The delicious mess of the All-Star Game has now cooled, its gooey center congealed into one more digestible lump of vein-clogging gunk, and the realization suddenly sets in:
New media is the same as old media, only with the power of GIF.
In other words, hero worship as journalism is as vibrant now as it’s ever been, and Tuesday’s events proved it in trumps.
The fixation of this All-Star Game was Derek Jeter Mania. All the “narratives” (and shouldn’t the use of that word without quote marks be a crime by now?) enveloped him, both before, during and afterward, to the point where, through little fault of his own, he may become a victim of Jeter-o-phobia -- the act of being scared to death of the very mention of his name.
Proof? The many mentions of Jeter on Fox’s broadcast that obliterated any mentions of the recently passed Tony Gwynn, Don Zimmer or Bob Welch, all of whom have their own media-based constituencies. Jeter was not responsible for their exclusions, but he was the reason nonetheless, because this All-Star Game was declared to be his and his alone.
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In that way, Adam Wainwright is a hero for following baseball etiquette by throwing him a solid in the game’s very first at-bat. His crime, not lying about it, is a nonsense charge, raised by people defending, yes, the Jeter narrative. How dare he assume the all-powerful Jeter couldn’t take him down the right field line like he could at 26?
Because shut up, that’s why. Wainwright was paying his respects as pitchers do to retiring hitters of Jeter’s accomplishments, it’s been going on for decades, and if that doesn’t fit your version of events, well, he wasn’t doing it for you.
But Jeter had to be worshiped, not just admired, and the same is true of the grousing over the glossing-over of Gwynn, Zimmer and Welch. They were all due theirs because; well, because someone would be bent out of shape if their heroes and favorites were not acknowledged with commensurate zeal.
It’s what happens when events are pre-packaged -- someone’s favorite is exalted and someone else’s favorite is ignored. It is the way of television – games are elevated to the level of epic tales, and then dismissed for the next epic tale, thus reducing all the tales into chewing gum, to be tossed off for the next one.
But television isn’t the only version, and the anger over all of it is a measure of “new” journalism’s most obvious link to “old” journalism -- the urge to complain about slights to “my guy.”
The truth is, the All-Star festivities aren’t significant as news events, or even terribly entertaining. The furor over this one is about “my guy” not getting his due by the chief mythmakers.
And that’s been one of the creepier sides of journalism going back to Babe Ruth, and before him as well. You may decide for yourselves if there ought to be a different standard that should be met in the world of fun and games, but this is the one that is. Everyone has “their guy,” and everyone has always had “their guy.” This isn’t a generational thing, but a constant. This time, “their guy” was Derek Jeter, AND Tony Gwynn, and Don Zimmer and Bob Welch. All fine fellows by all accounts, and all diminished by arguments over who got how much acclaim.
But now I’m doing it -- trying to parse out the right amount of acknowledgement for each. So maybe the All-Star Game is in fact the right place to engage in sectarian arguments about whose name got mentioned more. Maybe it shouldn’t mean home field advantage, and maybe it shouldn’t even be a game at all. Maybe it really should be just be a bunch of people, old and young, newspaperists and bloggers and podcastresses and GIF-mongers and Vine-o-philes, all sitting around the old hot stove arguing about who deserved, in Chris Rock’s words, “the big piece of chicken,” notoriety-wise.
And that, kids, is how sports journalism is the same as it ever was, for Jeter as it was for Ruth and it shall be for Trout in 15 years’ time. An eternal argument over “my guy” and “your guy,” and an overcoat of hell made in an unlimited number of sizes.