- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2011


Jerry West came to symbolize pro basketball, his silhouette serving as the official NBA logo. Michael Jordan became an iconic brand with his “Jumpman” logo, helping Nike become an international conglomerate.

Ken Griffey Jr.’s “Swingman” isn’t nearly as popular as the image of Jordan soaring through the air with legs split and basketball raised. But at least Griffey’s emblem graces Nike products, which gives him street cred. That’s not the case with Shaquille O’Neal’s “Dunkman.” It’s a nice-looking emblem, Shaq throwing down a vicious, two-handed slam with his legs flailing and the rim rocking. But it’s plastered on “affordable” sneakers and clothing, which is anathema to image-conscious kids.

In any case, you must be a truly special player to have your outline represent an entire league. Or divisions within the world’s most-ubiquitous sports brand. Or a personal line of attire that’s an alternative to higher-priced merchandise. The aforementioned foursome are among the best ever at their sports, each one a member or soon-to-be member of his respective Hall of Fame.

I guess that’s another sign that Stephen Strasburg is extraordinary, because as far as I can tell, he’s the only active player in the four major team sports with his own logo.

The Washington Nationals have created a silhouette of him in mid-delivery, captured in the so-called “inverted W” that has sparked controversy. You instantly imagine him firing another 98-mph fastball with pinpoint control. The words “Strasburg Strikes Again” are included, along with the Web address for Nats tickets. Some versions throw in the date of his next start.

Strasburg, who’s scheduled to face the visiting Atlanta Braves on Friday in his fourth major-league start since recovering from Tommy John surgery, certainly earned his position of prominence. He was a bona fide national phenomenon as a rookie last year, the intense interest harkening memories of “Fernando-mania” and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. The fact that Strasburg was injured with more than a month remaining in the season left fans feeling cheated, but also whet their appetites for his eventual return.

He hasn’t disappointed in his first three starts with the Nats, yielding nine hits and no walks in 14 innings with a 1.29 ERA. Friday marks his final appearance at Nationals Park this year, though manager Davey Johnson hopes to pitch him in the season finale at Florida.

Nats chief operating officer Andy Feffer said plans for marketing Strasburg in 2012 haven’t been finalized. But I’ve got to give him and other team officials credit for their efforts this year.

Naturally, Strasburg hates the extra attention. But the logo is everywhere, from the enormous video board at Nationals Park, to TV broadcasts on MASN, to ad campaigns in newspapers. Even if you have no idea what Strasburg looks like when he pitches, the image paints a picture and gives him an identity.

All of which is fine, for now, as he starts a handful of games with the season winding down. The question is how much is too much next year?

“We’ll be consistent in our approach,” Feffer said. “We recognize there’s interest and excitement around Strasburg, and we want people to share that. He’s a big chapter, but one of many. The real story is all of the young talent that’s coming together on this team.”

Feffer said the team purposely didn’t make Strasburg the center of its marketing campaign last year, fearing what would happen if he got hurt. That possibility, plus the fact that they play just once every five games, makes starting pitchers less desirable choices than everyday players.

But the Nats know they might have a once-in-a-generation pitcher, so they have to figure out the proper balance for marketing him versus other players on the team. Feffer said fans who attend Sunday’s game will receive giveaway T-shirts featuring the Strasburg logo. I wonder what those would fetch compared to, say, the Danny Espinosa bobbleheads that were given away recently.

“How do you market a young team to a city that hadn’t baseball in 30 years?” Feffer said. “You don’t take any one guy and make them the exclusive piece of your marketing campaign. You use a diverse group of players because through them you tell a broader story.”

The Nats have no shortage of exceptional young talent, including Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, etc. But only one player has caused a legitimate, coast-to-coast stir and caused attendance to jump by 10,000 fans or more when he pitches.

Until someone comes up with a name for it — MonStrasity? Whiffman? — you can just call Strasburg “the logo.”

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