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Jeter: Cheater? Pumpkin Eater?

The rest of the world is a-twitter with shock that Saint Derek Jeter successfully sold a phantom hit-by-pitch in which replays showed the ball clearly hit his bat, not his wrist. You'd think he was baby harp seal-clubbing Alex Rodriguez or something given some of the breathless responses. Clearly, this was a desperate act, the last refuge of a scoundrel, where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Won't somebody think of the children?

Derek Jeter acting up after the errant Chad Qualls pitch (AP).

Please. Such gamesmanship is as old as the game of baseball itself, and while I don't have the time or space to detail the rough and rowdy ways of the 19th century Orioles of John McGraw — to say nothing of the original National Association — it will suffice it to say that far, far worse has been done on the diamond than pretending that a ball hit one's body rather than one's bat.

And for what it's worth, neither skipper in Wednesday night's game had a problem with Jeter's actions. "Sometimes you get hit and you don't get first," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, before continuing, "Sometimes you don't get hit and you get first." Rays manager Joe Madden, who got tossed for arguing the play, simply admired it: "If our guys did it, I would have applauded that, too. It’s a great performance on his part."

All of which for some reason reminds me of my favorite story involving the late Bobby Murcer, former Yankees outfielder and YES broadcaster. During one telecast, Murcer recalled a game in the early Seventies in which teammate Ron Woods went over the wall in an attempt to prevent a home run, and in doing so momentarily knocked himself unconscious. Murcer climbed the wall and retrieved the ball, ceremoniously holding it up as though it had come out of his prostrate teammate’s glove. The umpire called the hitter out. On the air, more than 35 years after the fact, Murcer admitted that the ball had been a couple of feet from his KO’d teammate.

Fellow YES announcer Michael Kay was aghast. "That’s cheating!" he sputtered.

"Naw, that’s not cheating," drawled Murcer. "That’s heads-up baseball!"