Skip to content

Derek Jeter: The Last Face of Baseball

Aug 5, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT

derek jeter getty Getty Images

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.

Latest Posts
  1. The Phillies are thought to be front runners for Yasmany Tomas

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT

    yasmani tomas cuba getty Getty Images

    It may cost them $100 million to get him, but they certainly could use him.

  2. Pace-of-play experiments in the Arizona Fall League are frustrating some players

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    pitch clock

    No one likes their routines to get messed up, but forgive me if I have trouble caring too terribly much about the complaints voiced thus far.

  3. Will Game 1 loss linger for Royals?

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    The celebration was over before it really began Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. Can the Royals get the party started again?

  4. Giants inhaling the air of superiority after Game 1

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:35 AM EDT

    Giants, Hunter Pence bring down the house in Kansas City. It may be a sign of things to come.

  5. The Twins are down to three managerial candidates

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT

    Twins logo

    Paul Molitor remains the frontrunner.

  6. What’s in a name? “Big Game” James did not come up big for Kansas City

    Oct 22, 2014, 7:53 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 7.01.41 AM AP

    Not living up to a nickname: forgivable. Not giving your team a chance to win in the World Series: a way bigger problem.

  7. World Series Reset: The Royals look to pick themselves up off the mat

    Oct 22, 2014, 6:23 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 6.22.03 AM

    And to fight history: 15 of the last 17 Game 1 winners have gone on to win the World Series.

  8. Royals’ World Series hopes in Yordano Ventura’s hands

    Oct 22, 2014, 12:58 AM EDT

    It’s up to the rookie in Wednesday’s Game 2.

  9. Giants stomp Royals 7-1 in World Series Game 1 rout

    Oct 21, 2014, 11:41 PM EDT

    bumgarner getty Getty Images

    The 2014 Royals have finally dropped a postseason game. And it was an ugly one for the home team.

  10. Royals get on the board on a Salvador Perez home run

    Oct 21, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT

    salvador perez getty Getty Images

    Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was working on a shutout in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium until Royals catcher Salvador Perez slugged a two-out solo shot over the left field fence.

  11. James Shields driven from Game 1 in the fourth inning

    Oct 21, 2014, 9:49 PM EDT

    james shields getty Getty Images

    Royals manager Ned Yost has gone to the bullpen early in Game 1 of the World Series, lifting starter James Shields after he allowed an RBI single to Giants designated hitter Michael Morse in the top of the fourth inning.

  12. Giants take early lead in Game 1 of World Series

    Oct 21, 2014, 8:52 PM EDT

    hunter pence getty Getty Images

    The Giants exploded for three runs in the top of the first inning on singles by Gregor Blanco and Buster Posey, a double by Pablo Sandoval, and a Hunter Pence two-run homer to center field.

  13. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rooting for his hometown Giants in the World Series

    Oct 21, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT

    tom brady

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady posted this picture on his Facebook page this evening with a caption that reads “Gearing up to watch my hometown Giants in the World Series.”

  14. Video: Kansas City, Home Sweet Home

    Oct 21, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT

    kauffman stadium kc getty Getty Images

    Here’s a Royals pump-up video that MLB Advanced Media put together featuring the music of Motley Crue …

  15. Mike Zagurski signs with NPB’s Hiroshima Carp

    Oct 21, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT

    mike zagurski getty Getty Images

    From Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca comes word that left-handed pitcher Mike Zagurski has officially agreed to a contract with the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball.

  16. Phillies re-sign Jerome Williams for $2.5 million

    Oct 21, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT

    Jerome Williams AP

    Williams has pitched for seven different MLB teams in nine seasons, posting a combined 4.40 ERA in 891 career innings.

  17. Royals’ World Series rotation: Shields, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas

    Oct 21, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Yordano Ventura Yordano Ventura

    That’s the same alignment the Royals used in the ALCS, when they swept the Orioles in four games.

  18. The Royals have three closers, really. And they’re closing things out at an amazing rate

    Oct 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 2.22.46 PM Getty Images

    Joe Posnanski looks at where they came from and just how dominant they’ve been.

Featured video

Pitching duel highlights Game 1 of WS
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. M. Bumgarner (3147)
  2. J. Shields (2752)
  3. T. Ishikawa (2674)
  4. T. Lincecum (2051)
  5. M. Morse (1959)
  1. Y. Cespedes (1923)
  2. L. Cain (1837)
  3. B. Posey (1710)
  4. B. Roberts (1542)
  5. A. Wainwright (1517)