

“Kids don’t care about that stuff. They weren’t even born. What’s happening now and today? Especially with the way society is, it’s about what’s happening at this very moment. Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff, it’s what’s happening now.”


Never mind the obvious miss at an opportunity to credit The Big Piece, Rollins is right on. Baseball, of all the major sports, does the worst job of promoting its players, both black and white.

Baseball is the most individual of all the sports. In fact – the SABR nerds are going to stroke themselves when they read this – it is probably the one game that could be played in a vacuum, devoid of any and all human interaction. While obviously that’s not the case, and the interaction between players, coaches, and managers is imperative and, sadly, unmeasurable, baseball is based almost entirely on individual skills: a pitcher throwing a ball, a batter hitting it, a fielder catching and throwing it, etc. Those individual moments and players should be showcased much more than they are. 

Doubly worse, MLB not only passively fails to promote individual players, but they also actively destroy any non-sanctioned promotion of their players or product.

Case in point: MLBPA’s relentless pursuit of any and all semblance of copyright infringement. Obviously, you can’t put a logo and player’s name on a shirt and expect to not get slapped on the wrist, but MLB and its players association take things to a new level. There are a number of stories (some first-hand, others not) about the league and union intervening when blogs and third party vendors have put generic first names (with no logo or team connection), words (funner), and other indirect references to Major League players on shirts. Instead of allowing for the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle references to exist among the most passionate fans and thought leaders, MLB sends out Cease and Desist letters with the frequency of former creditors suing Lenny Dykstra.

Having worked for the MLB Shop for two years and once being asked to remove Nick Adenhart’s name from the customization menu so fans couldn’t purchase the recently deceased player’s jersey*, I can attest to their ridiculous pursuit of the letter of the law, rather than its spirit. 

Merchandise comprises a very, very small piece of the pie, especially when it comes to player-specific apparel. The actions of a couple of mid-sized blogs and vendors promoting a local or national player are going to have far more residual benefit than the peanuts their products would generate for the league, team, or player. 

*True story. Deadspin wrote about it and MLB reps told the site that “the system wouldn’t allow for it.” That’s complete bullshit. I was the person who put the names into a dropdown list that lived on GSI Commerce’s (the company who runs the online stores for all of the sports leagues) servers… and the one who was told to remove Adenhart’s name from the roster and flag any manually entry, even though hundreds of people were ordering his jersey to honor him. In fact, I even suggested to a few of the MLB folks that since there was a bit of a union issue (he technically was no longer part of the MLBPA), they should continue selling his player t-shirts and jerseys, and the donate the profits to his family or foundation- everybody wins. Never happened. That was wayyy too outside the box and one of the reasons I now work for myself, rather than a large company.

Further, MLB hawks YouTube (more here) for any video showcasing its product. Again: it’s their right to do so, but it does more harm than good. The NFL, NHL, and NBA all allow their videos on the site. Does it cost those leagues some money in the short-(and perhaps long) term? You bet. But they rightfully understand there are very few businesses that get FREE promotion, the way sports teams and leagues do. Having people celebrate (and yes, in some cases exploit) your product has positives that far outweigh the negatives. Imagine being able to watch a mashup of all of Josh Hamilton’s home runs, or Jimmy Rollins’ highlight-reel plays at shortstop? 188,000 people viewed just this one video of Michael Vick’s 2010 highlights. Imagine if that sort of free publicity could be given to baseball players.

I’ll keep going.

The reason MLB doesn’t allow their videos on YouTube is because they have their own – fairly comprehensive and very expensive – video catalog. It’s also a pain in the ass to use. It’s often very difficult to find the plays, players, and moments you're looking for. When you do, the video player leaves a lot to be desired. Baseball is just oozing potential to implement a feature Hulu uses, which allows users to cut up any video they want and place it on third-party websites… provided you put up with a 30 second ad before it starts. Everybody wins. 

MLB recently started letting blogs embed videos, but the ones available with this feature are chosen seemingly at random and are often only blatant PR clips, rather than on-field action. Again, imagine being able to embed a video of every one of Cliff Lee’s strikeouts- free player specific promotion.

Those are but just two examples of the larger issues of which Rollins speaks. The NHL and NFL build matchups around players, MLB builds them around teams. Hell, I blog for a living, and while I admittedly focus my attention a little too much on local teams, I shouldn’t be someone who is caught off guard at how good an up-and-coming pitcher is when he walks into CBP. As a 28-year-old sports fan and blogger, I’m right in their target demo. If word didn’t reach me, it didn’t reach anyone.

Championing the past is great and all, but like Rollins said, it’s not exactly cool. Give us flashy graphics, oversized billboards, and the go-ahead to produce some viral videos. It would only help… both the players and the fans.


36 Responses

  1. Good read, although I don’t think Spike Lee is a good idea for promoting anything.
    I’m wondering if MLB is still arse hurt after all the big deal they made back in the Sosa versus McGwire days and only to have the roids problem blow up in their faces and turn off so many (casual) fans.

  2. “In baseball, if you hit a big home run and do anything other than run around the bases, you’re a clown.”
    so, is he saying that’s a bad thing? or just that the MLB needs to do more to promote players because in baseball you (rightly) cant clown around like that? because if he wants players to strut around the bases after a homerun, flexing their muscles to the crowd as they go, making asses of themselves, then he’s an idiot.

  3. I think its on the teams/players to promote a players in MLB rather than the league which is different than NFL, NHL, NBA where its both.
    And now on Jimmy Rollins. The biggest problem I see out of black baseball players like Jimmy, is their close-minded sense of reality and racism against others. What I mean is, sure there are a number of black american born players in MLB, but there is a large number of black-latin, foreign born players. They don’t complain, keep to themselves, but Jimmy Rollins speaks out without including them as “black players.”
    Now what about halfies (mixed race players)? Derek Jeter should obviously be the first choice of the most famous. Many mixed race (white/black specifically) like to classify themselves as black (Obama for expample). Jeter keeps out of it. Is he included? Because Jeter promotes himself well, the yankees promote the hell out of him, and MLB promotes the guy.
    I think black guys in MLB is an overblown subject and Jimmy Rollins is the leader of it. He promotes himself by bringing it up and exasperating a non-issue.

  4. I agree with Jimmy. MLB doesn’t tend to focus on its black players. The fact that the city’s man-love for Rollins and Howard isn’t on par with its man-love of Chase Utley (who deserves every bit of that man-love, don’t get me wrong) makes me wonder why we don’t love Rollins and Howard as much as Utley, when they had just as much to do with turning this place into a baseball town as Utley did.
    But I don’t think Spike Lee with his hatred of “whitey” or anything not black is the right person to team up with for such an endeavor. I’d like to see someone who’s willing to go yard for all the minorities in baseball, as well as continue to give the non-minorities their props too.

  5. @marrrk
    He was talking about the difference between baseball and football/basketball, not saying he should be allowed to act like a clown. Kids see Ryan Howard hit a home run and etiquette says he can’t call attention to himself. He just runs the bases. Ho-hum, more RBI, nbd.
    In football or basketball, when players perform well, they call a lot of attention to themselves. It’s expected in that sport. It looks like the guys are having fun. They get talked about for their flashy ways.
    Now, you’re a 9 year old boy in the ‘hood. You’re young, but you can already see that you are most likely never going to be admired because you see the life you are growing up in. Now you turn on TV and see Ryan Howard hit a home run and jog around the bases. Now you change to a basketball game, and Lebron is jumping 10 feet from the hoop, slams the ball in, screams his head off and puts his arms out, looking to the rafters. The crowd goes nuts. He gets number 1 on Top 10.
    Which sport would you try to excel in?
    That’s his point.

  6. @Kate…we love Utley more than Rollins because he hustles, Rollins does not. As far as Howard, it’s the ever old issue of strike outs…

  7. @JT i get all that, for sure. but i’m asking what his solution is, since he brought it up and all…
    does he want the game to get more clowny, or does he want MLB to promote individual players in as clowny a way they can? i’m sure i sound a bit facetious, but i’m not trying to. i think his example is the equivalent of telling the NHL to only show their most exciting fights in all their promotional materials. not that clowning and fighting is equivalent; but promoting the most bombastic side-shows of your sport is.

  8. There is a big difference in the MLB not promoting their black players (which is a problem) and the MLB not allowing blogs to make money off of merchandise emblazoned with copyrighted material or the likenesses of players. These are two separate issues and have nothing to do with the other.
    The MLB is in the interest of making money, and third parties (such as yourself) undermine them by selling shirts of your own, so of course they are going to prevent you from selling a shirt with Hunter Pence’s face on it, but that is, in no way, shape or form, related to the issue at hand that is the MLB seeing a reduced number of black players (which is what Jimmy is talking about), and it’s pretty damn self centered and egotistical of you to try to steer the conversation back towards yourself.
    “Hell, I blog for a living, and while I admittedly focus my attention a little too much on local teams, I shouldn’t be someone who is caught off guard at how good an up-and-coming pitcher is when he walks into CBP. As a 28-year-old sports fan and blogger, I’m right in their target demo. If word didn’t reach me, it didn’t reach anyone.”
    No, that just means you don’t pay attention. The minor leagues are so easy to get access to, and if you can’t, for whatever reason, then that’s on you. Don’t blame the team for your own ignorance.

  9. Baseball doesn’t promote any african american players…really?? C’mon Jimmy…you’re better than that. So everytime I see an ad for Sunday night baseball it’s not Ryan Howard…or Prince Fielder…or Big Papai…Puljous. the list goes on and on. Just a stop. I love Philly sports but stop pretending to be overshadowed and play the game. What would you like to do after you hit a homerun? Flex like Hulk Hogan? Why is that that only the african american players feel like they don’t get enough credit or praise.

  10. @Paulson- When looked at on the whole, both the lack of promotion for African Americans and the copyright restrictions in place by MLB actually can be related to each other. I’m not a blogger, I don’t sell t-shirts, but from what I see, MLB can be a bit ridiculous. I’d equate their restrictions to the level of ridiculousness of the NCAA rulebook. They micromanage so much that they lose sight of the big picture. No, not just the stuff that would benefit Kyle, but everything. They’ve lost sight of what will really promote them. It’s the entire marketing philosophy Kyle is questioning, and he has legit points.
    First, Papi and Pujols aren’t African American. They are Latino. There is a big difference, and a big difference in whether the black kids in America will look up to them.
    It’s not that Jimmy or other African Americans feel they aren’t getting enough praise. They are looking at the (legitimate) issue of the declining percentage of African American kids showing an interest in the game. If you’re asking how to curtail that, Jimmy is answering honestly. They have competition from the other sports, and they aren’t charging to promote to young black kids. That’s a start to increasing the interest in the game.

  11. @ J.T. You’re joking. The slow erosion of baseball in inner cities and the reduction of the black population in the game of baseball is not even in the same breath as whether or not the MLB is restricting bloggers from selling t-shirts.
    One is an actual issue, and one is a group of bloggers that has their panties in a bunch because they can’t make a few extra bucks by using someone’s likeness on a shirt.
    Come on. It’s not micromanaging, it’s Major League Baseball trying to protect its assets.

  12. Paulson- completely disagree. I’m talking about very loosely connected apparel (not shirts with any logos or likenesses, rather words like “funner” “cole” and other non-specific references to players) and references. The NHL in fact allows the use of names as long as you don’t blatantly use the logo. The MLB is ridiculous with what they claim as copyright.
    And your minor league argument is crazy. That’s not marketing. The average person doesn’t follow minor league sports. Marketing means active promotion of your product, they should be telling us about rookies, stars and the like.
    All of this, along with the video stuff, are examples of MLB’s archaic philosophy to marketing its product.

  13. Kyle, you start out talking about how the MLB doesn’t focus enough on the diminishing number of black players in the game and you tie it in to what the MLB chooses to copyright. They are completely different issues.
    One has implications that date back to before integration, and another is legal red tape. Who cares if you can’t sell a shirt with “funner” on it? Does that really make the experience with their product (baseball games) that much worse? No, of course it doesn’t. However, the actual issue (what Jimmy was talking about) reduces the quality of the game because they are essentially reducing the talent pool from which to choose players from. THAT is the issue, not whether or not the MLB loosens their copyright policy regarding player likeness and you tube videos.
    The minor league argument isn’t crazy, because why did everyone and their mother know who Michael Schwimer was yesterday when he took the hill? Why do we argue ad naseum about Domonic Brown? Just because you don’t know as much about the minor leagues as you think you should, doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t paying attention.
    “…they should be telling us about rookies, stars and the like.”
    Last time I check, there is a thing called The Futures Game that serves the very purpose of promoting minor league players. Furthermore, anyone with an internet connection can visit the website of whatever minor league affiliate they want and get all the information they can possibly consume on a player or team.

  14. Baseball doesn’t promote black players because baseball doesn’t have a lot of black players. Yes, there are the Rollins/Howards/Fielder/Upton (Don’t want to forget David Price) but let’s be real, most black athletes end up playing basketball or football. Is that MLBs fault? It really speaks to how our country is set up. What’s easier for kids to play, basketball or baseball? Which game has more appeal? What is more glamorous to most people? Is it MLB’s fault that their sport is slow?
    Point is, baseball isn’t really a majority black sport. I don’t think MLB doesn’t pick Jimmy Rollins to be a face of the league just because he’s black. They need to pick the most marketable. They need to pick Pujols, Joe Mauer, Jeter, Ortiz, etc. It’s all about money. Not race.
    Sports associations also don’t really “need” to market their players in this day and age. The athletes market themselves. And what makes most athletes to reach that celebrity status? Off the field actions. LeBron became the most recognizable basketball player because of Sports Illustrated. Alex Rodriguez became a headline when he signed the biggest contract ever and moved to New York. Peyton Manning is more famous with all of America for his lame commercials. Michael Vick became a household (when I say that, I mean people who don’t watch sports) name after he was arrested and tried in jail. Kobe was known as Shaq’s sidekick, but then he became known as the rapist. Yao Ming was known for his height, not his ability to play. The list goes on.
    It’s all about how people are perceived. Is LeBron really the best player in the NBA or is that what ESPN wants us to think? They can be as famous or popular as they want to be. Rollins doesn’t need the MLB to help him, he helps himself with Red Bull shenanigans among other things.
    As far as the MLB copyright, Bud Selig is an idiot.

  15. If only you could hear me clapping… oh wait, you can. I’ll just put it on YouTube and hopefully that guy who wrote “If You’re Happy and You Know It” won’t take it down.

  16. Paulson- still disagree. You’re failing to see that organic, viral, word-of-mouth marketing is one of many (read: there are many, many other) factors that plays into the sport not marketing black (and white) players. They simply don’t market players well. Allowing some of the t-shirts, YouTube videos and other fan generated stuff like this absolutely effects interest, which has long lasting residual effects. You think blogs didn’t play A HUGE part in the Hunter Pence show that we’re seeing? Not just this one- certainly not just this one- but The Fightins, Zoo with Roy, etc. all together reach a lot of people, who spread what they read. I promise you, the Phillies wouldn’t be selling Let’s Go Eat t-shirts if it wan’t for blogs picking up the phrase and running with it. Now he was just on NBC 10 saying “Let’s Go Eat.” All of this stuff is tied together. That’s the point I’m making with marketing squeezing the organic localized stuff, and some national stuff (Deadspin can’t post MLB videos, they get a few million page views a day), it kills some attention.
    You’re obviously a hardcore fan, but I promise you, about a third of the people watching the game yesterday, or more specifically, about 200,000, were wondering who the hell Michael Schwimmer was. Now, he’s not a guy you’d probably market, but the point is, there are a lot of casual fans who don’t go to minor league sites- face it, they just don’t. I would hate for you to market my product, marketing is not about people finding you, it’s about you finding them.
    Again, this all points to what Jimmy was talking about. You don’t do a good job of marketing your product, there is less interest and knowledge, and boom, in 20 years, your talent pool is not as large. It’s a cycle.
    Obviously, I’m not trying to say MLB pulling a “funner” shirt has a one-to-one relationship with a lack of black players, rather it points to a much large philosophy the league has in the way it does it’s business. Sometimes you need to draw parallels and not oversimplify things, man.

  17. If you make an asshole out of your self in baseball you are fined and hated on
    If you make an asshole out of your self in hockey you are fined and get your ass kicked
    Least amount of black people playing and watching these sports. I Wonder why
    When in doubt blame others and use whitey as your scapegoat.

  18. I like Rollins but this is pure bunk. Promote black players? Take a look at the salaries of black players (Howard, Sabathia, etc) and tell me they aren’t being promoted through stellar contracts. Enough of the race card, PLEASE

  19. I am just thinking that if the shoe was on the other foot, Say if Kevin Love says “NBA doesnt do enough to promote its white american players” it would be labeled racist. I just get tired of this argument. Part of the allure of baseball is the class and timelessness of the game. If you want to see somebody dancing after making a play, go watch the NBA. I think part of the problem lies within the black community and the embracing of the Ghetto Star mentality. Look at the rappers that are popular. The Game, Lil Wayne. Flashy, edgy covered in tattoos little regard for the status quo. Always pushing the envelope. And nothing wrong with that, not for me but to each there own. But a vast majority of fans(or maybe just me) like baseball because it stays the same. Granted some emotion in a big situation makes a nice front page news story as due HBP/bench clearing brawls. But I feel the main draw is the history, the anticipation, the stats and the way MLB goes about their business in a more professional manner. And by MLB i mean the players. The problem isnt that the MLB not “catering” to black talent, its the fact that the GAME of baseball does not reward ghetto thug mentality that is embraced by the black community. There is a reason D-Jack, Asante Samuel and the like are in the NFL and the same for NBA stars(I refuse to watch the NBA but lets be honest, VAST majority are black) they embrace the clown/showboating/its all about me attitudes. So i guess if anyone reads this you could call me an ignorant racist but thats fine, this is my opinion and you are entitled to have yours. But on lightly related note, maybe the problem with the demise of the black american MLB player has to do with the OVER EXPLOTATION of the Latino players. Its like a baseball prison camp in places like the Dominican… local teams go there and BUY a kid for like 5 grand then OWN the kid. then sell him to MLB teams for a nice profit but still on the Cheap…. maybe MLB should look into that and it could open up some roster spots for the black american player

  20. Completely agree with most of this article. However, I do think too much player promotion is a bad thing. For example, the NBA. Die hard fans aside, most people watch the NBA because of specific players, not teams. Are you going to watch an out of market NBA game if Kobe or Lebron aren’t playing? NBA markets their players to a fault. It’s all about the individual, not the team.
    But I may be biased since I hate the NBA.

  21. Jimmy has been my favorite Phil since he was brought up, and he’s starting to piss me off lately. Why is it such a bad thing that MLB doesn’t highlight its individual players? Baseball is a team sport, just like football and basketball are SUPPOSED to be. Those sports have gone more toward putting the spotlight on the individual. Those are TEAM sports, but throughout the last 20 years or so, the Lebrons, Ochocincos, and TOs have made those sports more about the individual than the team. How have they done this? Well, the leagues tend to fine flashy offenders, but what they get fined is pocket change to them, and the other players don’t care (unless of course you go dance on their star).
    But self-policing exists amongst the players in baseball, and I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. Unwritten rules exist that will get you beaned for being a jerk or being flashy – putting the spotlight on the individual. I don’t really think that’s such a terrible thing, and if Jimmy wanted more spotlight (I really don’t give a shit if he’s black, white, or hispanic, personally), he should have played another sport.
    Being part of a team is what baseball is all about and is the key to success in MLB (example – see current Phillies roster). To stray from that solely for the sake of highlighting players of certain races or backgrounds undermines the true nature of the game.

  22. If the goal is for people to act like strutting peacocks like they do in football, count me out!! That’s PRECISELY the type of difference between the 3 sports that makes baseball special. I can see some of his points, but PLEASE don’t make that argument!

  23. *2 sports.
    One other thing, if the goal is to get the next generation interested, how about all the stuff that the Phillies have done along those lines, e.g., sponsoring inner city youth playing the game, collecting equipment for kids, etc.

  24. @adam – You can try and be subtle and nice about it all you want, but you’re a racist asshole. Sure, you may have a point that other sports have more showboating and thats a problem, but everytime you talked about black players or black people in general, you used words like ‘ghetto’, ‘thugs’ or ‘clowns’. It completely destroys your credibility and any argument you had. What do any of those words have to do with show-boating after a play? What about the NHL? Thats like 99.9999% white and theres crazy stuff that comes out of that league to rival the antics of the NBA. What about people in baseball that do crazy stuff? (Wasn’t Jason Giambi in the news for wearing gold underwear? Have you gotten one good look at Brian Wilson?) People like you, who passively undermine african americans with a ho-hum, condescending attitude, are part of the problem, my friend.
    “(I refuse to watch the NBA but lets be honest, VAST majority are black)” – adam
    …Enough said.

  25. Also — You just proved what J-Roll was saying. Kids today, especially inner city kids, have no clue about the history and anticipation of the game, let alone care about it. And J-Roll isn’t just talking about showboating. What do you think appeals more to young kids: Seeing an NFL receiver pick apart a defense and take one 80 yards to the house, or hearing Chris Wheeler talk about WHIP and get all nostalgic about geezers who haven’t played “this whacky game” in 30 years? Christ, I’m by no means a young kid but I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about half the time when it comes to the game’s history. Sure, the golden age, years and years of stats and figures, and the nostalgia are a big part of the game, and I’m not talking negatively against that stuff. But that doesn’t attract a younger audience, especially an inner city audience that doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of being surrounded by people who swoon over all that stuff.
    Everybody needs to take a deep breath and actually pay attention to what Rollins is saying .He isn’t saying there needs to be more showboating after you hit a homerun or that you have to dumb down the game in order to attract inner-city kids, or any kids for that matter. He’s saying that players seemingly are more celebrated when they’re in the history books, rather than in the primes of their careers. And since not enough is being done with the tools we have today to promote players and their current accomplishments, the game becomes less accessible and less meaningful to kids who aren’t well versed enough in it to understand what it all means. Its simple…You promote the players in a way that is more suitable by today’s standards, you get a younger audience, which ties into Kyle’s arguement about the copyright stuff.

  26. Jimmy is right…MLB doesn’t promote its american born Blacks…In fact they barely recruit them. My son was drafted by The Blue Jays…They are doing anythign with him…but you can best believe the white players and the Latin players are being promoting. When is hot, they play him a few games and that’s it…Unforunately, I think the only real way to get Blacks back into to baseball is to start our own league…it sounds ridicously huh!? but true

  27. Jimmy is right…MLB doesn’t promote its american born Blacks…In fact they barely recruit them. My son was drafted by The Blue Jays…They are not doing anything to insure he is an asset…but you can best believe the white players and the Latin players are being promoted. When he’s hot, they play him a few games and that’s it…Unforunately, I think the only real way to get Blacks back into to baseball is to start our own league…it sounds ridicously huh!? but true

Comments are closed.