I was surprised to learn today that Derek Jeter, in fact, sold his soul last night. He threw sportsmanship out the window, sullied his good name and became a disgraced member of the Yankees organization when he accepted a bad call, took a base he didn’t deserve and scored a dishonest run.
I was surprised to learn these things, because Jeter was playing a baseball game at the time of his transgression.
In baseball, catchers snag outside pitches, scoot the glove toward the plate and sell ball four as strike three. It’s considered a skill. Hitters take borderline pitches and immediately sprint out of the box as if there should be no question that the pitch was out of the zone. Outfielders make diving attempts on shallow fly balls and immediately hold up the ball. How could that ball have hit the ground if it’s currently wrapped tightly in a glove?
“I’m not going to tell them I’m not going to go to first,” Jeter said. “I’ve been hit before and they said I wasn’t hit. My job is to get on base.”
Baseball is an imperfect game. Umpires make the calls, and players do whatever they can to make those calls go their way. Was Jeter over the top last night? Maybe, but consider the situation:
He squared to bunt. A first-pitch fastball came in so close to his hands that it hit the very bat Jeter was holding. Spinning out of the way and reaching for his left arm wasn’t so much acting as it was reacting. Joe Girardi and Gene Monahan came running out of the Yankees dugout, not as the second act of a well-planned performance, but to make sure their shortstop wasn’t hurt. By the time player, manager and trainer converged, the call was made and it was time for the hard sell.
The alternative is far more laughable than Jeter’s theatrics. Is there any player in baseball who should be expected to correct an umpire who’s on the verge of giving him the benefit of a bad call? Should Girardi, as the manager of a team trailing by one run, have requested a different ruling? Should Monahan have explained that, in his medical opinion, Jeter’s at-bat should continue?
Even Rays manager Joe Maddon admitted he had no problem with the Yankees handling of the situation. Maddon’s problem was with the umpires who should have realized the ball hit the bat, not Jeter’s hand or arm or wrist or whatever body part he was vaguely grabbing. The umps might have realized the truth if not for Jeter’s reaction.
In that moment, Jeter, Girardi and Monahan were all catchers framing pitches. They were hitters taking ball four and fielders making shoestring catches. The play was over. All that remained was the convincing. It’s not about morality or ethics. It’s not even about sportsmanship. It’s about gamesmanship. If the Yankees and Rays were playing in a sandlot with no umpires, calling their own balls and strikes, then maybe there would have been a sportsmanship issue at play, but Jeter was playing in a Major League Baseball game last night. He was at work and he did his job.
I have no way of knowing, of course, but I suspect his soul is both intact and all his own.