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

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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.

Angels sign Kole Calhoun to three-year, $26 million extension

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kole Calhoun #56 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim runs to first base during a game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun had three more years of arbitration eligibility left, but he and the Angels decided to settle that future business at once on Wednesday, agreeing to a three-year extension worth $26 million, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo. The contract also includes a $14 million club option for the 2020 season.

Calhoun, 29, has been a dependable right fielder for the Angels over the last three seasons, batting an aggregate .266/.327/.436 with 61 home runs and 216 RBI in 1,895 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, Calhoun has been the ninth-most valuable right fielder in baseball since the start of the 2014 season with 11.4 Wins Above Replacement. He ranks slightly behind Giancarlo Stanton (11.9) and just ahead of J.D. Martinez (10.9).

The Angels only have a handful of players signed beyond the 2017 season — just Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, and Calhoun. The club has options on Ricky Nolasco and Huston Street, while many others will be eligible for arbitration.

Bryce Harper lobbies for Matt Wieters and Greg Holland

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Nothing is happening as the baseball world waits four more hours for the Hall of Fame announcement. Question: why do it at 6pm? For MLB Network ratings? Let’s be real, there are “Golden Girls” reruns on third-tier basic cable that are gonna draw a bigger audience. Why not announce it now so people can get on with their lives? Oh well.

As we wait, let’s take a look in at Twitter, where Jim Bowden of ESPN passes along the rumor that the Washington Nationals are still interested in signing Matt Wieters and Greg Holland:

Great to know that the Nats’ baseball operations budget is dictated by its capital expenditures. Maybe they shoulda been smart like the Braves and suckered — er, I mean negotiated the local government to pay more for it? GO BRAVES!

Anyway, Bryce Harper had a response to that:

I take that to mean that he’d take the money used to construct the team store and give to Wieters and Holland. I haven’t seen the budget breakdown for the new spring training facility, but that would probably mean a major pay cut for Wieters and Holland. And where would we buy our “Make Baseball Great Again” caps? Think ahead, Bryce. Play the long game here.