To Red Sox fans’ chronic annoyance through the years, Fox Sports has not just recognized the camera-ready appeal of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, it has exploited it.
During the modern heyday of the franchises’ rivalry — let’s call it that contentious and eventually cathartic stretch from 1998-2004 — it seemed Fox would punctuate every big moment during a game by cutting to Jeter for his reaction.
A fist pump for every teammate’s big play. A stone-faced stare from his perch at the top step of the dugout when something went right for the opponent. It’s as if a play wasn’t official until Fox, which fortuitously began broadcasting major league games during Jeter’s rookie year of 1996, gave us the Yankees captain’s reaction to it. Jeter became the unofficial “face of baseball” because of his and the Yankees’ success. But Fox enjoyed giving him face time, whether or not it was warranted.
The network’s long history of Jeterizing its baseball coverage might make one around here wary of whatever tributes it has planned for Tuesday.
Joe Buck — who will be calling his 16th All-Star Game, or two more than Jeter has played in — offers assurances that whatever happens will be authentic, citing the elegant homage to Mariano Rivera just last year. The longtime Yankees closer entered the game in the eighth inning, only to reach the mound and discover he was the lone player on the field.
“That moment when Rivera went out and took the field on his own, that was done by the other players,’’ said Buck. “That was not done by Major League Baseball as far as I know. That truly wasn’t done by Fox. We can kind of fill in and around what actually happens, but we’re there to report on it and cover it, not choreograph it. So whatever the guys think would be fitting for Jeter would be much more fitting than what we come up with.
“What made the Rivera moment cool is the same thing that made the ’99 moment with Ted Williams cool. It just happened. It was organic and it happened with the players doing it.”
For all of the attention Jeter receives as the quintessential charismatic New York sports star of his era, he has remained remarkably private, even guarded. It’s uncertain whether he will even agree to Fox’s request to wear a microphone during the game.
“Derek has always been a reluctant guy like that,’’ Buck said. “He reminds me a lot of [Troy] Aikman [Buck’s broadcast partner on Fox’s NFL telecasts]. Troy in the midst of all that chaos with the Cowboys in the ’90s was kind of the boring quote, and I think that was by necessity as the voice of reason trying to bring it back to the center line. I feel that way about Jeter. The amazing thing is that he spent his entire career in New York, you know you’ve got a lot of people looking for stuff on him, and he’s never seemingly misstepped. That’s remarkable in this day and age. Maybe this being his last year we’ll get a real genuine smile and a real genuine moment.”
While Jeter will be central to Fox’s coverage, which begins with a three-hour pregame show Tuesday on Fox Sports 1 leading into the 7:30 p.m. Fox game broadcast, the game is flush with ascending stars.
Buck, who lobbied for Dodgers dynamo Yasiel Puig to make last year’s game, wavered in his support when Puig had some maturity issues later last season. But he’s back on the Puig bandwagon, especially after more came to light about the Cuban star’s dangerous, courageous journey to the US, as well as the fact he’s made a clear effort to play with more control without sacrificing any of his joy.
“It’s not Little League, you don’t run until you get tagged out, and I think he’s learned that,’’ Buck said. “For me, the story is National League young stars, led by Puig, who is awesome, American League young stars, led by Mike Trout, who is awesome, and the Jeter’s-last-season story.”
During Buck’s previous 15 All-Star Game broadcasts, he was joined by the same analyst: Tim McCarver. But McCarver was nudged into semi-retirement after the World Series, replaced by Harold Reynolds and Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci.
While Reynolds has done little to counter the perception that he was an uninspired choice — he recently demonstrated a stunning lack of knowledge about Williams’s approach to hitting — Verducci has thrived as the info guy, and Buck has enjoyed the change despite his general skepticism about the value of a three-man booth.
“I’ve never walked into a booth — baseball or football — with a bigger smile,’’ he said. “And maybe more importantly, I’ve never walked out of it with a bigger smile. They see the game differently. I’ve said before, three guys are [often] too many in the booth. It doesn’t work. You rarely feel like you have the chance to get into it with the guys next to you. Everybody is seeing something different and nobody is listening to one another and it’s just too much. Too much for the viewer, I think, too.
“But in this case, for whatever reason, it works. Harold is kind of a wild card. He’s liable to throw out something that makes no sense or throw out something that makes more sense than you’ve ever heard, and Verducci is about as straight-laced and numbers-driven and factually correct as anyone I’ve ever worked with, and those two kind of bouncing off each other has made it a blast.”
Cup fever exists
The high television ratings and overwhelming social media reaction to Germany’s 7-1 rout of Brazil in the World Cup semifinals serve as indisputable evidence that the interest in the tournament in the United States — and locally — did not evaporate when the US was eliminated. Tuesday’s match was the second-highest-rated and the third-most-watched men’s World Cup match ever on ESPN or ESPN2, earning a 6.7 rating. That trailed only the US-Portugal match (9.6 rating) earlier in the tournament, while tying the US-Germany match (6.7). Between ESPN and Univision, it drew more than 14 million viewers. Boston was the sixth-highest-rated market for the match, with a 5.5 rating. Some of the viewership for Germany’s shocking blowout victory was surely driven by the in-the-moment reaction on Twitter. The match was the most-discussed sporting event ever on the social network, with an estimated 35.6 million tweets, topping Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seahawks and Broncos (24.9 million).