As Derek Jeter nears retirement, Scott Behson muses, with his tongue in his cheek, about who will replace the Yankees captain as baseball’s poster boy.
There used to be debates about who was the Face of Baseball: Cobb or Ruth, Teddy Ballgame or JoeD, Mantle or Mays, Bonds or Griffey, McGwire or Sosa. You get the idea.
For the past 17 years, there has been no debate. The 7-year old boys who had Derek Jeter’s poster up in their rooms are now 24 (and they still have the poster), and he’s still the favorite player of all the boys on my 7 year-old son’s little-league team.
Jeter had all the elements to be the long-time Face of Baseball. His credentials:
- Great, great player, for a very, very long time
- Even better, what looked to be his competition early on got embroiled in scandal (ARod) or flamed out (Nomahh)
- Charismatic, good-looking guy
- Cool Nickname—“The Captain”, also “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November”
- Played a lot on national television—postseason, all-star game, Fox game of the week, etc.
- Played on winning teams (post-season every year of career but one, 5 ringzzzz, baby!!!)
- Played in a major media market (not to be one of *those* New Yorkers, but, as Frankie says, “If you can make it there. . .”)
- Played the game the right way
- Displayed some flash (the patented jump-throw from the hole*)
- Dated smokin’ hot celebrities (Glitter, Lyla Garrity, Direct TV Genie, Jessicas Alba and Biel, among many others)
- Even better, he has so much credibility the fact that he sends one-night stands home with limo service and “Derek Jeter Gift Baskets” is widely considered cool (we would have punished this guy for it)
- Finally, he gets bonus points for being an iconic Yankee, tying his legacy to those of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, et al.
In short, Jeter is “the man women want and men want to be” (every inch an International Man of Mystery!). And he has carried this Mantle, er, mantle for a long time. But time creeps up on everyone, and Jeter’s 39 and coming off a broken ankle. He has, at most, a few seasons ahead of him before they waive the 5-year waiting rule, unanimously vote him into the Hall of Fame, and have angels escort him unto the heavens.
Derek Jeter has worn his crown a long time. So, who’s on deck to be the next long-term Face of Baseball?
Looking at the above criteria, and targeting players not yet past their peak (sorry Albert Pujols), that leaves us with:
- Joey Votto: GREAT player, but stuck in Cincinnati (good team, too small a market)
- Andrew McCutcheon: GREAT player, but stuck in Pittsburgh (enough said)
- Giancarlo Stanton: GREAT player, but stuck on a bad Miami team until he is sold off for pennies on the dollar by Scrooge McDuck
- Ryan Braun: GREAT player, but stuck in Milwaukee, plus already has two brushes with PEDs (his over-turned failed test and Biogenesis)
- David Wright: He’s a charismatic, good-looking, all-American type playing in New York. However, he’s already 30, very good but not great, is always getting dinged up, and, most importantly, cursed with being a Met
- Prince Fielder: Incredible baseball name, 2nd generation star, husky and joyful, hits the ball a mile. The Tigers should be good for the foreseeable future. But his FoB upside seems to max out as lovable big guy, like Boog Powell or Big Papi.
- Miguel Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano: Miggy’s the best hitter alive and the first Triple Crown Winner since Yaz in 1967; Reyes is probably the player who is the most fun to watch; and Cano will soon be the centerpiece of the Yankees kingdom. That being said, they aren’t from the ol’ USA, and this lowers their FoB potential. (This isn’t fair, and probably won’t be true for too much longer given the changing nature of baseball and the US population. However, baseball is still wrapped up in American nostalgia, and, in my opinion, our society’s not quite ready to put non-Americans on the same par to be considered the current “*American* idol” of baseball.)
- Strasburg, Verlander, Kershaw, Price, King Felix, et al: You’re awesome, and it’s not fair, but pitchers need not apply. We need everyday players for this. Koufax and maybe Seaver were the only pitchers to even come close to FoB status.
And this leads me to my three finalists: last season’s rookies of the year, and the NL MVP.
Bryce Harper: Possibly the most hyped prospect of all-time. So we’ve known about this 20-year old for a while. Plays with the reckless abandon we like in icons (and goes old-school with eye-black for extra street cred). Already really good as the youngest regular in MLB last year, and by all projections will be a fantastic 5-tool player. Large media market with a team set up for a sustained run of success. DC has been starved for a winner since the days of “Damn Yankees”. Already has a catch-phrase-“That’s a clown question, bro”. If all goes right, he can dominate the next decade.
Mike Trout: Just had the best rookie season OF ALL TIME, and, according to advanced stats, the best season since Bonds in 2002 (or the best non PED year since Ripken in 1991 if you prefer). Excels at all phases of the game—highlight reel defense, speed, power, on-base percentage. At this point, the players he compares to are Hall of Famers Mantle, Frank Robinson, Griffey, Ted Williams, Orlando Cepeda, Jimmie Foxx and Al Kaline. Trout plays in Los Angeles, for a team with a rally monkey, a great roster and the financial resources for a sustained run of success.
Buster Posey: 2010—Rookie of the Year and his team wins the World Series. 2011—He gets his knee blown out on a play that will live in infamy. 2012—NL MVP, World Series MVP. That’s a mighty impressive 3-year resume. So, great player, has charisma, is good-looking, outrageously great baseball name. Check, check, check, check. Large media market (Bay Area), successful franchise, national exposure. Check, check, check. Plus, he’s a catcher, which is about as badass a position as you can play in baseball.
Too close to call. The tie-breaker will have to be their babe-magnet potential!
Harper: He’s Mormon and seriously dating a really cute BYU soccer player. Good for him, but that doesn’t earn him Jeter Gift Basket points. Strike one.
Trout: Seriously dating his really pretty high-school sweetheart. No Minka Kelly bonus for you! Strike two. C’mon Buster. . .
Posey: Married to his really pretty high-school sweetheart and has two kids. Grrrr. No Jessica Alba upside here. Strike three.
I guess we’re stuck with an unsatisfying three-way tie. Now, somebody get one of them a movie-star girlfriend or two and we can declare a winner.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II