Derek Jeter, Gamesmanship

Jeter Just Doing What Ballplayers Do

The sports world is absolutely fascinated with Derek Jeter right now, the golden-boy Yankees captain-cum-cheater who acted gravely wounded by a ball that didn’t hit him during a game last night against Tampa Bay. (Watch it here, complete with commentary from each team’s broadcast crew.)

I don’t get the criticism. This is what ballplayers do.

Sure, they’re not often caught en flagrante to the degree that Jeter was, but at heart, they’re all the same in this regard. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single example in the history of the game in which a player willfully informed an umpire that a call had been incorrect in favor of the opposition. It doesn’t happen on balls or strikes or plays at the bases. It doesn’t happen on difficult fair-foul calls.

And it certainly doesn’t happen on hit-by-pitches.

Sure, Jeter went overboard with his Shakespearian dramatics. If you want to make a distinction between benefitting from an umpire’s bad call and influencing an umpire into making a bad call, that’s fair. But the underlying tenets are the same: in baseball, every advantage counts; you get ’em where you can.

“He told me to go to first base. I’m not going to tell him I’m not going to first, you know,” said Jeter, afterward. “It’s part of the game. My job is to get on base. Fortunately for us it paid off at the time, but I’m sure it would have been a bigger story if we would have won that game.”

Nobody ever called out an outfielder for acting as if he caught a ball he actually trapped.

“Play it off—that’s not cheating if the umpire lets you get away with it,” said longtime outfielder Von Joshua. “Any means you can to win a baseball game. . . . Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. That’s just part of the game.”

Even Rays manager Joe Maddon was impressed by Jeter’s effort. “I thought Derek did a great job, and I applaud it,” he said in an report, “because I wish our guys would do the same thing.”

Heck, is it really so different than A.J. Pierzynski sticking his elbow into the path of a pitched ball in order to get on base? Neither are admirable, but both are accepted. (Of course, when Pierzynski did it with the bases loaded and a 9-2, eighth-inning lead in 2004, he insured himself a future drilling.)

HardballTalk points out similar displays from Yunel Escobar and Pierzynski, again.  It’s pure gamesmanship.

Jeter even has precedent on his own team. In a 1928 game between the Yankees and Browns, with two outs and Lou Gehrig the baserunner at first, second-base umpire George Hildenbrand turned to watch the play on the lead runner when Bob Meusel hit a ground ball to shortstop Red Kress.

Except that Kress threw to first, and Hildenbrand was caught with his back to the play.

Meusel had been thrown out cleanly, but Hildenbrand hadn’t seen it. Instead, he appealed to Meusel’s honesty.

“Everybody knows you’re out, Bob. Everybody saw it . . .” he said, according to the Baseball Hall of Shame, Vol. IV. “Be a sport and call yourself out.”

Meusel’s response: “George, you’ve been getting nine thousand bucks a year for a long time as an umpire. Now’s a good time to start earning it.”

Hildenbrand had no choice. The runner was safe, and Browns pitcher Al Crowder had to seek his fourth out of the inning.

So wnough with the calls of “Derek Cheater.” The guy was just doing what big leaguers do.

Update (9-22-10): Jorge Posada did kinda sorta the same thing.

– Jason

17 thoughts on “Jeter Just Doing What Ballplayers Do

  1. I wonder how much of the buzz/criticism is due to anti-Yankee sentiments. What if this had been Evan Longoria instead? Joe Mauer? Seems like Jeter is getting somewhat of a bad rap here.

    1. Maybe. The fact that he’s Derek Jeter, symbol of all that is right in sports, certainly has something to do with it, as well.

      One refrain I’ve seen repeated through much of today’s coverage asks what kind of response A-Rod would have received had he done the same thing. It’s difficult to answer. Because people expect that sort of thing, I think it would actually receive less play than Jeter’s version. I guess there could be anti-Yankee sentiment in either instance, but Jeter also has his supporters; I’m not certain that Rodriguez would (at least in the same numbers).

  2. My point all along has been that what Jeter did crossed the line when he bragged about it after the game. Is that okay that he did that? I know it’s stupid, as the umps will be looking for payback if they can get it cleanly. I would if I was an ump. What’s the code for showing up the ump by a future HOF?

    1. From a standpoint of honesty, I love the guy for his comments. It’s the kind of thing that most players are too afraid to touch, but which give tremendous glimpses into the way the game is really played at this level. (Jeter’s HOF credentials might certainly have helped feed his loose-lipped bravado in this regard.)

      That said, you make a decent point about not showing up the umpire. In Jeter’s defense, outside of the sound of ball hitting bat (which might have happened even had it glanced off a finger), this was a tough play to call.

      Had Jason Donald bragged about how Jim Joyce blew the call in Armando Gallarraga’s would-be perfect game, he would have been way out of line; the call was inexcusable, and Donald doesn’t have one-tenth Jeter’s credibility. For Jeter to admit that he got away with one in this instance, however, is hardly calling the umpire out for looking foolish.

      It’s part of a ballplayer’s job description. That’s pretty much all he was trying to say.

  3. Obviously I’m invested in this. You say a lot of times that not showing up the competition is what drives a lot of the “unwritten rules”. So I wonder how when a guy strikes out and the ball is whipped around the horn that that’s not showing up somebody. I guess I have to keep studying. It seems like this subject is a lot like learning the english langue.

  4. Obviously I’m invested in this. You say a lot of times that not showing up the competition is what drives a lot of the “unwritten rules”. So I wonder how when a guy strikes out and the ball is whipped around the horn that that’s not showing up somebody. I guess I have to keep studying. It seems like this subject is a lot like learning the English language.

    1. Holy cow, are there nuances to it. I’ve never before considered that throwing the ball around the horn might be considered offensive. By this point, it’s such an ingrained part of the game that it can hardly be taken that way; whether that was true when it was first done is a good question.

      My comprehensive research (consisting of five minutes searching Google) turned up nothing. If you have anything to add, please do tell.

      1. The purposes of throwing the ball around the infield are to keep infielders’ arms warm, seeing as they may not theoretically get to make a play until the last out.

      2. That seems like the obvious reason. What’s still unknown is when the practice started, who started it, and — unlike today — the opposition ever considered it to be showing them up.

  5. Wiki answers does describe it as “sort of a very mild celebration for a strikeout”. No word on when it started.

    1. I got this from a post on Yahoo answers (take it for what it’s worth):

      “You’re right in what it means. It keeps the infielders’ throwing arms warmed up.

      I assume the term is lifted from sailing around the horn (of Africa or South America) rather than taking the most direct route.”

    1. I’d be shocked. This is the way big-league baseball is played — which is why, in my opinion, those calling for Jeter to be accountable, and those saying that he only did it because his skills are fading, are off base.

      If it’s an accepted part of the game, nobody within the game should be upset by it. Joe Maddon’s already come out in support of Jeter, and I expect that the rest of his troops will fall solidly (if quietly) into line.

  6. Ya know, I’ve noticed-for quite some time now-especially having listened to folks talk about this on talk shows that it seems that more and more of the leisuerly (sp?)”fans” just don’t get it about many,many of the nuances (those’re what makes it the Greatest in the 1st place) of the game.

    I know there’s some left to be desired about listening to sports talk radio (or tv for that matter),
    but it’s kinda neat to hear what thoughts are in other fans heads.
    Sure,there are a LOT of folks that Love baseball,just starting to wonder exactly how much of it is TRULY understood now-a-days….

    …maybe it’s just me in my lil’ corner of the world…

    1. I think even most knowledgeable fans would be shocked by how little they know. Hell, I was a professional sportswriter when I started researching the book, and only four years later could I see how relatively little information I started out with. Once one really gets inside the game, it can be a complex and wonderful place.

  7. Don’t get me wrong ,though…it was good stuff,even if from the Yanks (not really an NYY fan).
    I’m learning to look at the bigger picture of baseball,though & THIS was Outstanding !

  8. Why Buster Olney is one of the best: From today’s column:

    “Late on Thursday, Reds right fielder Jay Bruce recalled over the phone a similar play from early in his career. A pitch came inside and immediately, the home plate umpire — who shall go unnamed here — told Bruce to take his base. Bruce, a little confused and perhaps wanting to swing the bat, instinctively mentioned that he hadn’t been hit, and the umpire stared at Bruce and sternly said, ‘Jay, I said to go to first base.’

    “In other words, the call stands.

    “So Bruce went to first. And every time the same umpire sees Bruce, he reminds the outfielder of the play. In other words, the umpire’s call stands.”

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