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 31, 2015, 7:53 PM EDT
Kiermaier makes a leaping catch to rob Manny Machado of a home run.
Aug 31, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
Marco Gonzales is expected to start in his place Tuesday.
Aug 31, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
De Aza is batting .292 with 18 extra-base hits (including four home runs), 25 RBI, and an .831 OPS in 60 games since joining the Red Sox in June.
Aug 31, 2015, 6:21 PM EDT
Jackson, an impending free agent, is batting .272/.312/.387 with eight home runs, 38 RBI, and 15 stolen bases over 107 games this season.
Aug 31, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
The Astros will have their young phenom back at shortstop tonight against the Mariners.
Aug 31, 2015, 5:04 PM EDT
Color me dubious.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
He hasn’t played since last Wednesday and now will miss at least the next three games.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
He was on the hot seat back in June. What a difference a couple of months make.
Aug 31, 2015, 3:51 PM EDT
Aug 31, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
Ramirez has a nagging shoulder injury.
Aug 31, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
Actually, the fastest wiener is boring. You want to see the wiener which runs free.
Aug 31, 2015, 1:13 PM EDT
And Buck Showalter is uniquely unimpressed with Fenway Parks dimensions.
Aug 31, 2015, 12:28 PM EDT
Thats one way to do it. Not a way likely to bring success, but certainly one way to do it.
Aug 31, 2015, 12:09 PM EDT
He’s struggling with free agency right around the corner.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:25 AM EDT
The Blue Jays GM said “Steve Tolleson just decided he didn’t want to play anymore.” Tolleson takes strong issue with that.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:21 AM EDT
Terry Collins says it wouldn’t be fair.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
He is in the first year of a four-year, $46 million deal.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT
He won’t be officially introduced by the Jays until after the season.
Aug 31, 2015, 8:55 AM EDT
It’s no surprise that Mark Shapiro felt that bolting to Toronto was a good idea
Aug 31, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Jake Arrieta looked great last night. At least during his no-hitter. Afterward? Well, at least he looked comfortable.
- Cubs to acquire Austin Jackson from Mariners 16
- Unknown Cuban ballplayer sleeps outside of Dodger Stadium, hoping for a tryout 31
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 74
- Jake Arrieta no-hits the Dodgers with 12 strikeouts 32
- Blue Jays will name Mark Shapiro as the new team president 31
- Lance Lynn expects to make next scheduled start despite suffering ankle injury Saturday 2
- Cubs expected to call up Javier Baez on September 1 6
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 13
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (266)
- Dan Patrick: When does ESPN cut ties with Curt Schilling? (201)
- Curt Schilling taken off of Little League World Series duty for making a really bad tweet (170)
- Curt Schilling taken off of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast this week (134)
- Phillies announcer calls Mets fans “obnoxious” (124)