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.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 21: Starter Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians pitches during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field on September 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Indians, leading by one game over the Tigers, can clinch the AL Central on Monday night and they’ll have their best starter going for them in Corey Kluber. Kluber will match up against the Tigers’ Buck Farmer in a 7:10 PM EST start at Comerica Park.

Kluber won the American League Cy Young Award in 2014, going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA, but regressed last season, finishing with a league-worst total of 16 losses and a 3.49 ERA. Thankfully for the Indians, he bounced back in 2016. He’ll enter tonight’s start with an 18-9 record, a 3.11 ERA, and a 224/56 K/BB ratio in 211 innings. Among qualified starters in the AL, Kluber is fourth-best in ERA behind Michael Fulmer, Masahiro Tanaka, and Rick Porcello.

Kluber’s best case for the Cy Young is a Sabermetric one. Though his record is good, Porcello shares his 3.11 ERA but with a 22-4 record. Kluber, however, has the best Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in the league at 3.11. FIP, for the uninitiated, is a “retrodictor.” In other words, it attempts to figure out what a pitcher’s ERA should have been if defense weren’t a factor. Kluber shines with a 26.6 percent strikeout rate that ranks as the fourth best in the league and a 6.7 percent walk rate that is the 17th-lowest. xFIP is like FIP but it assumes a home run rate close to the league average (about 10 percent as a percentage of fly balls). Kluber falls back to fifth in the league at 3.46 here, but the only players above him have much worse real results. So, even xFIP bolsters Kluber’s case for the Cy Young Award.

If Kluber is able to help the Indians beat the Tigers on Monday night, the club will have won a division title for the first time since 2007. That was when the club was led by CC Sabathia, then all of 26 years old. It’s been a long time coming for the Indians.

The rest of Monday’s action…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley) @ Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl), 7:05 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Luis Severino) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

New York Mets (Bartolo Colon) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Matt Garza) @ Texas Rangers (Martin Perez), 8:05 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Drew Smyly) @ Chicago White Sox (James Shields), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Jaime Garcia), 8:15 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Sean Manaea) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Officials: Speed, impact likely killed Jose Fernandez

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Some details have been released in connection with the investigation into the boat crash which killed Jose Fernandez.

Lorenzo Veloz, an official with the Florida Wildlife Commission, told USA Today that the boat carrying Jose Fernandez and two others was traveling at a high rate of speed when it struck rocks as it approached a channel near the port of Miami. While autopsy results have not yet been released, it is likely that trauma from the crash, and not drowning, is what killed the boat’s passengers. Veloz said it did not appear that Fernandez was driving and that, while it was a boat he used often, it did not belong to him. Rather, it belonged to one of the other men killed in the crash.

Veloz said neither drugs nor alcohol are believed to have been a factor in the crash. Toxicology results will take some time, however.

It is estimated that the boat was traveling at full speed, between 55 and 65 miles per hour, when it hit rocks and capsized.