Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani and MLB’s Youth Movement Give Baseball Some Juice Despite Political Cloud Surrounding All-Star Game

The 2021 MLB All-Star Game had the potential to become a political battleground of sorts. Instead, young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Shohei Ohtani showed why it has arguably never been more exciting to be a baseball fan.

Vladdy and Ohtani highlighted an exciting week in Denver. The two players are also emblematic of how MLB’s young batch of charismatic superstars captures new audiences and reenergizes baseball fans around the country, regardless of political grievances.

The 2021 MLB All-Star Game was moved from Atlanta to Denver

All-Star weekend was not supposed to be in Denver.

The festivities were supposed to take place at Truist Park in Atlanta, home of the Braves. However, MLB decided to move All-Star weekend out of Atlanta after the state of Georgia passed a controversial voting bill.

The bill was scrutinized on a national level, including by Nick Corasiniti and Reid J. Epstein of the New York Times, for limiting absentee ballots and creating a number of voting restrictions. Commissioner Rob Manfred previously said that MLB spoke with players regarding the best course of action before deciding on a new location for All-Star weekend.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said in a statement, via Alden Gonzalez of ESPN. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

The decision garnered plenty of praise but also plenty of backlash. The Atlanta Braves organization issued a statement expressing its disappointment and suggesting businesses and fans were “victims.”

Major League Baseball would ultimately opt for Coors Field as the new home for All-Star festivities.

There was still some politicization of the All-Star Game… but ratings were up

A lot of the political chatter surrounding the All-Star Game appeared to die down in the past couple of months, but the Republican National Committee attempted to reinvigorate the discussion.

The RNC ran an advertisement featuring former Georgia state House of Representatives member Reverend Melvin Emerson. The ad blamed the Democratic Party for using the All-Star Game as a means of pushing their “divisive political agenda.”

It might have been reasonable to wonder whether some Americans would boycott All-Star weekend in alignment with some of the statements made in the ad. However, the numbers tell a different story.

Bill Shea of The Athletic reported Fox Sports saw an average of 8.24 million domestic viewers on Tuesday, up from 8.14 million in 2019. That number jumps to 8.31 million U.S. viewers when accounting for Spanish-language Fox Deportes. There was also a sizable rise in streaming. In fact, Fox reported it was the most-streamed contest in All-Star history.

Shea also noted the Home Run Derby, won by New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso, had its highest viewership since 2017.

Needless to say, there was still plenty of interest in all the star power on display in Denver. The talent appeared to — for the most part — supersede political protest or reservations.

Stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Shohei Ohtani are making baseball fun

MLB All-Stars Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. pose before the Home Run Derby
Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani and Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are two of the biggest figures in baseball | Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Why were there so many eyeballs on All-Star weekend? The captivating talents of guys like Guerrero and Ohtani seemingly have a lot to do with increased viewership.

Guerrero has been arguably the best hitter in baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger leads the majors in batting average (.332), on-base percentage (.430), RBI (73), and OPS (1.089). He has a legitimate chance at the Triple Crown and flashed his immense power Tuesday en route to being named All-Star MVP.

Ohtani does it both at the plate and on the mound. He leads the majors in homers (33) and slugging percentage (.698) while also amassing a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts, with 87 strikeouts in 67 innings. The Japanese star participated in the Home Run Derby, started as the American League’s designated hitter, and was also the AL’s starting pitcher. What he is doing truly is unprecedented.

Guerrero and Ohtani are but a couple of MLB’s incredible wave of fresh talent. San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is another headliner, as is Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.

There are still discussions to be had on how best to grow the sport. But, if Manfred and Co. do their job correctly, the excitement provided by these stars should transcend political theater.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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