The 2014 season will be the end of several eras, as are most baseball years. The pre-Marcus Stroman era, for instance, will be over forever; lost in the sands of time. Sometimes eras end in the offseason, and even if you may have expected it was on the horizon somewhere, no one knew that last year was the end of the Joe Mauer As A Catcher era or the end of the great and storied era of Not Reviewing Important Plays. Most of these eras pass by without being acknowledged by the mainstream media (and rightfully so as they have much less spare time than I do) but some of the eras are just more significant. They require fanfare, celebration, adulation and the bearing of the traditional gifts of respect.
2013 marked the end of the Mariano Riv-era, and truly the game will miss Mariano Rivera‘s presence more than it will miss Joe Mauer’s squat or even botched home run calls. Mo’s retirement tour was spectacle piled upon spectacle; each team that played the Yankees for the last time presented the longtime closer with gifts and praise, and beat reporters across the continent wrote countless versions of the same profile on their various teams’ sites.
Two more very significant and very different eras are ending in 2014, and both will have a farewell tour of sorts to two very different types of fanfare. When the sun comes up on Opening day in 2015, Derek Jeter will not be on a Major League roster and Bud Selig will not be the Commissioner of Baseball.
My entire life as a baseball fan has been spent in the Jeter/Selig era and that era will be coming to a close. As I’m only just beginning to realize, I’ve only ever viewed the game through the Jeter/Selig looking glass. I’m not going to wax poetic about Jeter’s chances of getting to fifth on the hits list or the incredible and admirable (if sometimes off course) war on drugs that Selig has quite successfully waged; their accomplishments are as valid and impressive as they are well-documented. Instead, I’m going to spend a few hundred words writing about Jeter and Selig and what has happened to the game as they grew in it together. Then I’m going to rant about Farewell Tours.
Derek Jeter and Bud Selig are the faces for two symbiotic groups that are responsible for the success and growth of Major League Baseball in the last twenty years. Derek Jeter is the superstar of superstars. He dated models and appeared in movies and dated actresses and made millions in advertising and dated everyone. He also, most importantly, played excellent baseball and as a result was signed to very large contracts by the New York Yankees. When Jeter won Rookie of the Year, Selig was in his fourth year as commissioner and the league minimum salary was $130,000. Jeter, after this season, will have made over $265 million in his career, not counting incentives, off of baseball alone. Under Selig’s 22 year reign, the MLB’s revenue has risen from $1.9 billion annually to over $9 billion and the league minimum salary in 2014 is an even half-million dollars. Owners and players are making more money than ever, and their profits are all increasing at rates that are unprecedented in the game’s hundred years prior to the Jeter/Selig era. In the media these two groups, the players and the owners, are portrayed like two lions pulling at the same piece of meat; the players always seem to be trying to pry their “fair share” from the greedy ownership. The truth is that they have worked together, benefiting each other in turn, and it has resulted in fiscal gains beyond either of their wildest dreams.
Derek Jeter is famous. Not just sports famous (think Mike Trout, now) or internet pictures famous (a la Jayson Werth), but legitimately famous. People who have never seen a baseball game in their life know who Derek Jeter is and that kind of fame will make people watch a baseball game. Number 2 pinstripe jerseys are everywhere, not just in New York, and during his career the Yankee hat has reproduced at rates that make mice blush. The team’s owners paid Jeter enough money to be a famous playboy and he has done everything they could have hoped with the money. Jeter is a “class act” and his stardom has brought untold attention to the sport, and it’s not just him. Superstar players like Ichiro Suzuki, Ken Griffey Jr. and even Alex Rodriguez have done huge things for Major League Baseball and it’s owners. They brought fans into the game, not just by playing it, but by appearing in advertising and generating narratives that pulled in a new generation of fans that has turned out to be the largest ever. Without the Jeters of the world and their escalating contracts, the Seligs could have never seen such record profits and vice versa. It can be hard to explain to your friends why a baseball player is worth the kind of money he is; I often try to explain $/WAR and get looked at like an alien. The easiest explanation is that they’re like actors in a movie and they put tens of millions of butts in the proverbial seats.
The eras of the iconic jump throw and terrible Selig hair are ending, but love them or hate them the examples that they’ve set and the things they helped set in motion have been good ones that will benefit players, fans and owners alike well into the future.
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I’ll probably get some flack for saying this, but Mo’s Farewell Tour annoyed me. It’s not that I’m not a Yankee fan (I’m not) because I respect the hell out of Rivera and spent my entire baseball-watching life watching him break my team’s bats, but just that if you watched enough baseball last year, you got to see the same ceremony play out 20 times as the season went on. That was annoying, sure, but it was something most ideological; more.. stupid and inane that bothered me.
It’s good for the players to respect each other and treat each other as peers regardless of team colors, but I don’t think that the teams themselves should pay tribute to other team’s players publicly like that. Teams are supposed to be companies opposed to each other, each vying for championships at all costs. They should present the unspoken air that they would bash the opposing team’s entire family into the dirt for a win. Not the team’s players, mind you, but the team as a rival company. It’s fine to quietly respect a player who dominated your team for twenty years, but outward displays of gratitude and respect paint the teams as wishy-washy and uncompetitive.
I’m all for the Yankees celebrating their retiring legends, and I’m grateful for what they’ve meant to the baseball experience as I’ve only ever known it. I just don’t want my team to give Derek Jeter a gift basket for it.