Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Copyright ©2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Ah, all the signs that baseball season is here. For me, it means being tired, watching a game obsessively on my iPhone in bed instead of sleeping. Baseball fans, you know what I'm talking about here. But as the Major League Baseball season begins, it is bittersweet for some.

Commentator Frank Deford is thinking about endings because it is the beginning of the end for two baseball giants.

FRANK DEFORD: Sometimes, the most disparate of people end up as pairs. As baseball begins, here's your 2014 All-Star Odd Couple: Bud Selig and Derek Jeter. But different as these personalities are, different as their positions, they've survived for so long together and now, both have announced that this season is their swan song.

But the rumpled commissioner and the dashing shortstop really do share something, which above all is simply an unalloyed love of their game; which despite all it's suffered in what is invariably known as the steroid era, it has surmounted that crisis to grow and prosper.

Consider only: When in 1992 the two men came in tandem to their calling - Jeter drafted by the Yankees, and Selig anointed acting commissioner - baseball was a $1.2 billion industry. Today it's more than 8 billion. Attendance has soared.

Because the NFL is such a behemoth and football has far surpassed baseball as America's favorite sport, baseball's growth is often overlooked. And yes, part of this is because Selig, who is a shuffling, former car salesman, is terribly cast as the glib, cocky, steely-eyed commander that sports czars are supposed to be. And who ever heard of a commissioner named Bud?

It should be Derek Selig and Bud Jeter. After all, the Yankee captain - listed as the 11th greatest leader in the world by Fortune magazine, in what is surely the most asinine poll ever concocted - is the ultimate buddy. Everybody loves him, even Yankee haters. He can doeth no wrong.

But really, like the commissioner, Captain Jeter is not so much a traditional leader as he is a cohesive force. He succeeded Cal Ripken as the perfect counterpoint to all the muscle-bound brutes who poisoned baseball. He's not a slugger, not ever controversial. He's polite, handsome and like Selig, Jeter - to use an old-fashioned term - is old-fashioned.

Yes, Selig was lucky that a better kind of ball yard was constructed in Baltimore. If Yankee Stadium was the house that Ruth built, Camden Yards would become the smaller, new condominium model for the sport all across the country. And yes, Selig was blind to steroids for far too long. But give him his due: When at last the mote fell from his eye, he acted with vengeance.

But then, too, Jeter caught on faster about something else. When Selig's first wife left him, she told the court: From the day that Bud became involved in baseball, he divorced me and married baseball. Jeter, meanwhile, continues to romance a succession of beautiful women, but it is only to shortstop that he has ever been wed. For one more season: Take me out to the ballgame.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Commentator Frank Deford takes us to the ballgame right here on the program every Wednesday.

We are glad you're with us on this Wednesday morning. Thanks for making NPR News part of your daily routine. And be sure to tune into ALL THINGS CONSIDERED later on today.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford