The blogosphere and radio-waves are abuzz this morning with Derek Jeter's the-ends-justify-the-means "my job is to get on base" explanation for his Oscar-winning acting job last night – pretending he was hit by a pitch when he clearly was not. The result? He indeed did get on base and scored the game tying run when Curtis Granderson followed with a 2-run go-ahead home run. The Yanks went on to lose the game – sigh. But discussion today is largely focused on Jeter's acting job.
It is rather naive to be up in arms about this. As Mike Golic on ESPN radio has been ranting all morning, it is no different from an outfielder trapping a ball and then holding up his mitt to sell "the catch" and see if he gets the call. But I'd also be lying if I said that I thought it was a great play by Jeter. It's something you would sheepishly accept, not proudly include in your highlight reel.
It does raise the issue of hypocrisy. Someone here please explain to me what the difference is between A-Rod slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's mitt in the 2004 ALCS and Derek Jeter pretending he was hit last night. I mean, other than how much people tend to like and admire the players in question. If you have no problem with Jeter's actions, why would you have a problem with A-Rod's? And if you have a problem with both, do you also have a problem with Golic's example of the trapped ball?
The fact is that these actions – like Reggie Jackson sticking his hip out to block the throw back to first base and avoid the double play in Game 6 of the '78 World Series - are examples of players trying to get away with something and placing the onus firmly on the umpires to call their bluffs. This is not golf, where the culture of the sport and the reality of having it play out over time and geography mean that officials can not be on top of every little action and players are expected to respect an honor code when it comes to abiding by even the most arcane rules. But neither is it soccer, where rolling around in agony after every slight bump to entice a call is an accepted – even expected – act. Baseball is somewhere in between, and therein lies the rub.
Fans often act like there is a clear honor code, and players sometimes reinforce this by, for instance, asserting with absolute certainty that an opposing player "walking on my mound" and other such transgressions violate some iron-clad and well-established honor code. The fact is that there is no clear honor code except where a player's actions risk serious injury to another (going in spikes-high, throwing brush-back pitches above the shoulders, etc.) and judgments about the legitimacy of a player's actions are often made based on the likeability of the player being judged and the fandom of those doing the judging. If A-Rod had done what Jeter did last night some people's positions on it would likely flip 180 degrees simply based on the player in question.
The fact is, when a player does these things and gets away with them, I first blame the umps, but I also think a little less of the player. I guess I like living in the fantasy-world of baseball as a sport with a clear honor code and not as the ends-justify-the-means business that it really is. At least I can admit it.