Who is your favorite Muppet?
It's probably the Great Gonzo, the weirdo from another planet who is in love with his pet chicken. Or it's Janice, the big-lipped, big-eyed lead guitarist of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Fer sure. Classy Rolph almost certainly gets a few votes here, his laid-back, piano-playing ways hinting at a level of cool most of us can only hope to achieve. Of course, there's always Bunsen & Beaker, Statler & Waldorf, or even our good friend Fozzy Bear. Wocka wocka.
You know who isn't your favorite Muppet? Kermit the Frog. Now, obviously you like Kermit. He's too kind and good-natured to dislike. He sings, rides bikes, reports on the news, keeps his wacky friends focused on their goals, and does everything else required of a good leader. You respect him, you laugh at his follies, you root him on, but what you don't do is call him your favorite. He's the leader, the guy in charge. Characters like that are never your favorites. We reserve that kind of fandom for the characters on the sidelines, the ones who we feel aren't supposed to be our favorites.
It's like that old Yogi Berra quote, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Nobody loves Kermit. He's too popular.
And it's not just cinema's first frog who has befallen this fate. I'd bet dollars to donuts that your favorite Looney Tunes character is Daffy Duck. His conniving ways? His willingness to talk back to anyone else, including the narrator? His utter arrogance? That stuff pulls you in. Yosemite Sam too. Always yelling, always cursing, always trying to get his way. Marvin the Martian, Wile E. Coyote, Taz. These are the characters you're hoping to see every time the next title card pops up on screen, not Bugs Bunny.
Like Kermit, Bugs is too popular to really love. He's the main character of the program. He never loses, be it to Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, or Count Blood Count. By the end of the episode, you know he'll be smugly eating that carrot while someone walks around looking silly. His catchphrase is known by three-year-olds and 93-year-olds alike. He isn't particularly funny in a traditional sense, and his attitude is more aloof than friendly. He's the hero that you like, not the character that you love.
What does this all have to do with baseball? Well, let me ask: who is your favorite player?
Give me that question seven days a week and you might get seven different answers. I love watching Yovani Gallardo pitch when he's having a good day. Carlos Gomez has been immensely entertaining these last two years, with his combination of power, speed and defense. For a while, I looked forward to a healthy Corey Hart coming to the plate. Jonathan Lucroy. Rickie Weeks. They've all been my "favorite" at one time or another.
But that's just ignoring the real star. Forget all your snark about Biogenesis and FedEx. Ryan Braun has been one of the best hitters in baseball since practically day one. He is charismatic and friendly and plays hard every day. He's the player I want to see in the All-Star Game every year and the one whose at-bats I never want to miss. Ryan Braun should be the answer to that question every single time -- and if he were on your favorite team, you'd be saying the same thing -- but I still look for someone else whenever I hear it. He's the star, after all, the one we're all supposed to like. He's Bugs Bunny. I'm looking for Daffy Duck.
Now, there's a decent chance that your answer is your favorite team's own star. If you're a Mets fan, you might say David Wright. A Reds fan, Joey Votto. Dodgers, Matt Kemp. At the same time, though, there's a good chance -- maybe even a great chance -- that you chose one of his other, more colorful teammates. Andre Ethier over Kemp. Lucas Duda over Wright. Chris Heisey over Votto.
The Swedish Chef over Kermit. Sylvester over Bugs.
It's human nature to be attracted to the different, the unique, to look for the diamond in the rough. It's why you could go to Busch Stadium only a few years ago and find a stadium full of David Eckstein jerseys even though Albert Pujols did, in fact, exist. And it's why the All-Star Game's leading vote-getter might not even be the most popular player on his own team.
This might not mean too much to our everyday enjoyment of the game, I know. We're still going to react emotionally to what we see on the field, and we're always going to be looking for yet another storyline to root for. The game gets boring otherwise. But, in those rare times that we do get a bit introspective about our fandom, it's good to recognize that we might be reacting more to an inner feeling of "superstar fatigue" than anything the players are doing on the field. It's like saying Seinfeld and The Simpsons aren't funny because you see them in syndication too much. That's just not true. Those shows are on all the time for the same reason Kermit and Bugs get top billing: they're great at what they do and deserve the recognition. We just happen to get bored by greatness easily.
Well, unless you're talking about Family Guy. Family Guy sucks.