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

Sep 16, 2010, 6:50 AM EDT

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.

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. mtaibbi - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    it’s the difference between gamesmanship and cheating. jeter kicked the ball onto the fairway to give himself a chance to win he wouldn’t have had if he’d played it where it lay. doesn’t make him a criminal… a child has not died… just made him someone willing to cheat to achieve his goal, an ends- justifies-the-means kind of guy.
    lot of those around, none wearing halos.

  2. RB - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    wouldn’t you fake it if you we’re batting 260?

  3. mtaibbi - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    it’s the difference between gamesmanship and cheating. jeter kicked the ball onto the fairway to give himself a chance to win he wouldn’t have had if he’d played it where it lay. doesn’t make him a criminal… a child has not died… just made him someone willing to cheat to achieve his goal, an ends- justifies-the-means kind of guy.
    lot of those around, none wearing halos.

  4. Rumblerod - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    Jeter’s a Cheater!

  5. YouBetcha - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    Great article CC! Thank you for the trip down the rabbiot trail to talk about a ficticious article or talk radio show that you imagine would pick on your precious Jeter when such an article does not exist. Thanks for wasting our time with your conjecture. On with real news…

  6. Pueo - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    Getting the base is one thing, chewing the scenery is another. Bottom line, it was bush league. That others do it doesn’t matter, it’s still unsportsmanlike and makes Jeter look bad and the umpires dumb..again.

  7. RB - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    wouldn’t you fake it if you we’re batting 260?

  8. Old Gator - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    If you’re talking about the Feesh last night, they sent up five or six guys disguised as hitters last night. It’s a September thing.

  9. Old Gator - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    Oh,and by the way…you’re standing on one of my fire ant mounds.

  10. gruntersdad - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    “So the rule here boys and girls, when you grow up, if you can’t buy everything you need, cheat to get it” Steinbrenner

  11. Chris J - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    The comments left by half of you people are absolutly ridiculous. For those of you who have never “played between the lines” I suggest you stop casting a finger at Jeter as a dishonest ball player. All he was doing was trying to get on base to put his team in position to win. There are unwritten rules of baseball that most of you have zero clue about. I feel I am entitled to talk about it becasue I played all the way through college and know what he was trying to do. The problem is not Jeter, the problem is fans like you shooting your month off on topics you know nothing about. Until you lace them up and step between the lines SHUT UP. Watch a different sport, don’t watch the Yankees.

  12. BC - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    I think it was phenomenal. It probably didn’t feel too good when the ball hit the knob of the bat, but if you watch the replay, he had taken his left hand off the bat before the ball hit it, and then grabbed the left wrist. AWESOME. Makes me appreciate him even more.

  13. gruntersdad - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    Of course he is. he’s from New York. All of New York is trash.

  14. Jonny5 - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    Actually amerature leagues and college leagues use the DH. In real baseball, how it was originally designed. Every man who plays offense, also plays defense. Does that make sense? I think it’s pretty clear. You must wear a glove, to swing a bat. You must hit if you want to pitch. It’s a beautiful thing. There was nothing wrong with how the game was originally constructed.

  15. BCTF - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    I think he was joking. What’s a maroon?

  16. Rumblerod - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    Bottom line line is Jeter is a cheater. Don’t tell me about the subtleties of baseball I have coached for over 20 years and have taken teams to Cooperstown to play in the tournament there, and Omaha as well. My father was District Administrator for Little League in Florida during the 60’s, My sons all have played the game and My youngest is playing college ball right now. Bottom line is Jeter is a cheater. And cheaters never prosper, as he didn’t get around to score so he didn’t help his team, all he did was hurt his image.

  17. BCTF - Sep 16, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    “At some point, almost every public figure falls out of favor to some degree”
    Obama cough cough

  18. SadPandaRevolt - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    WAH! WAH! I played in college! I know unwritten rules! All ya’ll iz dumb cuz you don’t know it like me! RAGE!! RAGE!! IF YOU DON’T AGREE WITH ME ABOUT SOMETHING YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO WATCH IT!

  19. CPinCT - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    Well stated….agree with this comment completely. The same play is a heads up play by one player, but considered bush league by another.

  20. sportsdrenched - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    Good to see the Morally Superior Cynics are out today.
    This isn’t any different than a receiver or outfielder trapping the ball, or a flop in basketball or hockey.
    It can’t be said any better than what Jeter said in his post game comments. He’s paid to get on base, and he was awarded a base, so he’s going to take it.
    And Simon (and anyone else that feels this way), if that’s they way you feel about sports…you should lock your kids up and never let them leave the house. The gray line on what is ethical occurs in every facet in life. And we’ve all crossed to the un-ethical side at one time or another. Do you think a sales guy is going to just give up on his proposal even though he knows his competition has him beat on something???

  21. kevinapps - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    I am amused by the differences between sports and what is considered cheating.
    When Thierry Henry committed a handball during World Cup qualifying (while scoring the goal that sent France into the World Cup), everyone screamed about him being a cheater.
    When Jeter fakes a HBP, everyone is up in arms about Jeter cheating.
    But when a DB commits Pass Interference and the ref misses it, noone says “Oh, that guy is a dirty cheat.” They just blame the officials for missing the call and move on. Getting away with breaking rules in football is just “part of the game,” but in soccer and baseball and the like, it makes you a vile and disgusting cheater.

  22. Omega - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    The Yankees pay Jeter a lot of money to get on base.
    Jeter got on base.
    The man was doing his job last night.
    What’s the problem?

  23. DaPacSux - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    Tongue FIRMLY in cheek, I assume…

  24. Gobias Industries - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Egads, brother. Next time I’ll have to stamp an “lol” at the end of a comment like that to clarify that a joke has just been made.

  25. asdfghjkl - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    I’ve always know Jeter is a punk. He sucks. What’s the story?
    Yankees SUCK!!

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