I know the only thing on everyone’s mind is the looming deadline. Like all Cardinals fans, I have been trying to look
for clues on what will happen in every corner of the internet. I have spent hours on Twitter trying to find any bit of information. The more time i spent on Twitter, the more I was surprised at the lack of presence from the Cardinals.
Twitter is not a brand new phenomenon. Stories of athletes using Twitter are all over the media. So why, as we prepare for the 2011 baseball season, are the Cardinals virtually absent from the space? If we were to write a pre-season analysis of how the Cards stack up against the rest of baseball on Twitter, we would have to put the Redbirds at or near the bottom.
Some may say that this Twitter thing is a young person’s game. On a veteran-heavy team, it wouldn’t make sense for Twitter to be popular. While that may be the case, it is interesting to note that the two most active Redbirds are actually Tony LaRussa himself, and the soon to be 38-year-old closer Ryan Franklin.
LaRussa, or @TonyLaRussa on Twitter, is a sporadic tweeter. He mostly uses the space to promote his Animal Rescue Foundation. Occasionally, he will surprise with something baseball related. He chimed in from the winter meetings to compliment the Cardinals’ roster moves. And he recently threw out this bit suggesting he was ready to get the season underway:
“Experts predict. Fans have strong opinions. The mystery that’s always fascinating, no one knows. Winner 2 b decided. Get ready, go play.”
He also wrote last week, “If Dunc likes pitching depth, I like pitching depth.”
While neither tweet provides profound insider information, it does suggest a manager that is willing to share some thoughts about the upcoming season. Once upon a time, it didn’t seem like we would ever see this from LaRussa. If you recall, he sued Twitter over a LaRussa imposter account back in 2009. He seems to have put that behind him, and has embraced the medium.
Perhaps his recent baseball-related tweets hint at a more engaged LaRussa for 2011. And that’s the key word when talking about Twitter: engagement. It’s a way for modern fans to have more intimate access to their favorite players.
My father used to tell stories about how he would write letters to his favorite players. It was not uncommon for those players to write back and include an autograph. He would proudly show me signed pictures or postcards from Stan Musial, Wally Moon and Peanuts Lowrey. In the “good ol’ days”, players just seemed more accessible.
We might be moving back in that direction as players now have an easy platform to connect with fans. Take, for example, the newest member of the Cardinals’ Twitterverse, Ryan Franklin (@franky3131). Franklin has been extremely engaged with fans so far. It seems like he responds to everyone that writes to him. He has even been having fun with the recent growth in his followers by having his daughter randomly select followers as winners of autographed baseballs. Franklin’s use of Twitter is a great example of a professional athlete who “gets it”. He appears to be enjoying himself, and seems to genuinely enjoy his interactions with fans.
Some athletes in other sports have become famous as much for their use of Twitter as for their on-field performance. (Did Ochocinco even play this season or did he just tweet? I’m not sure if anyone outside of Cincinnati noticed.) Shaquille O’Neal’s use of Twitter is well known and well documented – ticket giveaway stunts, surprise “statue” appearances, and fan meet ups.
Unfortunately, the perception is MLB players far too often lack behind those in other sports in the “personality” department. For the most part, baseball players are known for their highlights and statistics and little else. Of course there are some notable exceptions.
Brian Wilson is chock full of personality. Not surprisingly, he was a Twitter celebrity, took a break, and has made a splash in his return. In just seven days, he picked up over 25,000 followers and is now up over 40,000. Nick Swisher is another well-known baseball personality. It would stand to reason that he is perhaps the gold standard in baseball, with over 1.2 million Twitter followers. During the season, Swisher will write little bits about the games, respond to fans, all while giving a little peek inside his daily life. He has also found a way to capitalize on the power of social media by tapping into his following to support his charitable endeavors.
Unfortunately, it seems like most of the league has left Twitter to “crazy” guys like Swisher and Wilson. But Twitter shouldn’t just be about the guys that are slightly off kilter. Twitter allows any player to show a bit (140 characters’ worth) of their personality to fans.
Which is why it is surprising to me that so few Cardinals players are active on Twitter. Redbird Nation is a loyal, passionate group. It doesn’t take much to win us over. Cardinals’ players have an opportunity to win over fans without picking up a glove or a bat.
The star players can even go so far as to help build their brand through Twitter. Today’s players can control their message like never before. Whereas a player once had to rely on a PR person to help craft their image, they can now choose to take matters into their own hands.
It will be interesting to see if Pujols becomes active in the space if free agency indeed becomes a reality. If it starts to get ugly between the front office and Pujols, will he take to Twitter to control his side of the story?
Today’s players have an opportunity to build up tremendous interest in the game and goodwill with fans. Having a strong presence in an increasingly influential medium will go a long way in connecting with the next generation of baseball fans.
Ryan Franklin is clearly doing it right. Check out pitching prospect Shelby Miller (@ShelbyMiller19). He is showing signs that he’ll do it when he arrives. Let’s hope more catch on.
In the meantime, let’s get more Cardinals fans on board to follow our guys. Listen to what Ryan Franklin has to say. Check out pitching prospect Shelby Miller . And let’s hope that more catch on.
Follow me on Twitter (@RuggerRex)