The State of the Races

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Trying something new here: a daily snapshot of the pennant races. It may be a bad time to do such a thing given that, you know, we have one little pennant race of note and it tends to get less interesting every time the Angels get close, but I think it’s OK. Sort of like how a recession is often thought of as a good time to start a business because things can only improve, this may be the best time to launch a daily playoff race roundup too. Or not, but we can’t know until we try, right?

AL EAST

The spread: Yankees ahead of Boston by two and a half games, Yankees Red Sox leading the Rays in the Wild Card by seven.

The skinny: Yankees won yesterday, Boston lost. Each team has some bipolar thing going on with its pitching. One day you see good things, the next day they’re giving up double digits. Since both the Yankees and the Sox have a playoff spot more or less locked up, finding some kind of consistency and groove is the name of the game in September. Oh, and staying healthy. Josh Beckett’s ankle sprain is obvious concern for the Sox.

AL CENTRAL

The spread: Tigers seven and a half ahead of Cleveland, eight ahead of Chicago.

The skinny: Detroit has taken care of each pretender/contender in the division quite handily when meeting them face-to-face, and this week’s series against Cleveland seems no different. Everyone’s talking about Justin Verlander, but then Doug Fister strikes out 13 guys yesterday. This can be overstated because writers are out trolling for storylines right now, but the Tigers are a pretty dangerous-looking team.

AL WEST

The spread: Rangers ahead of the Angels by two and a half.

The skinny: Wow, a bona fide pennant race! Rangers lost yesterday, Angles won. Worth noting that the Rangers appear to have the easier schedule the rest of the way by virtue of the Angels having to play a series against the Yankees. But let’s hope this stays close through the end of the season, because we have a Texas-Anaheim series from September 26-28th that sure would be awesome if it was meaningful. We’re owed that, right?

NL EAST

The spread: Phillies eight and a half up on the Braves, Braves leading the Giants in the Wild Card by eight and a half themselves.

The skinny: It’s not the biggest lead by number of games — that goes to the Brewers in the Central — but it is the biggest gulf in team quality between first and second.

NL CENTRAL

The spread: Brewers up by ten and a half over St. Louis.

The skinny: The actual race is over, but the race to see who will be the last person in the media to stop referring to the Cardinals as a contender is still hot and heavy. Really, I can’t recall a team with a double-digit deficit with under 30 games to play who so frequently has their “playoff chances” referred to in game stories and the like.  Let it go, folks, let it go.

NL WEST

The spread: Diamondbacks seven up on the Giants

The skinny: The Giants have the worst run-differential of any second place team in baseball. Also the worst offense. You can’t gain ground when your only viable strategy is to wait for the other team to totally and utterly crater.

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.