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Who is the face of baseball once Derek Jeter retires?

Before we ask who, if anyone, can replace Derek Jeter as the face of baseball, there’s another question to ask: Why has Derek Jeter been the face of baseball? Why did he, more than anyone else, become the game’s singular player, the player people talked about most, the player people argued about most, the player non-baseball fans knew?

See, the face of baseball is something of an honorary title. I like to think of this way: Imagine a movie that is not at all about baseball. Let’s say it’s about some sort of Marvel superhero or about Scarlett Johansson having absurd powers or … no, those are pretty much the only two kinds of movies that come out now. OK, in this movie there is a character (probably played by John Krasinski) who is a baseball fan. He happens to mention how much he likes one baseball player.

That player he mentions? He is the face of baseball.

For years now, Derek Jeter would be the player mentioned. Why Jeter? Let’s look at the dozen or so best players since 1990 as ranked by Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

1) Barry Bonds, 139.0
2) Alex Rodriguez, 116.0
3) Albert Pujols, 95.5
4) Chipper Jones, 85.0
5) Ken Griffey, 80.3
6) Jeff Bagwell, 79.6
7) Adrian Beltre, 74.3
8) Frank Thomas, 73.7
9) Jim Thome, 72.9
10) Larry Walker, 72.7
11) Derek Jeter, 72.1
12) Scott Rolen, 70.0

Now, it’s true that many people do not like WAR as a tool to measure players -- it’s not unfair to argue that Beltre gets too much credit for defense or that Jeter gets too little, and some would that Bonds and A-Rod are frauds who should not even count on a list like this -- but the point remains. Jeter was not the best player in baseball. In many years, he was not even the best player on his own team. Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano not to mention pitchers like CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera all had years when they were, by any statistical measure, every bit as valuable as Jeter.

So why Jeter? Well, he was the shortstop and, after a while, the captain of America’s most undeniable team. People love and loathe the New York Yankees, and Jeter was the essence of pinstripes. The true Yankee. He was the guy hitting at the top of the order, the guy making that jump throw at shortstop, the guy who so often did something memorable like dive into the stands after making a dazzling catch or flip that ball home to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate or hit the winning home run as midnight rang in November.

Jeter had something else too, I think: He played a sort of baseball that felt personal. That’s a hard thing to quantify –-- but when you watched Derek Jeter play you FELT something. Maybe you felt that Derek Jeter was overrated. But even that is something. He was a fantastic player in measurable ways -- he played every day, he cracked 200 hits, he hit double-digit homers, he stole 20 or so bases, he scored 100 runs -- but it was always the things you could not measure that separated him. His leadership. His alertness. His competitive nature. His professional blandness.

These things inspired people to write and say the most over-the-top things about him -- Jeteration, I began to call it -- and it also inspired a backlash from people who grew tired of him being credited for everything good to happen in the world since the polio vaccine. His defense at shortstop was one of the battlegrounds. The defensive numbers suggested he was a below-average defender, and often well below average. But the eyes saw it differently, and Jeter won five Gold Gloves.

These were always things about Jeter to talk about, things to celebrate, things to complain about. He represented big things to people, things like “the right way to the play the game” or “the overhyping of the Yankees” or simply “winning.” No matter how boring Jeter tried to be (and he tried very hard to be boring) he was not. He was this good looking bachelor in New York who dated supermodels and played for a team that always won. He was adored by teammates and respected throughout the game. He played shortstop every day for the New York Yankees, who always made the playoffs and five times in his career won the World Series. How could he not be the face of baseball?

And who can replace all those things? Nobody, I suspect. But I have thought of 10 players who, in their own way, have a chance of being the next face of baseball, the guy Krasinski mentions in the movie:

1. Mike Trout, Angels: Well, it seems everyone is penciling in Trout as the next face of baseball, and that makes sense. Trout is the best player in the game. More than that, he’s the most amazing player we’ve seen since ... I’ll say the young Barry Bonds. Trout does everything -- hit, slug, run, throw, field, get on base -- and he’s a joy to watch.

But face of baseball is a bit more complicated than that -- and I’m not sure Trout inspires the same level of emotion in people that Jeter did. He IS doing Subway commercials, and he just won the All-Star Game MVP, and he plays in the shadow of Disneyland, so there are real possibilities there. But I’m not sure what arguments he sparks (other than arguments about him consistently losing MVP awards to Miguel Cabrera). He’s just ... great. He plays for a not-especially-interesting team on the West Coast ... I’m not entirely sure that people will find him consistently fascinating, that people will develop the same strong feelings about him that they felt about Jeter ... and Ken Griffey Jr. ... and Don Mattingly ... and Pete Rose ... and Roberto Clemente ... and Mickey Mantle ... and so many of the other players who became the face of the game. Time will tell.

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: Well, he’s my personal choice. He’s a few years older, but he’s become something like the National League’s Mike Trout. He too does everything well. And, while some may disagree, I think he’s just a little bit more charismatic than Trout.

I think the question is: Can a player in Pittsburgh become the face of baseball? I think the answer is yes, IF the Pirates win. So much of Jeter’s exposure came in Octobers. If the Pirates would become a consistent playoff contender, I think McCutchen could become the face of baseball because he has the game, the verve, and he’s interesting.

3. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: I’ve long thought that MLB does not celebrate its worldliness as much as it could. During the All-Star Game, there was a point when Texas’ Yu Darvish was pitching, when Kansas City’s Salvador Perez was catching and when Puig was hitting. That’s a Japanese pitcher throwing to a Venezuelan catcher against a Cuban hitter. That’s baseball now -- 68 years ago, it was lily white, strictly national, and as racist as any sports institution. Now, more than a quarter of the players in the game were born in 16 other countries.

Puig has come to represent the changing game. He’s easy to like, easy to dislike, he does amazing things, he does ridiculous things. He’s a player the eye naturally follows. He also plays in Los Angeles for a Dodgers team that should win a lot.

4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: He’s the best hitter in the game, but he’s 31 and has been in the majors for 12 seasons and has not really become a breakout star even after winning the triple crown.

5. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: It’s not easy for a pitcher to become the face of baseball but it has happened -- especially in times when pitching dominated such as the 1960s and early '70s. In that time, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver were three of the biggest figures in sports.

Well, more and more, pitching is dominating the game. And Kershaw’s ultra-dominance (for example, his absurd 134-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and the fact that he’s a fantastic lefty pitching on the same mound that Koufax used (only quite a bit lower) make him a viable face of baseball candidate.

6. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: The most powerful force in the game ... he hits the longest home runs, and he hits them with extraordinary ease. He’s just so commanding as a hitter. With Stanton, a lot depends where he ends up playing. The next face of baseball probably will not play for the Miami Marlins.

7. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: I’m throwing him in here because he’s a lot like Jeter. He’s a middle infielder that sparks an instant reaction from people. Also much of his value is considered to be beneath the surface and beyond his solid statistics. He’s an excellent defensive second baseman, a lifetime .300 hitter with some power and speed, and he’s a fiery player who despises losing. He also plays for the Red Sox, who have won three World Series in the last decade and, like the Yankees, are difficult to ignore.

8. Bryce Harper, Washington: This is a wild-card choice, certainly, but there’s something about Harper that makes him a real candidate. He was SO hyped as an amateur player. He was SO hyped when he came up as a rookie. He was doing national television commercials -- something that few baseball players do -- before he even established himself as a Major Leaguer. And he plays an all-out, reckless style that people cannot help but notice and talk about.

Of course, Harper has also been injured and a disappointment so far. He’s only 21-years-old though, and he’s already shown superstar talent at times. Very few young players breeze into superstardom the way Mike Trout did. If Harper develops into a superstar, I think he will be bigger in the American consciousness than Trout.

9. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee: Many despise him, right? Well, that’s part of Q Rating too. Gomez is an extraordinary player. He plays with boundless energy, hits with surprising power, chases down everything the outfield. He also plays with heightened emotion, which leads to all sorts of things -- fights, hit-by-pitches and so on. There’s a fun documentary about Dominican baseball called “Road to the Big Leagues” that has a young Carlos Gomez dancing around and talking about becoming a star. He’s really a larger-than-life figure.

10. Kris Bryant, Cubs: OK, it’s a reach -- Kris Bryant has not taken one swing in the Major Leagues -- but he has a couple of things going for him. One, he’s absolutely destroying the minor leagues; Cubs GM Theo Epstein calls Bryant a “freak” and “the most adjustable prospect we’ve ever had.” He slugged .700 in High Class A, slugged .700 in Class AA and is now slugging .700 in Class AAA. He adapts to each level instantly, like he’s a shape shifter. He could be a star quickly.

And if he spearheads a Cubs revival, as some believe he will, that will put him very much at the forefront of baseball. The Cubs' almost 70-year drought without a pennant, and their more than 100-year stretch without winning a World Series, is baseball’s biggest storyline. It’s a long way off, but Bryant is one of those players with a chance to fill the Jeter void.

Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:11:49 +0000
Ryu helps Dodgers become 1st with 3 11-game winners

PITTSBURGH (AP) Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched seven strong innings, Adrian Gonzalez reached base five times and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 on Monday night.

Ryu (11-5) joined Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in making the Dodgers the first team in the majors with three 11-game winners. The left-hander allowed two runs and five hits with a walk and five strikeouts.

Justin Turner had two RBIs and scored twice for the Dodgers, who snapped Pittsburgh's six-game home winning streak. Pirates starter Edinson Volquez (8-7) had won four straight starts, tying his career high.

Los Angeles played without right fielder Yasiel Puig (left hand) and shortstop Hanley Ramirez (left wrist) after both were injured when they were hit by pitches last weekend in St. Louis.

Puig and Ramirez had X-rays in Pittsburgh that came back negative Monday.

Tue, 22 Jul 2014 02:37:00 +0000
Dream coach, Laker great Cooper has tongue cancer

ATLANTA (AP) Atlanta Dream coach Michael Cooper has early stage tongue cancer and has taken a leave from the WNBA team.

He will have surgery this week at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta and a full recovery is expected, the Dream said Monday.

The 58-year-old coach is expected to miss about two weeks, with assistant coach Karleen Thompson filling in. Atlanta plays at Minnesota on Tuesday.

"I'm fortunate that my condition was diagnosed early, and this episode illustrates the importance of screening and early detection," Cooper said. "I know the team will be in good hands with coach Thompson at the helm during my absence, and I look forward to returning to the court soon."

Cooper is in his first season with Atlanta. His team leads the Eastern Conference with a 15-6 record. He coached the East to a 125-124 overtime victory at the WNBA All-Star game Saturday.

Cooper won five NBA titles as a shooting guard with the Los Angeles Lakers during the "Showtime" era from 1978-90. As a coach, he won two WNBA titles with the Los Angeles Sparks and one NBA Development League championships with Albuquerque.

After his second run with the Sparks, Cooper was hired as the women's coach at Southern California. He resigned in March following an 11-20 season, his first losing mark in four seasons.

Mon, 21 Jul 2014 21:03:00 +0000
Kirilenko ends engagement to NHL star Ovechkin

MOSCOW (AP) Another sports power couple's engagement is off.

Two months after golfer Rory McIlroy broke off his engagement to Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, Russian tennis player Maria Kirilenko says she has called off her planned wedding to three-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

The two had been together since 2011 and became engaged in December 2012.

Kirilenko says in comments distributed by the Russian Tennis Federation that there were "a lot of reasons" behind her decision.

She says "our relationship is over, but I respect Sasha (Ovechkin) as a person and as an athlete and I respectfully wish him further sporting success."

Ovechkin had faced questions from Russian media about the relationship when he did not accompany Kirilenko to Wimbledon last month.

Mon, 21 Jul 2014 16:01:00 +0000
Rory McIlroy wins British Open for 3rd major

HOYLAKE, England -- Walking off the 18th green as the British Open champion, Rory McIlroy kept gazing at all the greats on golf's oldest trophy.

On the claret jug, his name is etched in silver below Phil Mickelson.

In the record book, he is listed behind Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the youngest to get three legs of the career Grand Slam.

And over four days at Royal Liverpool, he had no equal.

"I'm immensely proud of myself," McIlroy said after his two-shot victory Sunday that was never really in doubt. "To sit here, 25 years of age, and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam ... yeah, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly."

He had to work a little harder than he wanted for this one.

Staked to a six-shot lead going into the final round, McIlroy turned back every challenge. He made two key birdies around the turn, and delivered a majestic drive at just the right moment to close with a 1-under 71 and complete his wire-to-wire victory.

In another major lacking tension over the final hour, what brought The Open to life was the potential of its champion.

After nearly two years of turmoil, McIlroy looked like the kid who shattered scoring records to win the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, and who won the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by a record eight shots a year later.

Boy Wonder is back. Or maybe he's just getting started again.

McIlroy won by two shots over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler to become the first start-to-finish winner since Woods at St. Andrews in 2005. Even with one major left this year, the Northern Irishman already is looking ahead to Augusta National next April for a shot at the slam.

"I've really found my passion again for golf," McIlroy said. "Not that it ever dwindled, but it's what I think about when I get up in the morning. It's what I think about when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be. And I know if I can do that, then trophies like this are within my capability."

McIlroy put an end to this major with a powerful drive down the fairway at the par-5 16th, setting up a two-putt birdie to restore his lead to three shots. He finished with two pars, tapping in for par on the 18th green.

The hard part was trying not to cry when his mother, Rosie, came onto the green with tears streaming down her face. She was not at the other two majors. Before leaving, McIlroy turned and applauded the fans in the horseshoe arena who were witness to another masterpiece.

This could have been another romp except for a shaky stretch early for McIlroy, and solid efforts from Garcia and Fowler.

Garcia pulled within two shots with four holes to play until he put his tee shot in a pot bunker just right of the 15th green. His first shot failed to get over the 4-foot sodden wall and rolled back into the sand. He made bogey, and two birdies over the final three holes were not enough. Garcia shot 66 and was runner-up in a major for the fourth time.

"I think that we gave it a good effort," Garcia said. "And there was someone a little bit better."

Fowler, playing in the final group for the second straight major, didn't do anything wrong. He just didn't do enough right to make up a six-shot deficit. Fowler played without a bogey, made three birdies on the last four holes and shot 67.

"He played awesome," Fowler said. "And it was just kind of fun to throw a few shots at him coming. To see him win was pretty cool."

It was the first time two straight majors were won wire to wire. Martin Kaymer did it last month at Pinehurst No. 2, taking the U.S. Open by eight shots.

McIlroy, who finished at 17-under 271, wasn't the only big winner Sunday. Ten years ago, his father and three of his friends each put up 100 pounds ($170) at 500-1 odds that McIlroy would win the British Open before he turned 26.

The kid made good on the best with a brand of golf that had him marked early as golf's next great player.

McIlroy moved up to No. 2 in the world, perhaps on his way to regaining the No. 1 ranking that once looked as if it would be his for years. He ended the 2012 season by winning his second major and capturing the money title on the PGA Tour and European Tour.

Since then, the road has been bumpier than some of the dunes at Hoylake.

McIlroy signed a megadeal with Nike and switched out all his equipment. He changed management for the second time, leading to lawsuits that are still to be decided. And after getting engaged to Caroline Wozniacki on New Year's Eve, he abruptly broke off the engagement in May with a telephone call.

His path to victory in The Open was much smoother.

McIlroy made back-to-back bogeys on the front nine and had to save par from a pot bunker to avoid a third. But he steadied himself with a birdie on the par-3ninth, and when Garcia made a 10-foot eagle ahead of him on the 10th to cut the lead to two, McIlroy answered with a two-putt birdie.

Garcia blinked when he could least afford it, leaving a shot in the bunker at No. 15 as McIlroy watched from the tee.

Jim Furyk was among four players who tied the course record with a 65 to finish fourth. Tiger Woods was long gone. He finished his 75 as McIlroy was still on the practice range. Woods finished 69th - his worst finish over 72 holes in any major - and wound up 23 shots behind, his largest deficit ever in a major.

Mon, 21 Jul 2014 04:54:25 +0000

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