I recently returned from a week in the Bahamas. On a layover in Fort Lauderdale, I had the opportunity of perusing the airport newsstand. After I had finished carefully combing through the celebrity gossip rags and home decor mags in the “Women’s Interest” section, I turned my attention to the “Men’s Interest” section. (“Men’s Interest,” you see, is where they put all the sports magazines. As if men wouldn’t be interested in Angelina Jolie’s baby bump or six ways to clear clutter! Pshaw!)
Anywho, this is what I saw before me:
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, locked in a vicious coverboy smackdown! Refereed by Adriana Lima and her stern palm fronds of discipline!
On Men’s Health, Jeter, arms confidently folded, grins slyly at the camera. “Derek Jeter: How to rule in the clutch!” the magazine enthuses, as if Derek Jeter did not spend last October grounding into double plays. But no matter—Derek looks relaxed, assured, and like he gets an awful lot of sugar from an awful lot of females. The design of the shoot portrays Jeter as a man’s man, an approachable-but-cool Everyman that the reader could swap stories with over drinks. Plus, Men’s Health is sort of like FHM’s slightly older brother; still a scallywag at heart, he’s traded beer for whiskey and pizza for steak. It’s a good fit for the image Jeter wants to project. Well played.
On Men’s Vogue, by contrast, A-Rod squints nearsightedly into the lens, his lips in their trademark sullen pout. An aura of defensive self-consciousness pervades his hand-on-hip stance. Whereas Jeter seems to have won the respect and approval of the Men’s Health editors, Rodriguez seems to have angered the good people at Men’s Vogue, who taunt him with a “Clutch Time” slug over the headline. Here, there is no talk of “ruling” in the clutch. Here, there is only a loaded question: “Can Baseball’s Biggest Bet Redeem Himself—and the Game?” That is a tall order, especially for one who has a reputation of crumbling under pressure—as Men’s Vogue no doubt knows. As for A-Rod’s choice of magazine, the only glossy gayer than Men’s Vogue is The Advocate. Thus, it must come as no surprise to Alex or his handlers that A-Rod, having agreed to do the cover, appears in a pose, outfit, and lighting designed to call attention to his nether-goods. (Note how the eye immediately leaps to the bright white of his trousers, while the black shirt and socks recede into the background; note also how the aforementioned nether-goods are located almost exactly in the middle of the magazine cover. The unsuspecting reader is lured into checking out A-Rod’s package against his will!) One wonders why Rodriguez even agreed to do the shoot. But as usual with A-Rod, the more he struggles against his appearance-obsessed poseur image, the more it ensnares him.
However, despite this, the real winner of this magazine smackdown is not Derek Jeter. No, gentle readers. The real winner is Josh Beckett:
Aside from the slight irony of Beckett appearing next to a “RIP YOUR ABS” screamer, this cover shot is the clear winner. While Beckett’s facial hair looks as ridiculous as ever, and the artistic director seems to have oiled him up within an inch of his life, he gets some extra points for that Texas-sized Red Sox belt buckle and those well-displayed forearms. The lighting, angle, and pose cast Josh Beckett as a sort of super-hero. Plus, it’s worth noting that neither Men’s Vogue nor Men’s Health are quite as badass as Men’s Fitness (“Train to fight the MMA Way” versus “10 Ways to Look Great!” and “Lean and Mean: the New Slim Suits”). But the saving grace of Beckett’s cover is that despite wearing stonewashed jeans, a massive gold chain, and the aforementioned UFH, and despite looking like self-tanner exploded all over his entire body, and despite ending up so airbrushed that he looks a little bit like BeckettT1000 (sent back in time to destroy opposing hitters!), Josh Beckett seems here like he really doesn’t give rat’s derrière what you think of him. And though, of the three, he’s the one with the biggest claim to glory in the clutch (a 6-0 record with a 1.73 ERA in the postseason), Men’s Fitness doesn’t even approach such philosophical notions. Instead?
Ladies and gentlemen, the winnah and still champeen.