Baseball’s most popular players: Phillies dominate

Just as Wall Street Journal sports-humor writer Jason Gay finished summarizing the brow beating that Philly has been laying on New York when it comes to signing top talent (Cliff Lee, Nnamdi Asomugha), along comes the latest survey from E-Poll and Nielsen showing that four of Americans’ 10 favorite baseball players hail from the City of Brotherly Love.

Topping the list is Phillies ace Roy Halladay(notes), who appeals to 70 percent of baseball fans. He’s joined in the top ten by Lee and second baseman Chase Utley(notes) (tied for No. 4 with 57-percent appeal), and first baseman Ryan Howard(notes) (No. 10; 52-percent appeal).

The survey, which cites current major leaguers with the highest appeal numbers among those who are known by at least 10 percent of respondents, was conducted in July by Nielsen and E-Poll, an Encino, Calif.–based market research firm. Appeal numbers are based on the number of respondents who described a player as someone they “like” or “like a lot.”

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In Pictures: Baseball’s most popular players

“The Phillies in a way have become America’s Team, they work hard and they win,” says Stephen Master, V.P. at Nielsen Sports. Conversely, an anti-Yankee bias outside of New York tends to limit the national appeal of their stars, according to Master, though longtime relief ace Mariano Rivera(notes) (No. 7) makes the cut.

Other likable players: Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton(notes) (No. 2 at 62-percent appeal), who overcame a substance abuse problem to emerge as one of baseball’s top sluggers, and Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer(notes) (No. 3; 60 percent), a St. Paul, Minn. native who has made good with the hometown Twins as a four-time All Star.

What all these guys have in common: a lot of recent post season exposure. Long stuck in the baseball wasteland of Toronto, Halladay’s national profile jumped upon joining the Phillies last year and then promptly throwing a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in his first post season start. Lee has beaten down the New York Yankees as both a Phillie and Ranger over the past two years, while Mauer, Utley, Rivera and Evan Longoria(notes) have been to the playoffs multiple times.

Another thing that jumps out about the group: all perform in the style – understated excellence. From Rivera and Chipper Jones(notes) (No. 9) to Longoria and the four Phillies, there isn’t a “look at me” character in the group, just solid pros that go about their business day after day.

“These aren’t guys with entourages,” says Master. “People see them as approachable and down to earth.”

Of course, that’s baseball, a daily 162-game grind.

Yes, you’ll find the occasional pitcher pumping his fist after a strikeout or home run hitter styling after he goes deep. But to a baseball player, game time isn’t “show time” as much as it is for a preening NFL wide receiver or a chest thumping NBA slam dunk artist. The baseball showman who comes closest: Giants relief pitcher Brian Wilson(notes), he of the freaky self-promoting beard, whose 50-percent appeal falls just short of the top 10.

The countdown:

1. Roy Halladay: Slideshow
2. Josh Hamilton: Slideshow
3. Joe Mauer: Slideshow
4. (tie) Chase Utley: Slideshow
4. (tie) Cliff Lee(notes): Slideshow
See the rest of the top-10 most popular players

In Pictures: Baseball’s most popular players

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Updated Friday, Aug 5, 2011