Will the phantom HBP change the way people think about Derek Jeter?

86 Comments

I’ve been chewing on the phantom Jeter hit-by-pitch since last night. Logically speaking it was a small, silly play that made me chuckle. But it got me thinking about bigger, less logical issues about Jeter, his place in the cosmos, the media and that kind of stuff.

In
years past, this would almost certainly be called “a heads up play” by Jeter. He would
be seen as being gritty or resourceful or whatever. Doing whatever it took to win.
I have yet to read the New York papers this morning, but if I had to guess I’d say that will still likely be the story today. 

But I can’t help but think that there’s someone in
the New York media landscape — be it a columnist or a talk radio host or whoever — who is thinking hard
about calling this one differently. Someone who’s thinking of casting the move as desperation rather than resourcefulness, and who will use it as a hook for a larger story
about Derek Jeter being “lost at sea” and, for the first time, casting
him as a pitiful figure
in their next column or their 8:45 segment or whatever.

To be clear, I wouldn’t buy into such a notion, because it would be reading way too much into a silly play. More bluntly, it would be a big a pile of
baloney, as is any characterization of a ballplayer based on a freakish, flukish kind of play. Stuff happens on a baseball diamond. But it got me thinking that such characterizations happen all the time, especially in the hyper-competitive media atmosphere in New York, and especially with big figures like Derek Jeter.

Because let’s not kid ourselves: while a “desperate Jeter” storyline would be baloney, so too have been the 15 years of “Jeter-is-God” storylines we’ve been steadily fed by the media.  Yes, there have been plenty of reasons to praise Jeter, but we’ve long since passed the time when the narrative — Captain Jeter: The Man Who Plays The Game The Right Way — took on a life of its own.

But such a narrative, being a mere construction of the media, is not something that has to last forever. At some point, almost every public figure falls out of favor to some degree. Or, if the figure was viewed negatively in the past, a redemption story comes along that the media finds irresistible. It doesn’t take a scandal or a singular act of heroism or what have you for the winds to shift. Sometimes they shift simply because a couple of influential voices decide that they’re bored with the old narrative and come up with a new one. Indeed, oftentimes the narrative shift is accompanied by later pieces examining why, exactly, the narrative shifted, because it wasn’t at all clear in the first place.

But more often there’s a catalyst. Alex Rodriguez — a subject of a media-approved narrative of his own* — wasn’t talked about the way he is now until he signed that $250 million deal which has come to color everything he says or does. Roger Clemens now has a much longer and sustained track record of being rather un-hinged, but throwing the bat at Mike Piazza changed the way he was talked about overnight, long before we knew much of anything about his personal life. Once the story changes, everything about the figure in question is seen through a particular prism and the narrative takes on a life of its own.

The Captain Jeter: The Man Who Plays The Game The Right Way narrative has lasted a long, long time. Way longer than most of these things do.  As I sit here this morning, ready to leap into the tabloids and blogs and maybe — just maybe — tune into some talk radio, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t someone out there who wants to get ahead of the pack. Who wants to be the first to cast the hit-by-pitch play as a symbol for Jeter’s struggles in 2010 and, more broadly, the Yankees’ struggles down the stretch.

I hope not, because like I said, in my mind this was a funny little play. And because I don’t believe that any given act on a baseball diamond provides a window into a man’s psyche or soul or whatever. 

But I think I may be in the minority in believing such things. And I can’t help but think that the opportunity to say something provocative about Derek Jeter is too tempting for someone to pass up.

UPDATE: The first step in this direction was taken by a blogger — Steve S. at TYU — not columnists or talk radio.

*You know the narrative: “Alex Rodriguez: Self-Centered Prima Donna” It seems that no matter what he does, his actions are cast in such a light whenever he does something newsworthy. If you question this, let us ponder what the story would be this morning if it were A-Rod, and not Jeter, who faked getting hit by that pitch last night. If you need help, just go back to the “I got it” controversy, which in many ways is the same kind of thing Jeter did with the hit-by-pitch.

Video: Gerrit Cole cranks out a three-run home run

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 20:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies on May 20, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pirates starter Gerrit Cole helped his own cause during Thursday afternoon’s 8-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. The right-hander erased a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the second inning, cranking out a three-run home run to left-center field off of lefty Patrick Corbin.

It’s Cole’s second career home run. The other one came on September 7, 2014 off of Cubs pitcher Blake Parker.

Since Cole came into the league in 2013, he is one of only 22 pitchers (min. 100 plate appearances) with above-average production at the plate, going by FanGraphs’ wRC+ stat.

As for the pitching, Cole went five innings in a no-decision against the D-Backs, yielding an unearned run on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts. On the year, he’s 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA and a 44/16 K/BB ratio in 53 1/3 innings.

Rougned Odor’s suspension reduced to seven games

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 23: Rougned Odor #12 of the Texas Rangers fields a ground ball hit by C.J. Cron #24 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  in the fifth inning at Global Life Park on May 23, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
1 Comment

Major League Baseball has reduced Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor‘s eight-game suspension by one game to seven, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports. Odor will begin serving the suspension on Friday, and the Rangers are expected to call up infielder Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock to replace Odor, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan.

Odor landed a right cross on the face of Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista in a series finale between the two teams on May 15. Bautista, who had been hit in the ribs by a Matt Bush fastball, slid in late and hard to Odor in an attempt to break up a ground ball double play attempt. Odor didn’t take kindly to Bautista’s slide. After Odor swung at Bautista, the benches emptied.

Bautista had his appeal hearing on Thursday morning. A decision on his case, a one-game suspension, isn’t expected to be made for another day or two.

Profar, 23, has hit .284/.356/.426 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 189 plate appearances at Round Rock this season.

Braves’ Hector Olivera suspended 82 games for domestic violence

Atlanta Braves' Hector Olivera heads to first base after hitting a double in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
4 Comments

Major League Baseball just announced that Braves outfielder Hector Olivera has been suspended through August 1, 2016 for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The suspension is retroactive to April 30, making this an 82 game suspension. Olivera has been on paid leave since his arrest and will be required to return salary earned during that time.

Olivera was arrested early on April 13 after assaulting a woman at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia while the Braves were in town for a series against the Washington Nationals. The victim told police that she had been assaulted by Olivera. Police say the victim had bruises and was transported to a hospital. Olivera was at the hotel and taken into police custody.

Olivera had played in five games before the incident and was slated to be the Braves’ regular left fielder this season. There is little if any reason to believe he’ll feature in the Braves future for long after his suspension is served. Atlanta reportedly tried to trade him after his arrest, but there were understandably no takers. Olivera is in the second year of a six-year, $62.5 million contract.

Commissioner Manfred said in a statement today that, in addition to his suspension, “Mr. Olivera has also agreed to make a significant charitable contribution to one or more charitable organizations focused on preventing and treating survivors of domestic violence.”

Report: Chase Utley’s family received death threats from Mets fans after controversial slide

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22:  Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up onthe on deck circle as he prepares to take an at bat against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 22, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Dodgers 7-5. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
7 Comments

Even before Chase Utley broke former Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada‘s leg with a slide during the playoffs last year, the second baseman was persona non grata in New York. Utley, playing for the rival Phillies, made the right field corner his — literally — with his performance at Citi Field. He was booed during his introduction at Yankee Stadium before the 2009 All-Star Game, prompting him to say audibly, “Boo? F— you.”

The slide put New York’s hatred of Utley into overdrive. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports that after Utley broke Tejada’s leg, his family received death threats from angry Mets fans. In order to protect himself and his family, Utley didn’t stay at the team hotel after Game 2 of the NLDS.

His teammate, Clayton Kershaw, wasn’t happy with the way Utley was treated. He said, “Chase was playing the game the way he’s always played. Obviously you never want anybody to get hurt. The game being in the playoffs, and all that stuff, magnified everything. But there’s been a whole lot of slides a lot worse than that over the course of baseball [history] . . . Some of the stuff he had to go through, it wasn’t fair.”

The Mets host the Dodgers for a three-game series beginning on Friday. As McCullough notes, the two clubs didn’t get into any retaliation business when they played each other in Los Angeles earlier this month.