Aug 5, 2014, 9:13 AM EST
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.
Dec 29, 2014, 6:53 AM EST
No one has worn his number 21 since 1996. But they give out Wade Boggs’ number 26 to anyone.
Dec 29, 2014, 12:08 AM EST
The Diamondbacks ensured they would have infield versatility in 2015, avoiding arbitration with Cliff Pennington for $3.275 million.
Dec 28, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
The Indians would like to trade Nick Swisher but he’s owed a lot of money over the next two seasons, which complicates things.
Dec 28, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will likely bat Jason Heyward second behind Matt Carpenter to begin the 2015 season.
Dec 28, 2014, 3:02 PM EST
There was some talk of this at the Winter Meetings and now Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says doctors have confirmed it: Dan Uggla played through an undiagnosed concussion during the 2014 season.
Dec 28, 2014, 12:14 PM EST
Jason Motte joined MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” last week to discuss signing with the rival Cubs …
Dec 28, 2014, 9:21 AM EST
Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star reports that Japanese infielder Takashi Toritani — a Scott Boras client — is currently “mulling offers” from the Blue Jays and Padres. Toritani is an unrestricted free agent, so it won’t require a posting fee to sign him.
Dec 27, 2014, 8:48 PM EST
Derek Jeter may have helped Penn State squeak out a victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday.
Dec 27, 2014, 7:10 PM EST
Heath Bell is looking to hang on with the Nationals in 2015, and he’ll earn at least $1 million.
Dec 27, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
The Brett Anderson signing should become official at some point next week, at long last.
Dec 27, 2014, 5:20 PM EST
Opening Day is 100 days away, but with the unusually mild weather in the New York area, they could really be playing some baseball right now.
Dec 27, 2014, 4:40 PM EST
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was reportedly detained for questioning by authorities in the Dominican Republic on Saturday in connection with a nightclub shooting that injured six people.
Dec 27, 2014, 3:45 PM EST
David Ross recently took Rob Bradford of WEEI.com behind the scenes of how he landed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cubs.
Dec 27, 2014, 11:01 AM EST
The Giants finalized their new two-year, $24 million contract with Jake Peavy this week.
Dec 27, 2014, 8:59 AM EST
Macko worked for the Rangers for over 40 years.
Dec 26, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
The Braves’ one-year deal with catcher A.J. Pierzynski is for $2 million.
Dec 26, 2014, 9:20 PM EST
Rafael Furcal has suffered another injury, this time a torn hamstring which will keep him out of the Dominican Winter League playoffs.
Dec 26, 2014, 8:03 PM EST
If Wandy Rodriguez passes his physical, the Phillies are expected to sign him to a minor league deal.
Dec 26, 2014, 7:10 PM EST
Jeff Manship will begin the spring with the Indians after signing a minor league deal.
Dec 26, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
According to Peter Gammons, some GMs think the Giants will eventually trade for Ben Zobrist.
- Cliff Pennington avoids arbitration, agrees to $3.275 million deal with D’Backs 3
- Dan Uggla played through undiagnosed concussion in 2014 27
- The aura of Derek Jeter was present at the Pinstripe Bowl 44
- UPDATE: Starlin Castro free after being questioned about shooting in Dominican Republic 62
- Report: Hiroki Kuroda is going back to Japan 26
- Merry Christmas from HBT! 74
- THE YEAR IN REVIEW: HBT’s most commented-upon stories of the year 86
- The Yankees are treating Alex Rodriguez differently than they treated Derek Jeter. So what? 40