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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. philo - Sep 16, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    When you comment “…as I sit here this morning, ready to leap into the tabloids and blogs and maybe — just maybe — tune into some talk radio,” your credibility as a free thinking observer of something as trivial as sport has vanished.
    If you cannot form and express your own ideas on something as unimportatnt in the world as baseball, without seeking the inferred approval or agreement of the mindless, full of themself, panderers on “talk radio” or “in the tabloids,” you should take up farming or something a little more useful to the planet.
    The great and powerful OZ has spoken!

  2. paul-e - Sep 16, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    A little perspective, people.
    The ball gets to the batter in a fraction of a second. This particular pitch, a fastball, is tailing into Jeter. He barely has time to say Oh Shit!, he’s reacting to the inside pitch and trying to move out of the way. It certainly seems like he’s going to get hit in the hand/wrist area and even if the ball hits nothing, he’s going to take some steps back out of the batter’s box.
    Yeah, my initial thought was surprise that Jeter would “pull a stunt” like this. Of course, we saw the play a million times and in super-slow motion. In real time, Jeter reacted to an inside fastball, took a look at the umpire, and milked it when it was evident the ump wasn’t immediately calling it a foul ball.
    Blame the ump for missing the call, not Jeter for taking advantage of said blown call.
    If he had taken ball four in an AB that was clearly a strike, would he be required to correct the umpire and walk back to the dugout with a strike out? If he didn’t, would that make him a cheater as well?

  3. Chris J - Sep 16, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    Hurt his image? Do you coach to win or have fun? What does Cooperstown have to do with it? It’s called gamesmanship. Even Madden said he had no problem with it and hoped his player would do it if given the same situation. Cheating is what Alex, Sosa, and Roger did. It makes me sad to think people can not distinguish between playing hard, and playing to win with cheating.

  4. Old Gator - Sep 16, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    Richard Nixon cough cough.
    George W. Bushleague cough cough.
    Newt Gingrich cough cough.
    Dick Armey cough cough.
    Ad infinitum….

  5. vikeredmik - Sep 16, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    Don’t you watch cartoon… It’s a famous Bugs bunny quote” What a maroon, what a mirage” It’s a shame I have all this valuable info swimming in my head and no where to use it!

  6. gruntersdad - Sep 16, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    It’s obvious Derek cheater would never be a golfer. You have to be honest.

  7. Kiwicricket - Sep 16, 2010 at 11:51 AM

    Are you going to take the scantly clad posters of him down as well?

  8. Kiwicricket - Sep 16, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    I am willing to make a small wager his handicap is half of what yours is…

  9. basedrum777 - Sep 16, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    guaranteed first ballot HOFer….yeah he sucks alright.

  10. basedrum777 - Sep 16, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    Ummm… he scored on the Hr. And do you also never ask your players to “deek” a player coming into 2nd so they get caught off on a pop fly? What about your catcher telling an ump that a strike was a ball? You teaching that too? Hypocrit…

  11. basedrum777 - Sep 16, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    He’s from Michigan you dolt. Don’t bash the Mecca of America…

  12. vizzon11 - Sep 16, 2010 at 12:51 PM

    wow!!! u jus made it clear that u media knucleheads feel u hav all the power 2 sit @ u/rr computers & sway public opinion etither way ,u jus look 4 ways 2 tear atheles dwn 4 your own personal glory!!! shameful

  13. InnocentBystander - Sep 16, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    Great post Craig. Probably the most thoughtful thing I’ve read in a long time. I love the comparison to A-Rod’s “I got it”. Nice work.

  14. gruntersdad - Sep 16, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    Dolt? he plays for new York which in baseball lingo, he’s from New York and there is no mecca in the US of A

  15. paul - Sep 16, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    Does this mean Derek Jeter is now going to get the customary 3 strikes now that he admitted to showing up an umpire? Or will he still get his usual 5 strikes? With all the gifts he gets from umpires you would figure he would be hitting higher than .260

  16. Mad in CT - Sep 16, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    This is probably one of the more inane posts I have read yet and the point it attempts to make(whatever it is) is referenced so late in the diatribe that you forget the original premise of the story. Bottom line: Calcaterra needs to get a freakin’ life…away from Fenway Park.

  17. Chris J - Sep 16, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    Baseball does not have the same rules as golf. Learn the game…

  18. Md23Rewls - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    The bitterness from all of these Yankee haters is just absurd. Do you guys realize how petulant and whiny you sound? Granted, many Yankee fans are just as bad, but what I’m reading in these comments is silly on multiple levels.
    I can’t believe that something this minor is actually causing conversation. He did what players do all the time–he told a little white lie to try to help the team. This shouldn’t be a headline on ESPN (it is), this shouldn’t be something that gets 67 comments and counting, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. Give Jeter flak for his .260 average and decline if you’d like. That’s something that would actually make sense to talk about.

  19. SadPandaRevolt - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    Uh? What’s Fenway got to do with this?

  20. Longofan55 - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    I was there last night and watched this happen from 3 rows up and about 3 seats towards 1st base behind home plate, that umpire had to be deaf not to have heard that ball hit the bat. It literally echoed. I would just like to add that while it is all fine and grand that people say it’s his job to get on base any way he can and for Maddon to say he would hope a Rays player would do the same, but I want you to find a Rays player that WOULD do it. We had a similar Oscar performance from Victor Martinez just a couple of weeks ago. He danced around like he’d been hit hard and clearly the ball hit the dirt not him. You could even see the spray of dirt that went into the air when the ball hit the ground.
    Personally it takes away from the game, if for no other reason than that run he scored could have been a game winner and how do you take pride in winning a game like that? No matter what it’s cheating, whether you get away with or not. Karma took care of it and we laughed loud and hard when he struck out in the 9th.

  21. Longofan55 - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    You are ignorant. IF you played through college with that attitude it is no wonder you didn’t go pro. It isn’t about whether or not “it happens all the time”, it’s about playing sports with integrity. Even my 5 year old knows that if you win after you have cheated it is a hollow victory. Winning fair and square is the only way to go and be able to hold your head up and be proud. Jeter can not possibly be proud of himself right now. Fate intervened and they lost as they should have. Cheaters never prosper, bottom line.

  22. Longofan55 - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    Lot of good it did him to score. They lost anyway, and all is as it should be.

  23. Longofan55 - Sep 16, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    At least there is one thing that will happen as a result of this, Jeter is not likely to get away with his pathetic cheating again. Which Umpire is ever going to believe him again? I just wish Soriano had whacked him one for real. Then they could have carted his sorry butt off to get a wrist xray for real.

  24. jcart2348 - Sep 16, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    I say the truly great players want to hit the ball or earn a “base on balls” due to a keen eye and patience. Taking the easy way out is not my idea of a true champion… just my 1 opinion among many. Had he manned up and hit the ball, it could have spurred a rally and changed the tune of the game; as it stood, it motivated the Rays and their crowd during a home game and everyone knows that momentum is huge in baseball, as it is in all sports. Sorry Cheater, I mean Jeter, you took the pansy way out that time. Again, just my opinion…

  25. Rumblerod - Sep 16, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    Chris, It’s a cheat, anyway you look at it and it will follow him all the way to Cooperstown. And you are right that it’s baseball, and that if the Ump can’t get the call right then too bad, I don’t argue that My problem was the way he sold it to get the call was dishonest. That will stick to him forever, because people see him as a role model and up to now he has been pretty good with that…

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