With the NFL season officially kicked off, the talk about media darling Tim Tebow turned ridiculous. Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez had a great game, Tebow barely saw the field…and yet, he was still the main story surrounding the Jets blowout win over the Bills. All of the talk throughout the summer was centered around Tebow, and fans across the country were completely sick of it…yet, we kept getting smashed with discussion about him. That got me thinking. Could baseball ever have a player that gets as much media attention as Tebow? Could there be a player that the conversation consistently gets centered around?
Well…I don't think so, and here's why.
Non-professional baseball doesn't get nearly as much attention as college (and to a lesser extent) high school football. Tebow was the 15th ranked recruit during his senior year of high school. He played all four years of college ball at Florida, winning a pair of national championships and a Heisman trophy. By that same token…can you tell me off the top of your head who won the College World Series this year? It was Arizona. Do you know who won the Golden Spikes award, which is baseball's answer to the Heisman? It was Mike Zunino, ironically a Gator like Tebow. College baseball is on such a smaller scale than college football, and gets much less mainstream attention.
The draft is another big reason young baseball prospects don't get as much attention as their football counterparts. Everyone with a pulse know that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the top two picks in this April's NFL Draft. Who was the first pick in June's MLB Draft? It was Carlos Correa, a 17-year old shortstop out of Puerto Rico that most fans had never even seen, and won't be in the majors for another few years. It's not like you could even watch Correa after he was drafted, as he played in the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League during his first season…neither of which are aired anywhere, even MiLB.TV.
The only players in the last few years that I can think of even getting a fraction of the attention that Tebow has gotten over his career are Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals. Both players won the Golden Spikes award (in back to back years, no less), were the top overall pick in the draft, and cruised through the minors. Strasburg made just 11 minor league starts in 2010 before making his major league debut (and subsequently blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery), and Harper played just 130 games in the minors (excluding the Arizona Fall League) before coming up for good this spring.
But while both Strasburg and Harper get massive amounts of attention, neither transcends the sport. Neither player was thrown a birthday party by Skip Bayless. Neither player had their coverage pulled back by SportsCenter because it was too much. Neither player had a meaningless newsbit discussed about on SportsNation. Do you know what separates coverage of Harper and Strasburg from that of Tebow?
Both are starters that are playing well on a playoff team. The news last week of Strasburg's shutdown was huge, because he's been the best (or second best) starting pitcher for the best team in baseball. Harper is a 19-year old in the majors, and he's having a historic teenage season as the team's starting center fielder. Neither player is Tim Tebow, a backup quarterback for a potentially mediocre team that is the second best team to play in their own stadium.
For coverage of either player to reach Tebow levels, they'd have to be a bench player or a reliever that hasn't shown enough success at the major league level to play at a high level. For example…imagine if Harper was with the Mets, and was playing like Andres Torres. There probably wouldn't be nearly as much attention surrounding him. By the same token, what if Strasburg was playing in Oakland, and was serving as a long reliever/spot starter behind Oakland's rotation? Do you think either player would get a fraction of the media coverage as Tebow does today? I highly doubt it.
Pretty much, there will never be a baseball version of Tim Tebow. The circumstances surrounding him are so unique that it's impossible for a baseball player to replicate this on a national level. It would take a situation with someone like Harper dominating the high school ranks, getting a full ride scholarship to a major college baseball powerhouse, like a UCLA, winning mutiple College World Series titles, winning the Golden Spikes award, being drafted first overall, and going right into the majors and making an impact. It takes an absolute perfect storm.
In fact, the only athlete in recent years to ever get the sort of Tebow-like attention was LeBron James, who had his high school games televised by ESPN, was drafted first overal (by his hometown team, nonetheless), and has dominated the NBA throughout his career. Baseball just doesn't work like football and basketball. No one is ever going to be the "Tebow of baseball", because quite frankly, his situation likely won't ever happen again.