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.
Ruben Amaro on Andy Oliver’s decision to elect free agency: “I think it was a very foolish move on his part, but that’s OK.”
Apr 17, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Ruben Amaro seems a little upset that Andy Oliver didn’t want to start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Apr 17, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT
The Mets will be stretching out Rafael Montero as a starter at Triple-A Las Vegas before bringing him back to the majors for a spot start against the Marlins.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Mike Trout became the youngest to join the 100/100 club with a two-run home run on Friday night.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT
Alex Rodriguez has two home runs on Friday night, leaving him two round-trippers shy of tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run leaderboard.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT
Matt Carpenter made a cool maneuver to score the tying run in the bottom of the first against the Reds on Friday night.
Apr 17, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Neither side was warned, but Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected for hitting Pablo Sandoval with a pitch on Friday evening.
Apr 17, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT
A-Rod is now three home runs away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run leaderboard.
Apr 17, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Since 2000, how often have teams that started 9-1 went on to have playoff success?
Apr 17, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
Mark Buehrle, baseball’s timeless left-hander, is reportedly considering retiring after the season.
Apr 17, 2015, 5:28 PM EDT
Well, he’s certainly not getting the support of the Los Angeles Angels.
Apr 17, 2015, 5:13 PM EDT
Apr 17, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT
Duensing had an ugly outing Thursday in which he turned a blowout into a save situation for closer Glen Perkins.
Apr 17, 2015, 3:41 PM EDT
Ryan Goins, who was called up from Triple-A, is expected to be Reyes’ primary fill-in at shortstop.
Apr 17, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
And call up infielder Danny Muno.
Apr 17, 2015, 2:47 PM EDT
OK, maybe that’s a bit strong.
Apr 17, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT
Sanchez was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Apr 17, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Left-hander Kyle Lobstein will continue to fill in for Verlander.
Apr 17, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
We want more of this? Really?
Apr 17, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
Stow used to work as an EMT at San Jose games. Good to see him back.
Apr 17, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Jose Abreu or Barbaro Canizares?
- Mike Trout hit his 100th career home run to become the youngest member of the 100 HR/100 SB club 7
- Make that two: Alex Rodriguez hits second homer of the night, giving him 658 for his career 24
- Alex Rodriguez hit his 657th career home run 43
- Let’s all just stare at Kris Bryant’s numbers for a while 27
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 39
- The wait is over: The Cubs are calling up top prospect Kris Bryant on Friday 99
- Carlos Gomez headed to disabled list with hamstring injury 11
- “Why Ted Cruz is like the Atlanta Braves” (150)
- “We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.” (143)
- Another argument in favor of making the DH universal (127)
- When it comes to Josh Hamilton, Arte Moreno is a craven opportunist, not a “smart businessman” (116)