SOMETIME EARLY IN the evening of July 15 it became clear that MLB would preempt its regularly scheduled All-Star Game in favor of a tribute to Derek Jeter. That night Jeter got every one of the retiree's spoils but the company paperweight. Adam Wainwright gave him a first-inning meatball he could thump for a double. The Target Field crowd gave him a three-minute standing ovation. And Fox gave him so much airtime and praise you'd have fingered him for an electable Republican. Jeter left without only one thing: the game's MVP award, which went to Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
The symbolism was unmistakable. Trout would take Jeter's place as the sport's humble, marketable, big-populace superstar. All of the pundits who wondered whether baseball would find a new face to supplant the Yankees' captain no longer needed to wonder.
Baseball should be so lucky to have a hole shaped just like the Millville Meteor. But today's game has lots of stars with Trout's plain temperament. The East Coast has Evan Longoria and David Wright. The middle of the country has Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto. And the West Coast has Clayton Kershaw and Buster Posey. There is no shortage of shortages of attitude.
But the game has indeed lost something in recent years: its villains, the irreverent rogues largely reviled by fans of 29 teams and adored intermittently by fans of just one. Alex Rodriguez's ban makes this absence especially acute. Antagonism has left baseball like hot air from Curt Schilling's mouth.
How did a nation obsessed with superhero movies leave out the villains from its other summer pastime? The black hats, from Ty Cobb to Pete Rose to A-Rod, gave the game its spice. Every Ken Griffey Jr. needs his Barry Bonds. (And given the new standards for moral ambiguity in superhero movies, every Barry Bonds needs his Jeff Kent.) The old-line fans can cheer the usual beloved types more vociferously with an enemy in their midst. And the few subversives who find baseball institutionally hidebound can side in secret with some of the villains wearing the game down from within.
Where did they go? Part of their absence has to do with Jeter's dynastic triumph. Any aspiring pro would be forgiven for tracing a straight line from his banal positivity to his five championship rings and countless millions of dollars.
And in the wake of the steroid era baseball has placed an even greater premium on pep and good cheer. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas will enter the Hall of Fame this weekend. Roger Clemens, who had more wins than Glavine and one less than Maddux, will not. Nor will Bonds and Mark McGwire, both of whom had more home runs than Thomas. In its haste to self-purify, the game made the line between good and bad far brighter than it had any reason to be. Players will not get caught on the wrong side.
What's worse, instead of past years' towering villains, this season has offered us endless dustups over petty slights. On Sunday the Angels took exception to Mariners reliever Fernando Rodney's displaying his trademark bow-and-arrow gesture after escaping an eighth-inning jam, then threw it back at him during a game-winning rally in the ninth. After Albert Pujols doubled in Trout with the tying run, both players mimicked the gesture.
There have been some frequent flouters of the game's unwritten rules, like Carlos Gomez and Yasiel Puig, but they have too much evident joy and passion to be true villains. For a moment it seemed that Bryce Harper might become a villain. He had the talent and the loudness (his hair, his eye black). But that was false hope. Harper, 21, has revealed himself only as cocky, callow and tasteless.
No transaction has stirred up Decisionlike resentment, either. Pujols ditched his beloved Cardinals for the Angels' big bucks after 2011. But St. Louis replaced him and went on winning, while Pujols's decline phase came sooner than expected.
Who will be the man for the job? Perhaps it's Ryan Braun, who long ago surrendered his chance at popular admiration. Matt Harvey, who's cold and brooding on the hill but out for the season with an injury, might fit too.
One other dominant righty has already removed himself from the running. "If anything is taken away from [Jeter's] moment, then I sincerely apologize," Wainwright told Fox's Erin Andrews late in the All-Star Game. For two hours baseball had the villain it needed—one who mocked Bud Selig's self-interested decision to make the game count—and the drama resonated more than anything that happened on the field. Then the good guys got to him.
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ERA for 35-year-old righthander Tracy McGrady, a seven-time NBA All-Star, who retired after throwing 62/3 innings in four appearances for the independent Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters.
Miles from Levi's Stadium, the 49ers' new home in San Jose, to downtown San Francisco. It is the longest distance between a team's stadium and the city it calls home.
Miles run by Lisa Smith-Batchen, 54, in Death Valley, Calif., from July 1 to July 15. She ran to raise money for a project that brings clean water to those who need it .
Hits in the 18-year playing career of Hall-of-Famer-to-be Joe Torre, the most among the 23 skippers elected. The other managers who will be inducted on Sunday, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, had 141 and 35 hits, respectively.
Time it took Sabra Harvey, 65, to run the 800 meters at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoors Championships in Winston-Salem, N.C., on July 17. She set an American record in the women's 65--69 age group and won the race by 42.71 seconds.
GETTY IMAGES (WANTED POSTER); ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BONDS); CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (RODRIGUEZ); AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES (CLEMENS)
Outlaws Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens are nowhere to be found this season.
BOB LEVEY/GETTY IMAGES (MCGRADY)
DAVID BROOKS (SMITH-BATCHEN)
HERB SCHARFMAN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (TORRE)
INFLUX PRODUCTIONS/THE IMAGE BANK/GETTY IMAGES (WATCH)