Your morning dose of "playing in New York is different" porn

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Joel Sherman discusses the Yankees’ deadline pickups, with specific reference to the Lance Berkman deal. After (correctly) noting that the quality of play in the AL East is much, much better than that in the NL Central, he goes on to note that it’s not just better opponents Berkman will have to get used to:

What players who come to the Yankees – unless they come from Boston or
maybe one or two other places – notice quickly is the intensity of the
games. Every pitch matters when you are a Yankee. It is a lingering
effect of having a team owned by George Steinbrenner, playing in the
largest media market in the world, having the most fans, having the most
enemies, having the largest payroll, by far, and having the most
expectations, by far.

It is a unique cauldron. And players either love and embrace the
intensity or find this is a difficult place to play. It certainly takes
getting used to and Berkman, Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns have to
recalibrate two-thirds of the way through the year. But as bad as the
Indians are, Wood and Kearns were at least playing in the AL. Berkman
was not only playing in the inferior league, but within the softest
division.

Sherman goes on to say — based on two games in pinstripes — that Berkman looked “slow and inadequate” and wonders if moving to the AL East has anything to do with that.

I get Sherman’s general point about there being more pressure and scrutiny in New York, but I think we’ve long since reached the point where those sentiments have become so cartoonishly overstated to be damn near worthless. I know players pay obeisance to the “everything is different in New York” thing when talking to New York reporters, but I can’t help but think that they roll their eyes at it behind the scenes.

They’re professionals. They put their uniform pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. Yes, it’s harder to face the Rays and Red Sox than the Pirates and Cubs, but unless the player really has confidence issues — which should be the tiniest minority of players given how much confidence it takes to get to the big leagues in the first place — the difference in outside scrutiny cannot be nearly as big as New York reporters and many New Yorkers themselves like to tell themselves it is. It’s a difference of degree, not a totally different world.

And might I add that three days in from this trade I cannot believe just how much Lance Berkman — an MVP-level talent in his prime and a guy who has played in the World Series — is being discounted by Yankees fans and watchers?  He’s 34 and he’s in decline, but he’s still a useful player. If you came from another planet and read nothing but the New York tabloids these past few days you’d assume that the Yankees just traded for some reality show contestant. 

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

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There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.