Last week the New York Post featured a Photoshopped Derek Jeter in a Red Sox uniform. They were putting forth a worst-case scenario for Yankees fans. “Picture This!” read the headline, and Jeter’s legion of loyalists were haunted by the idea of his ethereal “intangibles” pushing the Sox further along in their millennium of baseball dominance.
The cheaply doctored image was meant to incite controversy in the wake of Jeter’s ongoing contract negotiations. Brian Cashman and the Anonymous Steinbrenner Spawn who run the Yanks don’t meet eye to eye with the 36-year-old shortstop. They see a player on the backside of a great career, a player whose five Gold Glove Awards draw snickers from serious baseball observers, and a player who, by many statistical measures, has been declining overall in the last several years.
Jeter and his agent are asking for more than the paltry three years and $45 million that Cashman has offered. They’re asking for recompense for the great legacy Jeter has sown in New York. They highlight the fistful of World Series rings the Yankees have won with Jeter (most of which were acquired when Monica Lewinsky was in the news and Titanic was breaking our hearts). And they want the team to pay Captain Jeter for the bleacher diving, the hustle, the receding hairline, and the class that has made him a household name.
The Post was capitalizing on the heated debate and giving Yankees fans a scary look at what could happen if the two sides don’t meet in the middle.
What the Post probably didn’t know was that the image wasn’t a nightmare but a Photoshop fantasy for many Red Sox fans.
There’s this secret that comes out when I’m all whiskied up and I see Jeter go opposite field (not a euphemism) on Sportscenter: I love Derek Jeter. Who doesn’t?
Since the mid-’90s Greater Boston has been filled with Sox fans that support the Fenway Nine and still find a secret place in their heart for Jeter-love. Plenty of fans count Jeter bobbleheads and baseball cards among their memorabilia. If you watch him play almost 20 times a year it is impossible not to want him on your team. The guy’s a winner—and wearing a “Jeter Sucks” T-shirt is an act of violent psychic repression for Sox fans everywhere. Last week’s Post headline brought a lot of Jeter’s Boston fans out into the open.
An hour or so on Photoshop and some Post intern redefined “fantasy sports” for millions. And this isn’t the first time technology and sports have met in dreamland. In 1970 a radio producer had an idea to pit the only two undefeated heavyweights in boxing history—Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali (undefeated at the time)—against each other. The only problem was that Marciano was retired and Ali had been stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted. So, the two were filmed sparring and acted out every possible scenario. Then probability formulas were entered into a computer. The resulting film, titled The Super Fight, declared Marciano the victor and made millions of dollars around the world.
Then, there’s this commercial. The 2005 TV spot takes unforgettable sports moments—Jeter’s “flip,” Jordan’s buzzer beater against the Cavs, The Catch—and alters the past so that they never happened. The flip misses, Jordan rims out, and Joe Montana’s throw sails long. The commercial was a hit and whetted our appetites for rewriting sports history.
In one of the most notable examples of technology and sports fantasy going haywire, we need to return to the Boston-New York rivalry. After every Final Four, World Series, NBA Championship, or Superbowl the postgame celebrations always feature the victorious athletes donning hats and T-shirts proclaiming their victory. Superbowl XLII between the then undefeated New England Patriots and the New York Giants was no different. Somehow smiling, sweaty men in ugly, ill-fitting garb have come to signify victory. Afterward, the championship merchandise flies off the shelves and we seem to forget that they printed two sets of hats and T-shirts. What becomes of these historically inaccurate victims of mass production?
As a sort of perverted Walter Benjamin tribute, the 2007 Patriots remain undefeated somewhere. There is a magical place where Manning the Younger was sacked and David Tyree was unable to pull off the greatest use of Superbowl clothing since Janet Jackson. That place is in Southern Nicaragua in an impoverished village where the NFL donated hundreds of articles of clothing lauding the 19-0 Patriots.
Personally, I’m happy for the good people of Nicaragua. At least someone can dream of the 19-0 Patriots, the fight of the century (won by Brockton, MA native Marciano), and Jeter coming over to the good side. The only thing missing is a time machine that can bring the Jeter fantasy back to 1998.