Reviews Are In for Jeter’s Role as a Hit Batsman
By BEN SHPIGEL
Published: September 16, 2010
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — About 1,200 miles Off Off Off Broadway on Wednesday night, Derek Jeter polished his acting chops, convincing an umpiring crew that a pitched ball struck his left arm when, as he later acknowledged with a smile, it did no such thing.
J. Meric/Getty Images
Some were quick to view Jeter’s ploy as an act of desperation, that he contrived a trip to first base in an important contest during a season in which his batting average and on-base percentage have dropped dramatically.
But was he being desperate, or just being Jeter, admired and revered but also a savvy, instinctive player always alert for an advantage in the intense environment of major league baseball.
Jeter may be Sports Illustrated’s reigning “Sportsman of the Year,” but much like the late George Steinbrenner, he will do almost anything to win. On Wednesday, that approach steered him right toward the boundaries of baseball’s unwritten rules without actually going beyond them.
That code allows players to sell phantom tags to umpires or to make believe a ball that was trapped was actually caught. It allows a catcher to try and trick an umpire into calling a ball a strike.
And, in the case of Jeter, who represented the tying run in a taut game, it allows a player to pretend that a pitch hit him when it did not.
Fans from just about everywhere weighed in on Jeter’s performance Thursday, some applauding his cleverness, others condemning him as a fraud and not the role model he is supposed to be.
Those who make their living in baseball just shrugged.
“I can not understand what the commotion is,” said the Fox baseball broadcaster Tim McCarver, a former major league catcher, as he took stock of the uproar.
“Why question that?” he said of Jeter’s actions. “I can’t believe anyone would say that’s cheating.”
Minnesota Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team has lost repeatedly to Jeter’s Yankees in the postseason, agreed.
“You have to be an actor in this game, you have to be,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game. Jeter, you could see him staring over there in the video, sly as a cat. It’s just the way it is. Call it what you want to call it, it happens. It’s happened forever.”
The play in question occurred in the top of the seventh, with one out and the Yankees trailing, Tampa Bay, 2-1, with first place on the line in the A,L. East.
The first pitch from Chad Qualls came in on Jeter’s hands — where he often does get hit — and smacked the knob of his bat as he spun away. He tossed his bat, clutched his elbow and hopped toward the Yankees’ dugout.
Having been awarded first base by the plate umpire, Lance Barksdale, Jeter continued to pretend he was in discomfort. Manager Joe Girardi raced out, as did the Yankees trainer Gene Monahan, who examined Jeter’s arm. “Geno acted more than I did I guess,” Jeter said afterward.
Some of those who criticized Jeter on blog posts pointed to the elaborate way he feigned being hurt, saying his actions crossed over into outright dishonesty. They asked: Why not just jog to first right away?
But Jeter probably had good cause to lather it on. After the ball hit his bat (and apparently grazed his uniform), it bounced into fair territory. The Rays even threw the ball to first, so Jeter knew that if the umpires reversed the initial call he might be called out.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon was barking, the umpires were getting ready to huddle, a game was on the line. An Emmy performance was called for, and Jeter does have acting experience. And sure enough, after Jeter took first, Curtis Granderson homered to temporarily give the Yankees the lead.
McCarver lauded Jeter’s awareness of what was at stake, that the umpires might change their mind, that they might need some extra convincing.
“What upset some people perhaps is that he was so demonstrative when it hit the bat, but to think that quickly is remarkable,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘No, the ball didn’t hit me.’ You’re trying to get on base; you’re trying to win the game.”
“It’s gamesmanship,” Bob Costas, another veteran baseball commentator, said approvingly of Jeter’s actions. “This is completely different from steroids or stealing signs with a pair of binoculars.”
In his decade and a half in baseball, Jeter has built up enormous respect as the captain of the Yankees and the winner of five championships.
He is held in such high esteem that peers use him as a counterpoint to comment on others’ transgressions. In chiding Jeter’s teammate, Alex Rodriguez, for running across the pitcher’s mound earlier this season, Oakland’s Dallas Braden suggested that he “watch his captain a little more often.”
Curt Schilling slammed Rodriguez for his infamous slap play against the Boston Red Soxin the 2004 American League Championship Series with a barb that cut to Rodriguez’s insecurities and Jeter’s aura: “Would Derek Jeter ever do that?” he asked. “No chance.”
But Rodriguez has a way of operating outside those unwritten rules. He was mocked for the slap play, and called out by the umpires, a key moment in Boston’s historic comeback in that series. In 2007, he was belittled when he yelled “Ha!” as he ran past a Toronto infielder settling under a pop-up. The ball fell for a hit and a brawl nearly ensued.
Had it been Rodriguez who feigned being hit by a pitch, he would have been called a clown — or worse. Jeter? No one is about to call him that. Instead, on Thursday, some in baseball were ready to smile along with him.
Hisanori Takahashi, the Japanese left-hander for the Mets, recalled a catcher for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp who would pretend he was hit by a pitch by pinching the back of his hand and leaving a red mark.
And Keith Hernandez, the Mets broadcaster and former first baseman, said he would have “no issue whatsoever” if he had been manning first and someone reached base on a phantom hit by pitch.
Would he say anything to the player? “I would call him Laurence Olivier and say, ‘Good one,’ ” Hernandez said.
i think this is just stupid! jeter doing this is the same as a wide reciever faking a catch or a basketball player faking getting fouled. i boo all the jeter haters and what a big deal they are making out of this