Associated Press

Are the Yankees “the most lovable” team left in the playoffs?

67 Comments

I am not lover of the New York Yankees. I don’t hate them or anything — baseball is way too benign a human pursuit for me to muster hatred for any team — but they’re not a team I’m likely to support in most contexts.

Part of this is because of my natural disinclination to throw my support behind powerful and successful people or institutions without a really good reason. The Yankees are baseball’s most successful franchise by a long shot, they know it, and they don’t need or want my support. I respect their success and there’s something I respect about that “we don’t care what you think” mentality, so I think we’re all OK with this arrangement. It’s an arrangement I think most non-Yankees fans have with that franchise. No one really bandwagons with the Yankees.

The 2017 Yankees have tested that stance far harder than any other Yankees team I can recall. They’re, for the most part, a super likable team. Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and young players like Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino and Greg Bird are a ton of fun to watch. CC Sabathia is authoring a pretty enjoyable third act to his career. There are far fewer big name, high-priced free agents on this club than on Yankees clubs past, and the ones who are there aren’t super critical to the team’s success. There’s just a lot more to like about this Yankees club than almost any other Yankees club. Indeed, it may be the most likable Yankees team in my lifetime.

But are they the most lovable team left standing in the playoffs? That’s the idea that Bill Madden of the Daily News advances today:

They are not overwhelmed by the moment. Rather, they are embracing it, and having fun, which brings up something else, another intangible that could play in their favor from here on out: America is watching and finding them…well…kind of lovable, an adjective never before associated with the Yankees outside of the Bronx . . . [The Astros] will have to understand the Baby Bombers are not awed by this experience — while also accepting the fact that this is one Yankee team the folks in the hinterlands can find themselves rooting for.

Anyone else buying that?

We have to rule the Cubs out, right? Nothing personal against them, but the defending champs are usually, by definition, not the most lovable team left. The only people hoping they repeat are Cubs fans. Everyone else without a direct rooting interest wants to see new blood, don’t they? I tend to think so anyway, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

The Dodgers are a tough choice because, while they too have a lot of good home grown talent, they are also a historically excellent franchise, even if they haven’t won a World Series in 29 years, limiting the bandwagoning. They are also perceived as a bought-and-paid for team in much the same way the Yankees traditionally have been. They likewise have a few players that a lot of people just sort of don’t like in Yasiel Puig, Chase Utley and some turgid-paced relievers people don’t tend to enjoy. Personally speaking there are a lot more Dodgers players I like and enjoy than not, but I don’t presume that most baseball fans will come around to that notion.

That leaves the Astros. This particular club can’t be considered underdogs given that they won 101 games, but they are still pretty new to this whole winning thing. They lost 111 games just four years ago. Some of their most important players — Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel and Brad Peacock — were on that team, so there is definitely some uplifting narrative drama there not unlike what we saw with the 2015-16 Cubs. They don’t strike out much which is refreshing in this age, aesthetically speaking. If you’re into larger storylines you can bring in Hurricane Harvey stuff to color the whole Houston experience, even if I’m usually not a fan of mixing up civic strife and professional sports success to create uplifting storylines.

I dunno. Maybe it’s dumb to try to cast any assemblage of professional athletes under a corporate banner as “lovable.” They’re entertainers whose skills and showmanship we can appreciate and enjoy without having to bring love into it, aren’t they?

But if we are going to ascribe “lovability” to these guys, though . . . who ya got?

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.