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March 24, 2011

The BP Wayback Machine

Derek's Guide to Becoming a Fan Favorite

by Derek Zumsteg

While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.

Derek's advice to players hoping for a little more love from the fan base is as applicable today as it was when it first ran as a "Breaking Balls" column on August 24, 2004.

I'm going to risk stamping a giant red expiration date on this column in this introductory paragraph: Paris Hilton has a book deal, and her proposal includes "an abbreviated version of her instructions to anyone on how to become an heiress and live a privileged life." The first is "1. Be born into the right family. Choose your chromosomes wisely."

No kidding. You'd think that was a joke, except that reading it, and knowing what we know of Ms. Hilton, you have to wonder if that's sort of a joke with a thin smile and the finger, if you know what I mean.

I'm not a fan favorite. Instead of playing baseball professionally, I play it for fun and write about professional baseball. But if Ms. Hilton can get a book deal with that, there's got to be a market for how to be a fan favorite; you can't choose to be born into wealth, but there's an element of self-determination in becoming a fan favorite. The rewards aren't as great: The kind of fan favorite we'll be putting together here is the kind that hangs around for five, seven years, making a modest $2 million to $5 million per (sometimes longer, and sometimes more, but also the opposite)--we're not talking Sammy Sosa-in-his-prime fan favorite. Less cash, but it also requires considerably less talent.

It may be too late for you to become a fan favorite, but consider that you can make a better future for your kid if you follow these suggestions. You may have to have or adopt more than one kid to ensure you have one that meets all the requirements, but this is not hard to do.

 

  1. Have a good name. You can go for the all-American name. It's got to sell anywhere, and remind people of an aw-shucks down home rural appeal. Bonus points for having a -y ending or, for the sake of color men, being -y compatible.

    Good: Dan (Danny), Willie, Shane, Richie, Ernie, Frank (Frankie), Jim, Josh
    Bad: Simon, Gustavo, Jean-Pierre, Antonio, Derek

    The name should also have a nice "Max Power" ring to it. This means a two-syllable last name in almost all cases.

    But if you can get the ring, all bets are off. There's a point where the name becomes so ridiculous that it's a point in your favor. Doug Mientkiewicz is a perfect example of this. You can't put the -y on Doug without thinking of Doug E. Fresh, greatest human beatbox of all time. And the last name...I'm a Zumsteg, so I get my name screwed up all the time (Ring ring..."Hello? Is Mr. Crimstick there?" "Nope. Click."), and he's on a whole other level. Many of his fans can't spell his name correctly without looking it up. But you'd love him even if he was a utility player because it seems so awesome to have a name like that.

     

  2. Learn your baseball clichés. Be sincere when you recite them. I'm not going to get into these--if you're reading Prospectus, I'm reasonably sure that you know enough baseball that you could give me five of them without thinking if I asked you if last night's loss was hard to take. The key is selling them: If people think you're bored or haughty, you'll never win their hearts. You must believe the clichés. Find the truth in them, and speak plainly. Or at least make people believe it.

    Then take your winning personality out for a spin every day. Radio, TV, talk to bloggers, whatever you have to do to be a man of the people.

     

  3. Be scrappy. Not like the accursed animated dog, but like the scout's favorite dirt dog. Hustle all the time. Bunt. Lead the infield chatter. Get your uniform dirty every game, on every play if you can manage it. You should look like Pigpen at the end of a game. Have a good stare at the pitcher. It doesn't matter so much that you intimidate them as much as you need to look like you're trying like crazy.

    You want people to think, "That's how I'd play if I was lucky enough to have the chance--I'd make the most of every second" when they see you. This is especially effective if you're lucky enough to have teammates who are much more talented but don't run out groundballs, because you get double-credit for hustling even when your best players don't.

     

  4. Play good defense. Fans, even the most delusional, know they can't hit a 100-mph fastball. They don't identify with Barry Bonds when he hits a ball a mile. But even if it's just as unrealistic, it's much easier to identify with someone who's good with the glove. This self-identification is furthered by your next step...

     

  5. Hit badly, but not too badly. There has to be mystery about you. You have to get enough hits that you'll be credited with winning a game or two. Since it's unlikely you're good enough to play regularly (else why would you care about being a fan favorite?) one of the things that'll keep your fans with you is if they think that you've got more talent that would blossom if only you were given a regular chance to play.

     

  6. Catch. Everyone loves a scrappy backup catcher with a winning personality. When you luck into your great season through the magic of taking small samples over and over until something crazy pops up ("In a recent survey of Vegas show goers, nine out of 10 surveyed recommended Celine Dion over Penn and Teller") you can take that line to the bank. In this way, backup catchers are particularly well suited to take advantage of the "he's got potential" blind spot in the last point.

     

  7. Charity work and a publicist. Many players do good charity work. Some do their work in private. Not you. No, as part of your aura as a good person, you need to be known as someone who does a lot of charity work. Your publicist will be able to tell you how to make sure this impression is widespread, and how to make the most of your modest charity giving budget. Fan favorites rarely get paid in the eight figures, after all.

There are other points that can help: being left-handed, for instance. Switch-hitting is good. Investing in any required dental work to produce a winning smile is also good. Growing up in a small town is great, double points if within a team's territory, quadruple points if you can get into that team's organization: "Frankie Ballgame grew up in Dirt, California, population him, a ghost town where he was abandoned by a tourist. He played baseball with a rock and a stick by himself there in the dirt, uh, in Dirt, and he dreamed of playing for the Giants. Well, here he is, folks, a defensive replacement here in the 8th inning, and the crowd gives a roar of approval."

Following this simple program, or by setting up your offspring to become fan favorites, you can guarantee that you'll have immense pressure each year for your team to offer you arbitration and keep negotiations friendly (and thus lucrative). Please remember to cut us in on your profits, or at least leave some tickets for us at the Will Call window.

Related Content:  Scrappy,  Work,  Fan

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