Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Impossible Standard

  • He's a baseball player, not a symbol of all that is Holy:

I find the criticism of Derek Jeter for his acting job on Wednesday against the Rays laughable.

In case you missed it, Jeter was squaring to bunt when a Chad Qualls pitch ran inside and appeared to either hit Jeter or the bat. Jeter shook his arm as if he'd gotten hit by the pitch and was awarded first base by umpire Lance Barksdale; Rays manager Joe Maddon argued vehemently and was ejected. Replays showed that the ball hit Jeter's bat.

Then the fun started.

First Jeter was called a "cheater" for his performance. Then the question turned to the propriety of an athlete of Jeter's stature doing such a thing as if it he'd just hurled a baby out a window. People are appalled at having to explain to their children why it was that Derek Jeter cheated; why he didn't stand there with his hand over his heart and say, "I cannot tell a lie, the ball did not hit me."

Are they serious?

First of all, baseball is a sport in which cheating has always had a place and received a wink and a nod if a player was smart enough to get away with it. Going back to the turn of the 20th Century when John McGraw was famous for sticking his fingers in the belts of baserunners to hold them in place through to the game today, there are certain little instances of gamesmanship that are known, accepted and tolerated because it's part of the game.

This categorization of cheating is absurd. This is why when the use of PEDs is so decried as a destroyer of the game, I have to ask why it was okay for Gaylord Perry to forge a career out of Vaseline and the spitball and it wasn't okay for any and all players to take whatever they had to take (with the tacit complicity of baseball itself) to make everyone a load of money and set records.

Barry Bonds, for all the negatives surrounding him, played the game clean until he had one of his best seasons on 1998 and was overshadowed by two far inferior players----Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa----and came to the decision to join them. Bonds isn't one for regret, but one has to wonder whether he thinks about what happened and how the drug use was exposed and realizes that he'd be an absolute hero today had he stayed clean.

But that's neither here nor there. Was Jeter cheating? All he did was go to first base as he was instructed. As Jeter said with bemusement, it's his job to get on base even if it involved a little acting. This pedestal upon which Jeter has been placed is all well and good for the advertising money he brings in for himself, the companies he represents and the Yankees, but it's nowhere near accurate as to what Jeter is.

This goes on all the time in every endeavor and there's nothing wrong with it.

Why should Jeter apologize? Is he supposed to go back through his entire career and, like Samuel Beckett in Quantum Leap, right what was once wronged? Where does it end?

How about the seminal moment in Jeter's career? The Jeffrey Maier home run in the 1996 ALCS----was that cheating? What would've happened had this mythologized version of Jeter been real and he'd stood on first base as the Orioles vehemently argued that Tony Tarasco would've caught the ball and Jeter had said, "y'know, they're right; no homer." What would the Yankees veterans like Joe Girardi, Cecil Fielder, Darryl Strawberry and Mariano Duncan, as well as the manager, Joe Torre done to the rookie had he been "honest"?

The Orioles of 1996 argue to this day that the play cost them the series. Had the call been reversed or if there was instant replay back then, where would Jeter be now? Where would the Yankees be now had the "Derek Jeter" creation been real in comparison to Derek Jeter the man?

Would they have won the three championships in the subsequent four years had they not won in 1996? Would they have had the foundation and self-belief that were major reasons they were able to win those titles? Or could they have been a team similar to other very good teams that came close but lost like the Indians, Mariners and Mets?

People are holding Jeter to a standard that no human being could achieve. He's not a religious figure who will lead the way for millions of followers on how to behave; he's a baseball player and a man----nothing more. Jeter has been careful about those he lets into his life; the stories about him that are highly manipulative----in both the back and front of the newspapers----to advantage everyone from Jeter to his team to the companies he represents to his girlfriend of the moment. He and his partners have made a lot of money with the caution he's bled from on-field performance to off-field behavior.

Pete Rose wasn't as discriminating with his associations, but you can make the comparison of Rose to Jeter in terms of performance and skillful manipulation of outside forces. Did Rose need to slide headfirst into bases when the play wasn't even going to be close? Did he need to sprint to first base on a walk? No. But he admitted that his over-the-top aggression got his name in the papers and made him a lot of money. It's the same thing with Jeter. Could he get away with not running as hard as possible on a grounder to the first baseman when he has literally no chance of being safe? Of course, but it would sully the image and hurt everyone involved with the Yankees captain.

Like a brilliant criminal leader, Jeter has kept the blood off his uniform, but it was Jeter who helped run Chad Curtis out of town when Curtis dared criticize Teflon Derek when Jeter stood joking with then-Mariner Alex Rodriguez while people (including now-manager Girardi) were brawling in the middle of the field. Jorge Posada has always been Jeter's enforcer and was glad to do the captain's dirty work. There's more of an edge to Jeter than people realize because that's how the Yankees and Jeter want it.

The man about town off the field and hard-nosed winner on the field isn't quite as on-the-money as is believed. It's marketing on everyone's part and, like the spitballs thrown by mega-star pitchers and other acts of dishonesty, it okay as long as they didn't get caught. Jeter was known to walk up to Carl Pavano and make such comments as, "Hey Pavy, you ever gonna play?"

Jeter has an edge alright and I'm not talking about a Ford car commercial.

The "Derek Jeter" people love to believe exists doesn't. The real Derek Jeter is a player for whom I've often said I have infinite respect; that parents should tell their children to play as he does; but that doesn't extend to off the field. These portrayals are rarely if ever accurate; they're carefully crafted. No one is comparing this non-story to Mel Gibson's meltdown in which the nice guy persona was demolished----Gibson was known for years not to be the prototypical "nice guy" and down-to-earth celebrity, but it was hidden; then it came out. Tiger Woods was quietly criticized and the rumors of the real Woods were brushed under the green of the golf course. When you believe these images made for public consumption, you're in for a rude awakening because no person could live up to them.

I'm not saying Jeter is a horrible person away from the field. I'm saying that the idea that he shoud've been above reproach and confessed that he wasn't hit by the ball on Wednesday was indicative of a flicker of truth that no one wants to hear or see----he's not a Biblical figure in baseball or otherwise. He's a man doing a job and making a lot of money; much of that money comes from his image. And that image is not as accurate as some----including Derek Jeter and the Yankees----want you to believe.

  • And as for the calls for expanded instant replay in instances such as this?

Just stop it, huh? Please.

  • Viewer Mail 9.18.2010:

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE the Mets spoof posted yesterday and Tom Seaver:

I caught that vid yesterday; hilarious. Tom Seaver on the WFAN yesterday morning sounded bitter as ever towards M. Donald Grant.

Jeff, Son of Pon, thinks he's a Baseball man. Good Grief.

I've been wanting to mention Seaver. Matt Cerrone spoke of him on MetsBlog the other day. Seaver was never the most likable person in the world and is getting worse. He was always arrogant, but now he's arrogant and beginning to enter the Bob Feller-zone of old man short-tempered and arrogant. It's as if you don't bow down and agree with everything Seaver says, he dismisses or belittles.

Like Jeter, the Seaver-crafted persona was based on things that aren't quite as accurate as he'd like you to believe. The Marine Corps mantra he often repeats makes it sound as if he was a platoon leader in Vietnam crawling through the muck, leading, surviving and doing his duty like another fictional war hero, Rambo; Tom Seaver was a Marine Corps Reservist. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not as if he saw any combat.

The Grant stuff? The man's dead. Let it go. And Seaver talks out of both sides of his mouth (or elsewhere) with his baseball discussions; it's not as if the Mets were any good when he left in 1977; why would he even have wanted to stay? He went to a top team with the Reds (who didn't win anything with him there); then came back to the Mets and wound up in the American League for the end of his career. He's also said that he was happy to go see the other league after the Frank Cashen gaffe in 1983 leaving Seaver exposed to being drafted by other organizations; he got to play for Tony La Russa with the White Sox and then get another pennant chase with the Red Sox in 1986; does he alter that story now too?

Frankly, if he's not part of the solution, he's part of the problem; because he was an all-time great as a pitcher doesn't give him the right to be a pompous jerk.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE being a big league GM:

Nice interview with Max. And that vid is hilarious.

As far as wanting to be a GM goes, I guess there's a reason why there are only 30 jobs like that in existence. Seems pretty infinitesimal that I'll ever have to worry about any of that myself.

Those guys deserve to get paid... unless the name is DePodesta.

Don't sell yourself short! Who would've thought that people could walk in from other industries armed with little other than experience playing rotisserie baseball and an Ivy League degree and be running clubs themselves?

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE being a GM:

I can't imagine the pressures of being a GM. Much easier being a fan and second guessing them all!

Truth be told, much of the stuff you hear and read on talk radio, online and in the papers can be disregarded as coming from cranks who know absolutely nothing---hosts and callers both; but it's when people like me come at them that they presumably don't want to have to deal with it. No one likes to be criticized especially when it's pointed and true.

Max Stevens at The Lonely One writes RE the GM job:

Prince, I know GMing may be a horribly stressful way of life, but I think you need to take one for the team and send your resume in to the Wilpons. I know it'd be a big sacrifice, but we haven't won a ring in almost 25 years. Think of it! You could have a new blog: It's my Championship Ring. Just sayin'...

Can you imagine the reaction? I'm worshipped and despised----nothing in between; and I wouldn't have the audacity to walk in out of the blue and expect to be able to do that job. I'd absolutely be an assistant if that position were available. The one thing I repeat in regards to myself-----at least you know what you're getting. I am not the loose cannon that many think.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Thursday talking about the pennant races among other things. Go to Sal's site to download it on I-Tunes or click it directly here.

Also, Sal managed to snag an interview with Len Berman about his new book. And check out SportsFan Buzz on Facebook.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


She-Fan said...

Jeter used the same adjective you did: laughable. I still can't figure out why people got so worked up about that incident, except that they expected Jeter to be as pure as the driven snow (or whatever that expression is). He's a ballplayer for God's sake.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

I went to sleep without Jeter even being a blip on the radar. From the time I woke up the next morning to the time I went to sleep, Jeter was all the talk. It's not an issue people! I can't even offer an opinion. I can't believe the things we concern ourselves with most of the time. EVEN if that would have been ARod, it's still a non issue and I don't need reasons to get on AROD; I like to do that. (Hey Michael Kay...can you hear me now?) ~ I want anyone who spent substantial time discussing the Jeter HBP publicly flogged in Times Square for all to watch, point and laugh at.

NapLajoieonSteroids said...

Because of his image, the sports media took advantage of a slow news day and generated a story where there was none.

Taking idols down a peg is an American tradition; and it might not be a Tiger Woods (or OJ Simpson) scandal but because Jeter showed a little image dissonance, the media was all too glad to get the torches.

Besides, it gave the (visual) media an excuse to call for more video replay, and that is like their national past time- as stupid as that is; they must envision somehow making money off their assiduous replay campaign.

Anonymous said...

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