Marcus Stroman is a character.
Even baseball fans that aren’t that familiar with the Blue Jays have seen his act before. The only two things bigger than his six-pitch repertoire are his collection of shoes and his mouth when he’s on the mound. The 26-year-old, 5-foot-8, trash-talking, Jordan-wearing, strutting, strike-throwing machine seems to become a topic every fifth day when old school baseball fans think he should just do his job.
The thing about Marcus Stroman is that he does his job pretty well. Marcus Stroman’s 3.71 Earned Run Average since he joined the Blue Jays rotation in 2014 ranks 45th among all qualified pitchers. What he does exceptionally well is keep the ball on the ground, and his ground ball rate of 58.2% post-2014 is third among all starters, 2.9 points back of leader Dallas Keuchel.
He was good enough to join Team USA at the World Baseball Classic this spring and shimmied to the WBC MVP after taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning of the final against Puerto Rico. Let’s just say Puerto Rican’s weren’t too happy with him after the championship game for some reason.
It’s fair to say that Marcus Stroman is unapologetically good and doesn’t care what anybody thinks. As a result, he’s taken a lot of heat for it.
Many times, people have taken issue with him screaming at his infielders after a good play, hyping himself up, or getting too worked up and glaring into the opposing dugout after the third out is recorded.
My question is, how is any of that bad for the game?
Major League Baseball has two problems: an aging fan base and more time being taken to play games. Over the past few seasons, commissioner Rob Manfred and the rest of the MLB have been looking to find ways to shorten the game in an attempt to draw in new, younger fans.
According to a Nielsen’s Year in Sports Media Report for the 2013 season, Major League Baseball had the oldest fans among the big four North American sports (MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL) with about 50% of total viewers being over the age of 55.
We live in a social media age where everything is captured and shared instantly. Make a highlight reel play and fans from around the league will see it almost instantly on their Twitter timelines or their Instagram home page. When Chris Coghlan soared over Yadier Molina last week, even the popular WorldStar Hip Hop page on Instagram had to post it for their ten million followers to see. Less than 24 hours later, it had over 1.2 million loops.
Charismatic players like Marcus Stroman – and the way they carry themselves on the field – bring a certain swagger to baseball that will help draw in young fans in ways pace of play rules never could. That’s not even to say that you should love him. Even if you don’t like him, you’ll still pay attention to see what he ends up doing throughout the duration of a start.
This is a sport where achievements are meant to be handled stone-faced and stoic. From a young age, players are taught to ‘act like they’ve been there before’ in an attempt to not make any opposing pitcher, hitter, plays, or manager angry for failing.
If the MLB wants to appeal to young people and draw in new fans to the game, eliminating the little things like the intentional walk won’t do it. Personality will. It’s time for the traditionalists to accept that fun sells. I get that it’s going to be hard to imply to children that playing this game is fun, especially since throwing at a hitter’s head because he made you angry was accepted until such a short time ago, but it’s time for a new era.
Lead Photo: © Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports