Thursday, September 16, 2010
Indict Baseball rather than Jeter
I was waiting for a relatively sensitive take on this thing, for me to piggyback on. So I'm grateful to Alex Remington:
All the way back in April, I wrote about an incident in which A.J. Pierzynski faked being hit by a pitch and went to first base. Rob Neyer called him out for lying his way to first base — cheating — and suggested that baseball ought to have a punishment mechanism to punish players who succeed by lying. It’s worth thinking about, as I wrote: “It’s bush league, it’s unsportsmanlike, it delays the game, and it creates a major moral hazard problem, because it incentivizes every other player to lie.”
So guess who else was incentivized to lie? Derek Jeter. Last night, in the middle of the worst season of his career, Jeter turned away from an inside pitch which glanced off his bat and then brushed his uniform, then hopped away in pain, got checked out by the Yankee trainer, and then went to first base. In the clubhouse afterwards, Jeter admitted the ball hit his bat and he was “acting” for the benefit of the umpire, saying: “I’m not going to tell him, ‘I’m not going to go to first,’ you know? My job is to get on base.” Because he’s Derek Jeter, he has been mostly applauded for his bravado. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, whose team was victimized on the play, said, “I wish our guys would do the same thing.” ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian said it was brilliant, that whether you called it lying or cheating, Derek Jeter was simply doing his job to get to first base by any means necessary.
But wait a minute. By any means necessary? ...
Apparently there aren't any rules in the book about lying to an umpire, or faking an injury. So one might argue that Jeter didn't actually cheat. But yes, he certainly lied. And I will argue, again, that there should be a rule allowing for the punishment of such things.
Why? Because Jeter's behavior strikes at the very heart of fair play. It wasn't fair that Jeter was awarded first base. It wasn't fair to pitcher Chad Qualls, or to Qualls' teammates or his manager or to the thousands of Rays fans watching and listening to the evening's dramatic events.
It doesn't mean that Jeter did something wrong. By the standards of professional baseball as it's played, he was behaving exactly as his teammates and manager and fans want him to behave.
Predictably, my friends in the blogosphere first assumed that newspaper writers and ex-newspaper writers would jump on Jeter, then jumped on the newspaper writers (and ex-newspaper) writers for doing just that. Instead of looking at what Jeter's actions mean for Baseball, we use this incident as an occasion to revisit old rivalries.
Hey, old rivalries are endlessly entertaining. But Jeter's play-acting gives us another, more important chance to revisit Baseball's failure to punish players for doing things that in almost any other quarter would be considered disreputable.