Now, don't get me wrong - TK's a great writer. I mean, he's really really good - you don't get published in Sports Illustrated by being a big old dummy like me, y'know? But this business about "Derek Jeter" being "the face of baseball" - I mean, c'mon, he's not baseball. Sure, he's a great player, don't get me wrong - if I were a manager, I'd kill my kids to have 9 Jeters on the field and 1 more on the mound and another 6 in the bullpen and about 25 coaching and managing and scouting. Who wouldn't, besides NEYER? I mean, really, Rob, c'mon - you'd probably take a pass on Cindy Crawford because of that mole on her face, too, I bet. But when you're talking about baseball - I mean REALLY talking about baseball - you're not talking about some GQ guy that gets to date Mariah Carey and make commercials and play in a fancy privileged liberal blue state like New York. That's not baseball. That's Hollywood bling-bling, and no matter what Stu Scott and Van Pelt might say, Hollywood bling-bling ain't baseball.
Baseball's a lot like football - it's a game won in the trenches, and it's won by the guys behind the pretty boy superstars like your Derek Jeters and your Brian Robertses. It's a dirty, ugly, beat-up, smelly old fart of a game - if it weren't, there ain't no way this fat jerk right here gets anywhere near home plate without a ticket and about 10 Natty Lights. I mean, look at me. I got a face that could kill an old woman with glaucoma, and I need a pair of sweatpants for each leg. That's what baseball is about.
Take a look at a guy like David Eckstein - I've eaten burritos bigger than him, but look at him this year. He's hitting over .300, he's hitting for some power, and he runs all over the place. On the field, off the field, in the dugout, down the runway, through the parking lot - if you seen Eck standing still, it's because he's dead. And that guy never walks off a field without getting his uni dirty. He mucks around shortstop like a kid in a sandbox, kicking up all sorts of dirt. Watch Derek Jeter field - he's all ballet this and disco that, turning and twisting like Danny Terrio with a hamster in his chinos. Yeah, that might get the job done, but that ain't baseball.
And what about Mike Sweeney? A good, clean cut kid, comes up as a catcher, and has the belt taken to his hide by Tony Muser for being a milk and cookies sop. And what's he do? Does he run to his limo and drink some of his Crystal Light with his hoochie mammas? No sir! He turns himself into one of the best first basemen in the game, and he turns himself into a team leader. He can win a game with his bat, his glove, and his body. You guys see that play against the Twins? Where he laid out Mike Redmond like church clothes on Sunday? Would Derek Jeter do that? Nah - he'd rather prance around and do some Macarena move to get across the plate and waste everyone's time. That might win you a ball game here and there, but that's not baseball.
Folks might say, "Hey, Kruk, what about that dive into the stands against the Red Sox?" Yeah, OK, that was a pretty good play, but it ain't so special. Plastic seats are easy to dive into. They're pretty soft! Ask my butt! Show me someone with some real dumb spunk, like Rex Hudler. I remember one game, against the Clubs, where Rex (the Wonder Dog!) ran into the brick wall in left field at Wrigley Field and separated his shoulder. That's baseball right there. And you know what? He stayed in the game and got the game winning hit. You can look it up if you want, but I know what I heard. What did Derek Jeter do when he separated his shoulder in Toronto a few years ago? That's right - he left the game and went to the hospital so he could get pampered and get a lollipop from little old Nurse Ratchet. Rex Dog just took some greenies, did some shots of good old Jim Beam, and sucked it up. That's heart!
And you wanna talk about heart, you gotta talk about a guy like Jim Mecir. Yeah, I know, I said some stupid things about JM a while back about him being injured and what not. But, hey, look at it this way - whether it was his club foot that made him walk all stupid like that or he was just banged up, he's a gamer. He's got this messed-up thing that's probably screwed up his entire life, and he's playing in the major leagues. That's baseball - the little guy making it in a big man's game. It's not about the Yankees' 26 world championships; it's about a team like the Diamondbacks beating the Yankees in Game 7.
And speaking of the D-Backs and Game 7s, what about 1997 World Series hero Craig Counsell? He's just this guy playing second base, and yet he manages to make big play after big play. Nothing special, but he gets the job done when the job needs doing. When the Marlins needed him to get that World Championship for Florida, he got on base and scored the winning run. What did Derek Jeter do last year when the Yankees were facing the worst playoff collapse of all time? He didn't do anything - just folded up his Wall Street Journal, turned up his DMX iPod, and did his thing on the catwalk, because he's Tiger Beat Heartthrob Derek Jeter. And, like I said, he's a great player. But he's not baseball.
That's why, for MY face of baseball, I'm picking this guy:
That's right. Peter Edward Rose Sr. World Champion, All-Star, and future Hall of Famer. It's no coincidence that this guy has one of the most important records in baseball to his credit. For 23 years, this guy played his guts out day in and day out. Even when he became a manager, he still put himself in to help his team win games. And even when he was accussed of gambling on baseball and other sports, he didn't just fall down on the mat and cry for his agent. Hell no! He hitched up his bootstraps, got himself a new bowlcut, and put himself out there. He wrote a book, he appeared on the Home Shopping Network, he did TV shows and special events and all sorts of stuff. Pete Rose is America - life kicks him in the can, he picked himself up and kept on walking. Life keeps on kicking, he'll keep on walking. There's no flash or skill to that. Pete Rose isn't some fancy "athlete". Pete Rose is true hard-nosed grit, like John Wayne or Rock Hudson, and that's what the face of America's Favorite sport should be.
Baseball isn't about Say Hey Willie Mays making a fancy basket catch with his back to the infield like some glory-hoggin movie star. Baseball is about Charlie Hustle busting his tail down the 3rd base line to take out Roy Fosse and mess up his knee in an All-Star Game. AN ALL-STAR GAME. If that ain't baseball, then I have two nuts.