Let me clear something up right away. ‘Deking’ umpires is part a professional Baseball players job. Every player sells the close call, in an attempt to sway the umpire and benefit their team. This year we’ve seen Jorge Posada tag a runner at home plate with the glove when the ball was still in his other hand. We’ve seen a perfect game made imperfect by a missed call on the last play of the game. We’ve seen countless blown calls affect games this year and every year. But most of those are on the umpire, this one is on Derek.
Derek doing something like this in his prime would be hailed as a shrewd, veteran move and I would probably agree with that assessment. But seeing him resort to this as an aging player in decline and it just plays differently to me for some reason. It strikes me as a bit desperate, like he has to cheat in order to get on base these days. It’s also a bit pathetic, watching a once great and still proud player go outside the rules in order to still be able to do his job. Another thing that bothers me is part of the reason why the umpire took the bait is the enormous credibility Jeter carries with him as a player. If you were Home Plate Umpire Lance Barksdale and read Jeter’s post game comments, your opinion of Derek would have to drop down a peg, and it’s something you would remember this the next time Derek stepped in the batters box and a pitch came up and in on him.
Again, I don’t want to make too much of this and my point isn’t so much about the play itself. It’s more about how perceptions change at this point of a career for a player of Jeter’s status and place in Yankee lore. When A-Rod had his glove slap and “HA!” incidents, he was lambasted instantly because of the pre-existing perceptions of him as a person and his place in the game. But Derek was supposed to be different. He was the “True Yankee” who always performed and played the game ‘the right way’, though I’m not quite sure what (if anything) either of those things mean. Derek never sought attention, won big in the late 90’s was elevated to iconic status as a result. Last night was a situation where Jeter was lying his way to first base, and for me its just a reminder that he’s no longer the player he once was.