Many consider LA one of the premier sports markets in the U.S. While that may have appealed to Lebron James, it didn’t help the Dodgers sign Anthony Rendon.
In fact, it seems to have hurt or even eliminated their chances of signing the 2019 World Series champion third baseman. On Saturday, Rendon, the newly-signed third baseman for the neighboring LA Angels of Anaheim, told this to Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times:
Apparently, Rendon felt that the glitz and glamour that comes with playing in LA was not in the best interests of himself or for his family. Certainly, that should come as a shock to many, though there certainly seems to some precedent for this sort of decision.
Even though playing in a premier sports and entertainment market appeals to many star players, baseball seems to have a sizeable contingent of elite players that prefer less limelight and more of an intimate setting.
Let’s use the Angels as an example. Even though their market is still considered one of the largest in baseball in terms of fan base size, their distance from LA and the media hype and attention that surrounds LA sports has seemingly helped them land some of the more mild-mannered stars of the last few offseasons.
Before the 2019 season began, the consensus best player in baseball in Mike Trout signed with the Angels for 12 years and $430 million. This kept the young superstar from hitting free agency after the 2020 season and potentially will keep the game’s biggest talent in one of it’s least hyped media markets for his entire career. Trout is not big on commercials or endorsements or any of the sorts of things that elevate sports stars in other sports to fame outside of their respective games. By signing with the Angels, Trout maintained a comfort zone in a city that allows players to live in relative obscurity on the West Coast, where less national media coverage comes in simply because games are on later at night.
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Before the 2018 season began, the Angels locked down Shohei Ohtani, a talent widely considered unmatched by many baseball minds. The Dodgers pursued him; the New York Yankees pursued him; really, every team worth their salt pursued a player only slated to make less than a million dollars a season until he hits arbitration during the 2020 offseason.
Why did he choose Anaheim? Of all of the cities in the U.S., the Japanese superstar had his pick, and instead of LA, NY, Boston, or Chicago, Ohtani went with Anaheim. Besides reports about Angels GM Billy Eppler making an amazing pitch to Ohtani, another theory around why he chose Anaheim comes from Mike Oz Yahoo Sports.
Signing with the Angels puts Ohtani near L.A. without actually being in the thick of L.A. So if we’re to believe that he values his privacy, as reports have suggested, Anaheim puts Ohtani close enough to Hollywood without being in the thick of Dodgers mania.
This theory lines up with quotes that came from Rendon on Saturday afternoon. Anaheim is near LA and the beach and all of the rich sports history and culture if a player wants all of that. But for the times that they don’t, Anaheim, like a suburb, provides a perceived safety and calmness that a player can’t find in downtown LA amongst tens of millions of people.
So how can the Dodgers get over the hump? Are they doomed to miss out on big-time free agents to the Angels as long as LA is a more bustling city than Anaheim (ie. forever)?
I don’t think so. Obviously, some players prefer their privacy but others enjoy the fame that comes with being an elite player. Immediately, Bryce Harper, Alex Bregman, Francisco Lindor, and Trevor Bauer come to mind as players who revel in the media attention that being a MLB All-Star can provide.
If the Dodgers want to go out and compete against smaller cities with privacy pitches, they’ll need to do so by compiling a roster of stars that enjoy the riches of LA. They’ll need their stars to be a part of pitches to help explain how one can find privacy and also a dominant championship-bound roster in LA, one that seems unlikely for a franchise like the Angels.