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Jeter, long face of Yankees has become image of MLB

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter hits an RBI single

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter hits an RBI single that gives the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays, Sunday. (July 18, 2010) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

It is no revelation to call Derek Jeter the face of the Yankees, now more than ever after the passing of George Steinbrenner, the franchise's dominant figure for more than a third of a century.

That was evident in the decision to have Jeter represent the team during the ceremony Friday honoring Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard, and in many smaller ways during a historic week for the franchise.

The more interesting question is whether the Yankees captain is not merely the front man for the Yankees but whether he is the current face of Major League Baseball itself.

Overstatement? Consider a Sports Business Daily poll released Monday in which more than four dozen sports business executives and journalists named Jeter the most marketable player in baseball.

By a lot. Jeter was named first on 39 of 49 ballots, far ahead of Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer. No one else got more than three first-place votes.

The last time SBD took a survey of this sort was in 2005. Jeter finished first. The time before that was 2003. Jeter finished first.

The time before that was 1999. Jeter finished fourth, behind sluggers Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

That is a stunningly long run of popularity, especially given his determinedly bland, non-controversial image - or maybe because of it.

While other stars have come and gone amid declining play and/or substance-abuse scandals, Jeter has kept rolling along, seemingly immune to trouble.

His failure to attend Sheppard's funeral in Baldwin last week was criticized in some quarters. But like most hiccups in his career, he shrugged it off, and the fallout was minor.

Consider by contrast the mercurial fortunes of the only other player to make all four SBD lists: Alex Rodriguez. In 1999, he was sixth. In both '03 and '05, he finished second to Jeter. This year, he fell to ninth, even as he closes in on his 600th career home run.

Jeter has endorsed Nike, Gatorade, Gillette and Ford, among other companies and products, and earns about $9 million per year off the field, Forbes estimated in 2009.

Brian Helfrich, SBD's assistant managing editor, said the staff was surprised not by Jeter's three-peat but by the margin of victory.

"At 36, he's more and more the most marketable player - and arguably the only nationally marketable baseball player," Helfrich said.

How bare is baseball's cupboard of nationally recognizable stars? Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg finished fourth on the 2010 list.

If the Daily waits another five seasons to do its next poll, it is reasonable to assume Jeter won't win it again. Already, his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are lower than for any of his full major-league seasons, and his contract is up.

But for now, Jeter's status never has been loftier. He might not be the Boss, but he is the Man.

McCarver spanks Yanks

Speaking of iconic Yankees, Joe Torre came up on Fox's telecast Saturday when Tim McCarver ripped the team for not paying proper tribute to its former manager in and around the new stadium.

Alas, McCarver undermined his case by violating one of the basic rules of public speaking and writing about sports: Leave the Nazis out of it!

McCarver compared the Yankees' treatment of Torre to German and Russian leaders in World War II who airbrushed deceased generals out of pictures.

"In a sense, that's what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre," he said. "They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there's no sign of Joe Torre at the stadium. That's ridiculous."

Oosthuizen doesn't rate

Sunday's not-so-grand finale of the first all-cable golf major attracted a measly average of 2.1 percent of U.S. households, a record low for the British Open, and 2.97 million viewers.

Many at the broadcast networks' sports divisions were closely monitoring ESPN's figures, certain they would be lower than in the past because ratings usually suffer when events leave over-the-air TV.

(There are about 15 million U.S. homes that do not have cable or satellite TV service.)

But a fair comparison might have to wait until next year - or at least until the first BCS Championship Game on ESPN in January.

Through the first three rounds, ratings were on pace to be their best since 2006. But Sunday's runaway victory for little-known Louis Oosthuizen was a formula for ratings disaster, no matter what channel it was on.

Bernstein leaves Kay show

Bonnie Bernstein has left 1050 ESPN's Michael Kay show and starting Monday will assume a new role as co-host with Greg Buttle of "New York Football Live" 7-9 p.m. weeknights, 1050 general manager Dave Roberts said. Roberts called the show part of the station's "comprehensive" plans to cover the Jets and Giants. Mark Sanchez will join Eli Manning and Rex Ryan as regulars on Kay's show and former Giant Antonio Pierce will contribute to various shows. Bernstein joined 1050 in September, but saw her role on Kay's show gradually diminish. When Kay was on, she mostly was limited to providing news updates.

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