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Will the phantom HBP change the way people think about Derek Jeter?

Sep 16, 2010, 6:50 AM EST

In the grand scheme of things it was a silly little play. But is it the kind of thing that will change the Derek Jeter Can Do No Wrong narrative we've been hearing for the past 15 years?

I’ve been chewing on the phantom Jeter hit-by-pitch since last night. Logically speaking it was a small, silly play that made me chuckle. But it got me thinking about bigger, less logical issues about Jeter, his place in the cosmos, the media and that kind of stuff.

In
years past, this would almost certainly be called “a heads up play” by Jeter. He would
be seen as being gritty or resourceful or whatever. Doing whatever it took to win.
I have yet to read the New York papers this morning, but if I had to guess I’d say that will still likely be the story today. 

But I can’t help but think that there’s someone in
the New York media landscape — be it a columnist or a talk radio host or whoever — who is thinking hard
about calling this one differently. Someone who’s thinking of casting the move as desperation rather than resourcefulness, and who will use it as a hook for a larger story
about Derek Jeter being “lost at sea” and, for the first time, casting
him as a pitiful figure
in their next column or their 8:45 segment or whatever.

To be clear, I wouldn’t buy into such a notion, because it would be reading way too much into a silly play. More bluntly, it would be a big a pile of
baloney, as is any characterization of a ballplayer based on a freakish, flukish kind of play. Stuff happens on a baseball diamond. But it got me thinking that such characterizations happen all the time, especially in the hyper-competitive media atmosphere in New York, and especially with big figures like Derek Jeter.

Because let’s not kid ourselves: while a “desperate Jeter” storyline would be baloney, so too have been the 15 years of “Jeter-is-God” storylines we’ve been steadily fed by the media.  Yes, there have been plenty of reasons to praise Jeter, but we’ve long since passed the time when the narrative — Captain Jeter: The Man Who Plays The Game The Right Way — took on a life of its own.

But such a narrative, being a mere construction of the media, is not something that has to last forever. At some point, almost every public figure falls out of favor to some degree. Or, if the figure was viewed negatively in the past, a redemption story comes along that the media finds irresistible. It doesn’t take a scandal or a singular act of heroism or what have you for the winds to shift. Sometimes they shift simply because a couple of influential voices decide that they’re bored with the old narrative and come up with a new one. Indeed, oftentimes the narrative shift is accompanied by later pieces examining why, exactly, the narrative shifted, because it wasn’t at all clear in the first place.

But more often there’s a catalyst. Alex Rodriguez — a subject of a media-approved narrative of his own* — wasn’t talked about the way he is now until he signed that $250 million deal which has come to color everything he says or does. Roger Clemens now has a much longer and sustained track record of being rather un-hinged, but throwing the bat at Mike Piazza changed the way he was talked about overnight, long before we knew much of anything about his personal life. Once the story changes, everything about the figure in question is seen through a particular prism and the narrative takes on a life of its own.

The Captain Jeter: The Man Who Plays The Game The Right Way narrative has lasted a long, long time. Way longer than most of these things do.  As I sit here this morning, ready to leap into the tabloids and blogs and maybe — just maybe — tune into some talk radio, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t someone out there who wants to get ahead of the pack. Who wants to be the first to cast the hit-by-pitch play as a symbol for Jeter’s struggles in 2010 and, more broadly, the Yankees’ struggles down the stretch.

I hope not, because like I said, in my mind this was a funny little play. And because I don’t believe that any given act on a baseball diamond provides a window into a man’s psyche or soul or whatever. 

But I think I may be in the minority in believing such things. And I can’t help but think that the opportunity to say something provocative about Derek Jeter is too tempting for someone to pass up.

UPDATE: The first step in this direction was taken by a blogger — Steve S. at TYU — not columnists or talk radio.

*You know the narrative: “Alex Rodriguez: Self-Centered Prima Donna” It seems that no matter what he does, his actions are cast in such a light whenever he does something newsworthy. If you question this, let us ponder what the story would be this morning if it were A-Rod, and not Jeter, who faked getting hit by that pitch last night. If you need help, just go back to the “I got it” controversy, which in many ways is the same kind of thing Jeter did with the hit-by-pitch.

  1. Kevin S. - Sep 16, 2010 at 7:12 AM

    Two notes:
    1) Maddon having his players throw to first was silly, as the play was dead as soon as the ump signaled HBP. Even if they did then agree that the ball had hit the bat and not Jeter, there’s no way it could then be ruled live. My dad, who umped for a long time before he got around to coaching me in Little League, was only thrown out of one game, and that was for going apeshit on the ump who called a ball one of our kids hit foul, then fair.
    2) *Did* it actually hit the bat first? Replays seemed to show that the ball redirected once before leaving Jeter. It was pretty inconclusive as to whether it hit the bat first or his elbow first, but I actually of doubt that he was totally hamming it up – that ball did hit him, and it probably hurt.

  2. Kevin S. - Sep 16, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    Well I’m an idiot – I see Jeter admitted it hit the bat. Scratch point two.

  3. StottsEra - Sep 16, 2010 at 7:24 AM

    one note:
    Jeter said it did not hit him
    Jeter, smiling slyly during his postgame exchange with the media, made no apologies for capitalizing on the opportunity.
    “Well, (Barksdale) told me to go to first,” he said. “I’m not going to tell him I’m not going to first. I mean, my job is to try to get on base.”
    Asked if he was responding to the vibration from the ball hitting the end of his bat or acting when he shook his arm, Jeter said, “Vibration. And acting. Both.”
    Maddon said he didn’t have a problem with Jeter’s gamesmanship and would have applauded a Rays player doing the same thing.
    “We’ve run into that over the last couple of years; several players within the league are very good at that,” he said.

  4. StottsEra - Sep 16, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    i agree with your point 1, but i think maddon was just doing it to kind show up the umps with a ridiculous action to a ridiculously bad call
    man i wish there was one more game in this series

  5. SouthofHeaven - Sep 16, 2010 at 7:53 AM

    Viva shady baseball plays! Yes, I’m a Yankees fan & Jeter super-fan so I’m biased, but I’d much rather see players pull one over on the umpires than vice versa. If they’re not going to implement replay rules, this is what they get.

  6. Gobias Industries - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    First there was segregation; then there was the steroids era; and now this. Jeter’s shenanigans are a stain on the game and I hope he pays dearly. A suspension for the remainder of the year including the playoffs. Something. I just wish the players today were as clean and honest as they were in the days of yore.

  7. Florida727 - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    Wow. I’ve been a Derek Jeter fan for a long time, but I lost a ton of respect for him with that stunt. He’s way too talented a player, and way too gifted an athlete, to have to resort to that in order to win games. Seriously Derek, were you THAT desperate? Really shows a lack of class on your part. I’ll still root for you, but not like I used to, that’s for sure. That’s not the actions of a Hall of Famer…

  8. Md23Rewls - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:28 AM

    Lack of class? Really? How is it any different than a player trapping a ball in the outfield but selling it as a catch to the umpire? A player missing a swipe tag on a steal and pretending that they didn’t? Both of these things happen pretty routinely, and I don’t see anybody calling out a lack of class on them. Yet having the ball hit your bat and trying to sell it as a HBP is somehow a horrible thing that calls to task the character of a player? I mean, I guess that’s your prerogative to feel that way. I just don’t get it. I say, go on Derek Jeter. Get fake HBPs to your little heart’s content.

  9. Jonny5 - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:38 AM

    Well, let’s all remember what was said about this guy when he did the same exact thing. I think for “some” reason Jeter will get much more sympathy when he does it.
    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/aj-pierzynski-acted-his-way-on-to-first-base-last-night.php
    Myself, I think it was awfully slimy way to get on base, dishonest imo. And a guy who’s known to be Mr. high moral compass about things shouldn’t be pulling stunts like that. I see guys get the same exact opportunity that Jeter had when the ball hits the end of the bat, but they stand in with no acting and take the next pitch. That’s what should have happened. Now, lets get to the whole high moral compass thing. He’s a known male whoerrrr. So why do people see him in a way that is different from the reality of things? I just don’t get it. He’s just another dude who has a gift that’ll get him paid and laid way more than most men do. And he takes full advantage of it as most men would. So I just see this as a nice revelation to everyone. Jeter is just another dude with a great gift, leave it at that. But he did get on base though…..

  10. Paper Lions - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    I don’t have a problem with Jeter’s acting. The only interesting thing is how people respond to the same act by different people. If ARod did this, I’m sure the response would be different….just like if Jeter ran across Braden’s mound, I’m sure no one would have known about it because Braden wouldn’t have responded at all. People seem to look for reasons to dislike ARod because he’s already unlikable; thereby, validating their opinion. For similar reasons, people make excuses for Jeter because he is likable.

  11. Jonny5 - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    LMAO!!!! That gave me a fit of the giggles. And i don’t ever giggle.

  12. kevinapps - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    Jeter could pull a Nyjer Morgan act for a month straight and noone would bat an eye. They’d just start writing that he’s developed into more of a fiery leader recently, or some other such nonsense.

  13. DiamondDuq - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    It’s simple, Yankee/Jeter haters are going to continue to hate, Yankee/Jeter lovers are going to continue to love and level-headed baseball fans are going to say “yet again Jeter finds a way to help his team win”, even though in this case they didn’t, the run from him being on base did put them ahead. It’s only a big deal because it’s the Yankees and Jeter and was on primetime national television. That play happens frequently, whether HBP or foul ball, smart players always try to sell it, sometimes they get away with it (AJ Pierzynski, Jeter, etc.) and sometimes they don’t.

  14. Mike Roosa - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    I’m a Rays fan all the way. Live in the Tampa Bay area, go to many games, and absolutely hate the Yankees and Red Sox with a passion.
    That being said, I don’t have a problem with Jeter acting like the ball hit him. I think having the trainer come out was a bit much, but with a ball that close, it’s okay to act it up a little and do whatever it takes to get on base. It paid off when the next batter homered.
    I think the bigger problem here is the umpiring. The umpiring was absolutely brutal in this series and the fact that not one ump had the gnads to say that ball hit the bat is the problem. I was at the game and sitting behind the Yanks dugout about 4 rows back and I could hear the ball hit the bat. Maddon heard the ball hit the bat, Qualls heard the ball hit the bat.
    How is it that not one of the umpires heard that?

  15. Old Gator - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    It’s designatedhitterball. They already send up some guy disguised as the pitcher once every batting cycle, and a lot of us swallowed that one hook line and sinker. And as I wrote earlier, who is it that we’re really braincramped over – Jeter for doing what ballplayers routinely do, or ourselves for having swallowed all the Polyanna hype about him while most of us (aside from maybe regular watchers of the Trailer Park Network) were intelligent enough to know better?

  16. Mike Roosa - Sep 16, 2010 at 8:54 AM

    I’m a Rays fan all the way. Live in the Tampa Bay area, go to many games, and absolutely hate the Yankees and Red Sox with a passion.
    That being said, I don’t have a problem with Jeter acting like the ball hit him. I think having the trainer come out was a bit much, but with a ball that close, it’s okay to act it up a little and do whatever it takes to get on base. It paid off when the next batter homered.
    I think the bigger problem here is the umpiring. The umpiring was absolutely brutal in this series and the fact that not one ump had the gnads to say that ball hit the bat is the problem. I was at the game and sitting behind the Yanks dugout about 4 rows back and I could hear the ball hit the bat. Maddon heard the ball hit the bat, Qualls heard the ball hit the bat.
    How is it that not one of the umpires heard that?

  17. Kevin S. - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    They already send up some guy disguised as the pitcher once every batting cycle
    As opposed to Quadruple-A, which sends up some guy disguised as a hitter once every batting cycle?

  18. Kevin S. - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    *Getting off Chuck Bednar… er, Old Gator’s lawn.*

  19. Simon DelMonte - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    1. I don’t like this sort of stunt. Not from anyone. In any sport. It’s why, if and when I have kids, I am not sure i want them being sports fans, since there is so much in the way of questionable ethics even from the best of the bunch. It is, however, part of the game, along with flopping on the floor in basketball and stealing signs and seeing how many holding calls you can get away with. (This is why so many people think of golf as a higher form of sport, with the notion of golfers calling themselves out. Never mind if it’s true or not. It’s the perception.)
    2. Being a Mets fan, I am immune to the Jeter narrative. Being a skeptic even about my own team, I regard all such things with more than a pinch of salt. But the narrative is part of how the game is followed. Everyone – the media, the fans, the players – wants good guys and bad guys, wants melodrama to go with the stats and the wins and losses. The smart fan – or at least the skeptical one – should be able to tell what is the narrative and what is the game itself.
    3. Jeter will always have a place in the NYC pantheon. And if the the Yankees win it all again, this will be just a quirky little footnote. But the new narrative is forming, and it’s about an aging superstar who will ask and receive tons of money when his skills are diminishing. If the Yankees don’t do well – or if Jeter tanks in the playoffs – the new narrative clearly includes this little incident. It doesn’t come close to changing how the fans regard Jeter. But it will be a factor in tabloid and talk radio coverage for long time to come.
    4. Instant reply, where are you when we need you?

  20. MrVoice - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    What a maroon…it’s baseball…acquire a life please before you post

  21. MrVoice - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    Get thyself a grip

  22. Evan - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    Craig, this is a much ado about nothing. Players “sell” calls to officials in every sport. When Jeter was interviewed after the game and admitted to not really being hit by the pitch, he showed why he is different from the Arods/Clemens etc of the world.

  23. jwilso78 - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    It was an astonishingly pathetic and embarrassing acting job. Even the YES homers were embarrassed for Jeter after watching the pitch and Jeter’s silly little fake injury dance in slow motion. I can’t believe Maddon came out after the game and said he wished he had players who would do the same thing. I’m so sick of managers across baseball brown nosing these players. It was a brutally dishonest and pathetic play that almost cost the Rays the game, and the manager defends him? It’s telling about what type of person Joe Maddon is. Go film more corny vitamin commercials, Joe.

  24. Rumblerod - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    Jeter’s a Cheater!

  25. basedrum777 - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    I don’t think he had the trainer come out as Girardi (one of the worst managers in baseball) sprints out of the dugout at a momenets notice….

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