Aug 5, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
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.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
He’s pitcher number two they received in the David Price deal.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
“I only have one head.”
Aug 4, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
Not having access to athletes and coaches would be a bummer at first, but over time the press would do just fine with it.
Aug 4, 2015, 8:44 AM EDT
Congratulations to Mike Hessman. The greatest minor league lifer of them all.
Aug 4, 2015, 8:02 AM EDT
A.J. Pierzynski is a national freakin’ treasure.
Aug 4, 2015, 7:22 AM EDT
A few weeks ago I had no idea what an Adonis Garcia even was.
Aug 3, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre hit for the cycle tonight against the Astros. And he needed just five innings to do it.
Aug 3, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT
It’s August 3 and the Mets are all alone in first place in the National League East.
Aug 3, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
Mike Hessman is the new minor league home run king.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:36 PM EDT
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg has been sidelined since July 4 with a left oblique strain, but it sounds like he’s rounding into form for the stretch run.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:13 PM EDT
The Braves are calling him day-to-day, but these type of injuries are notoriously tricky.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
Clayton Richard tossed six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Padres on Sunday, but he was designated for assignment by the Cubs today for the second time in the past two weeks.
Aug 3, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Matz impressed over his first two starts in the majors before going down with a partial tear of his lat muscle, but he’s starting to ramp things up in preparation for his return.
Aug 3, 2015, 7:32 PM EDT
Kipnis is expected to miss two to three weeks.
Aug 3, 2015, 6:58 PM EDT
Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant was forced to exit Sunday’s game against the Brewers after feeling dizzy on a hard slide into second base, but he’s back in the starting lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Pirates.
Aug 3, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
Capps has quietly been one of the game’s most dominant relievers this season.
Aug 3, 2015, 5:19 PM EDT
Out since late May with a neck injury.
Aug 3, 2015, 5:14 PM EDT
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Aug 3, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
He is now calling Jose Bautista “a good man and a great human being.”
Aug 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The newest Blue Jay struck out 11 in eight innings of work.
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 33
- Adrian Beltre needs just five innings for the third cycle of his career 15
- Mets blow out Marlins, move past Nationals for first place in NL East 26
- Yordano Ventura calls Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accuses him of stealing signs 73
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 88
- The benches cleared in Toronto, too 79
- The Reds’ and Pirates’ benches cleared after Brandon Phillips was hit with a pitch 65
- Reminder: even though the trade deadline has passed, trades can still happen 13
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game (207)
- Blue Jays acquire David Price from the Tigers (113)
- Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies (106)
- Royals make another big move, get Ben Zobrist from A’s (95)
- Report: Rockies trade Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and prospects (92)