New York: Jeter’s Not-So-Hit-By-A-PitchSeptember 19, 2010 —
Rarely, if ever, does Derek Jeter find himself in the midst of controversy or questions of sportsmanship. That is why baseball fans were so surprised on Wednesday night when Jeter faked being hit by a pitch – in reality the ball had hit the bottom of his bat – to advance to first. He spun out of the batter’s box and leaned over, feigning pain, as trainer Gene Monahan came out to examine him. At the same time in the announcer’s box, Michael Kay re-watched the play in slow motion. The tape revealed what no one would suspect – Jeter was faking. “Derek is some actor,” Kay lamented, and you could practically see him shaking his head in disbelief.
This moment in baseball now holds far more significance than it deserves, simply because it was Jeter. In this controversy ridden era of baseball, Jeter often stands apart as one of the stars that fans seem to trust to behave appropriately, to be classy. Had this been Alex Rodriguez, who is known for some unsportsmanlike incidents, people would have just been pissed off. They probably would be angrier, perhaps calling it a sign that baseball is losing its grandeur and that the superstars of today’s game are the cause. But because it was Jeter, people don’t really know what to think. They still love him and look at him as one of the greats, so how can a fan really be angry? Isn’t it just a part of the game?
Fans tend to put Jeter up on a pedestal, whether it means he’s seen as having a better season than he really is putting forth on the field, or in this case, that he would never break, fracture or even bend a rule of the game. Instead of worrying about Jeter’s reputation as a clean player, can we just stop for a second and realize how cool it was? Jeter fooled nearly everyone.
His spin out of the box and subsequent grimaces of pain were quite the performance, made even more impressive by the fact that you could hear the ball hit the bat. Maybe he was deceiving people, but it wasn’t a particularly devious play. I would say that it holds the same quick-on-your-feet-thinking that allowed Johnny Damon to famously steal an open third base in the World Series last fall. This wasn’t a planned way to manipulate the umpire. It was heads up baseball.
More important than how we view Jeter after the play though is the actual result of his actions. Had the Yankees actually won the game (which determined the leader of the AL East against Tampa Bay), the cries of foul would have been louder. People really only care if you get caught and you win. If you “cheat” and lose, fans get over it. If you impose the same methods and win, there’s an uproar.
Then again, don’t some people believe that “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”? But what constitutes cheating in baseball, a sport where the rules rest on the fallibility of the umpires? Was this anymore cheating that selling a tag at second base to get a runner out or the catcher moving his glove back over the plate for a called strike? No, it’s not, because you do what you have to do to win, especially down the stretch. It’s just another unwritten rule of the game.
Surely this incident will resurrect the talk of expanding instant replay. But should it be evidence that baseball really does need instant replay? Absolutely not. Part of baseball’s beauty is what you can get away with. The imperfections of the game are what makes you hold your breath before the “safe” or “out” is called. It makes a seemingly routine play exciting.
So Jeter’s play will be talked about but soon forgotten (after all, it’s no perfect game that never was), because it’s simply a part of the game. His integrity will survive, and hopefully the absence of replay will too, because when you step out onto the field, you play to win.