Despite league-wide revenue of nearly $7 billion in 2010, Major League Baseball is hinging its entire 2011 marketing campaign on the the facial hair of San Francisco Giants reliever Brian Wilson.
"Have you seen him?" said MLB commissioner Bud Selig. "He has a beard. But not just any beard. It's a dark black beard and it's large — almost comically so. Plus, he's really intense about his beard. So we're very confident that Brian Wilson and his beard will resonate all across the country and get people excited about baseball."
Wilson, or Wilson's beard, has been pushed heavily since the Giants won the World Series last October. The Wilson/beard combo is a frequent interview subject and the star of several national ad campaigns, including spots for MLB and ESPN.
"You see, he has a big beard and has had two successful seasons in the major leagues," said Rob Brandon, MLB Director of Marketing. "There's really no way to beat that. It writes itself, just like how facial hair grows itself. But unlike most men, Brian doesn't shave so that's what makes him so cool and marketable. It couldn't be clearer."
While Wilson and his beard remain the sport's focal point for 2011, MLB officials say they are open to also promoting other above-average players with unusual growths or poor hygiene.
"I've talked to Nick Swisher about this," said Selig. "He's a popular player among Yankees fans, but he doesn't have much of a following nationally because he's a second or third tier talent. However, if he grew out his finger nails really long until they got all spirally like you see in freak shows, he'd be as cool as Brian Wilson."
Baseball has also been pushing Mariners starter Felix Hernandez, the reigning A.L. Cy Young winner, to stop bathing.
"He is much better than Brian Wilson, but many casual sports fans have no idea who he is," said Brandon. "Now imagine if he really smelled with almost visible stink lines emanating off of him. And if he was really up in your face and proud about it like Wilson is with his beard. He'd be the biggest star in our sport!"
But some baseball players say they don't believe that the league will promote just anyone.
"I've been literally shitting my pants during games since my rookie year and has their been one ad about it? One marketing campaign?" said Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. "Not at all. But some douchey closer doesn't shave for a while and he's a big star. It makes no sense."