Derek Jeter: The Last Face of Baseball

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A few weeks ago I wrote a little bit about who might follow Derek Jeter as the so-called “Face of Baseball.” I didn’t think too deeply about it, but in the course of my musings I noted that it may be tough to find one given that Derek Jeter has this quality about him — a mystery and a privacy, however pleasant it may be — which allows fans and the media to project our values on him and say “yep, he stands for what I stand for!”

I didn’t realize that, rather than being an odd quirk of Jeter’s persona that lends him to being the avatar of the game for so many, it’s an essential trait for anyone who would take that role. And that it’s a role — The Face of Baseball — that may now be obsolete.

I learned this by reading Jack Moore’s excellent article at the Hardball Times this morning, in which he explores why it is baseball (and all sports really) have historically needed a “face,” and how the media and marketing arms of professional sports have traditionally served as intermediaries between the sport and the fans and who promote that face. Intermediaries which communicate to fans the values the intermediaries want them to appreciate. This is all based on actual social science Moore talks about in which things like character, discipline, competition, nationalism and the like are appreciated and celebrated by sports fans and which they have come to expect as the primary mode of understanding sports as a default. Values that are even fetishized to some extent, I would argue.

The most prominent intermediary: the sports media. Reporters columnists and TV producers who play up these themes in their coverage. It’s impossible not to see this once you are aware of it. Think any column talking about a player’s character or about what makes him great, separate and apart from the fact that he hits the ball hard. The entire conversation of player character and attitude that utterly consumes sports radio and those shout-fests on ESPN. The little features at the top of or in the middle of broadcasts. The narratives that are applied to the stories of the games.

But Moore notes something important: in the past 15 years or so, the need for intermediaries like journalists and TV producers has become less necessary. We can mainline our sports via the Internet far more easily than we could before. This, for some, leads to a view of the game that is far more data-oriented than stories/values-oriented (think the sabermetric community). For those who still go through media intermediaries, there is a far wider choice of them, including intermediaries which may extoll a set of values which are radically different than the “hero/competitor/champion/gentlemen” values extolled by the traditional sporting press (think contrary bloggers who LOVE flamboyant showboats and don’t get too bent out of shape about PED users). And of course, the mainstream media and those sports yakkers are still out there pushing the idea of “winners” and “competitors” and “class acts” and all of that nonsense.

If the way baseball is consumed and understood has fragmented — and it clearly has — having a single face for baseball is an obsolete concept. For some it may be a hard-working, clean-living, marquee guy like Derek Jeter is assumed to be. For some it may be an entertaining/frustrating force of nature like Yasiel Puig. For some it may not be a face, but a heel. A guy who becomes an anti-hero just like heels have in wrestling since the 1990s. For others it may be no one, as they choose to just have the game pump into their veins via the visceral experience and data.

These are some pretty heady concepts about which I have always been vaguely aware and have promoted in piecemeal fashion, but which I am just now realizing, thanks to Moore’s piece, explain almost everything about what has shaped sports and sports media and the online conversation about baseball over the past several years.  Kudos to Moore for laying this out as he does here.

Buyers and Sellers at the Trade Deadline: National League East

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With Manny Machado’s trade completed, the rest of baseball can now turn its attention to the non-blue chip players on the market.

Yesterday, in our look-ahead to the second half, we mentioned some of the top players likely to be made available. Today we look at each team to see who is buying, who is selling, what they’re seeking and what they have to offer. Note: almost every contender, always, needs relief help.

As a reminder, the non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31. Players traded after that date but before August 31 need to pass through waivers unclaimed before they can be traded. All players traded before August 31 are eligible to be on their new team’s playoff roster should they make the postseason.

Next up, the National League East:

Phillies
Status: Buyers. They were a serious contender for Manny Machado until the closing bell.
Wanted: They could really use a third baseman or a shortstop, so expect them to bid hard for Mike Moustakas or Eduardo Escobar should the Twins make him available.

Braves
Status: Buyers. They were in on the Manny Machado talks too but not that in, it seems. They mortgaged their future for a star once when they traded for Mark Teixeira back in the day and weren’t likely to do it again. Aren’t likely to do it even on a smaller scale in the coming weeks.
Wanted: Some bullpen help. A starter if one can be found cheap. A bench bat. They have a loaded farm system and contention wasn’t really supposed to happen until next year, so they’ll be cautious in anything they do.

Nationals
Status: Buyers. They already acquired Kelvin Herrera. They’ll seek to acquire more.
Wanted: Catcher. J.T. Realmuto would be a big get but the Marlins seem to want to build around him or, at the very least, seem to not want to give him to a division rival. There had been talks of a Wilson Ramos reunion, but he was just placed on the DL with a bum hamstring, so that may not be happening.

Mets
Status: Sellers. Probably. They need to figure out where in the hell the organization is heading first. This year is a lost cause, but do they gear up for next year or just burn it all down and try to rebuild?
For Sale: Maybe Noah Syndergaard and/or Jacob deGrom if they take the “burn it all down” approach. If they just try to retrench for next year, they could deal Jerry Blevins and, perhaps, Zach Wheeler or Steven Matz. Jeurys Familia and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera are both free agents after this year so they could be shopped regardless.

Marlins
Status: Sellers. They’re still in the frame-up portion of their rebuild.
For Sale: Assuming Realmuto does not go, any reliever who isn’t nailed down might be flipped. Put your bids in now for Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider, Brad Ziegler and Adam Conley. If it’s position players you seek, feel free to ask the Marlins about Starlin Castro, Justin Bour, Derek Dietrich or Miguel Rojas.