Is Jeter a Cheater?

Good morning.

If you’ve got a really good memory, you may recall that around this time last year, I turned my wrath on Thierry Henry, the French soccer player who used his hand to score a goal, a goal which eliminated Ireland from the World Cup. I don’t want you to think that I am at all petty or vindictive or mean-spirited, so I won’t even mention how things worked out for Team France this past summer in South Africa. Really, I’m not that kind of guy…

Today, it is in that same spirit of love and equanimity that I want to talk about Derek Jeter, the all-time hit leader for the New York Yankees. And let me begin by saying, I come not to praise Jeter nor to bury him, but I do want to observe, and perhaps learn a thing or two from his example

A little context: During a game last week, Jeter was wrongly awarded first base because the home plate umpire believed that he had been hit by a pitch.  As you’ll see in a minute, the ball did not hit the Yankee Captain, but Jeter was able to deceive the umpire because of some very fine acting. Let’s take a look:

A few reflections:

First, you can second-guess Jeter’s instant decision to fake being hit, and I will do just that in a moment, but you have to admire his acting. When I first saw this clip, he sold it to me, too, so I don’t blame the umpire for missing the call.

Second, let me confess that, were I in the same situation as Mr. Jeter, I almost certainly would have done the same thing. The pressure to succeed in sports, especially at the professional level, makes it almost impossible to imagine someone’s saying, “ Excuse me, Mr. Umpire, but I’m actually quite fine. Please don’t award me first base.”

Third, after the game, to his credit, Jeter did fess up. You can almost see a sheepish grin on his face, by the way, as he jogs slowly to first base.

But let me push back for a moment against my own conventional thinking:

In a better world, when an umpire or any official blows a call, wouldn’t it be nobler for a player to wave it off?  Of course, in Jeter’s case, there would be some short term pain because such honesty might have cost the Yankees a game. But imagine, in the long run, if Jeter had been forthright? Just think about how people might have responded to such an extraordinary gesture of fair play.  A simple, honest decision like that would have done more for Jeter’s legacy than anything this side of his shovel pass to Posada. It might have catapulted Jeter into – dare I say it–  Gretzky-esque status. (Well, at least in the Bronx!)

I don’t know Derek Jeter personally, but based on his shaving cream commercials, which is how I usually evaluate people, I’m convinced that he is a good guy. And in general, good guys don’t lie, cheat, or steal. What happens, though, is that even good guys get caught up. They get caught up in the moment.

Sometimes it’s the pressure of a competitive environment. Think of what it’s like to perform at Yankee Stadium in front of 50,000 screaming fans. As Kipling might put it, it’s tough to keep your wits when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.

Most of us, though, get caught up in places other than the batter’s box. So my question for you this morning is this: Where is that place for you? Where do you get “caught up”?

For a few it may be on a sports field, but for the vast majority of us it’s in the middle of an exam or test or project — when you think nobody’s looking, and you believe you can’t possibly get caught. For others it may be a social situation. You’re not feeling all that comfortable anyway, and everyone else is there, so why not just go with the flow? And why would anyone want to stick out like Sweet Polly Purebred on a Saturday night?

Even the best of us end up with regrets when we realize, usually in the clear and unforgiving light of day, that we were simply and utterly caught up in a moment. My hunch is that when # 2 in pinstripes retires, he will bristle if he is ever referred to as “Jeter the Cheater.” While that’s not who he is, those kind of impulsive decision can reverberate for years to come.

(If you are a Jay’s fan, you may remember their Hall of Fame second baseman, Roberto Alomar, who is now best remembered, not for his sensational defense or for his impressive slugging percentage, so much as for his spitting in the face of a umpire, John Hirschbeck.)

That’s why we all need to give ourselves a pause button, something to help us stop in order to think through those instant and tempting  “go with the flow” decisions, decisions that may end up defining us in ways we’d never intended.


2 thoughts on “Is Jeter a Cheater?

  1. I’m a big-time Yankee fan and (QED) a Jeter fan. But I’m very much disappointed in what he did. There are all kinds of ways of justifying his actions, but I can’t get away from the fact that it was a plum lie. Yes, it happened in an instant. Yes, it wasn’t breaking a rule. And, yes, he owned up to it immediately afterwards (which most ballplayers wouldn’t do). But he diminished himself and lost some trust not only from the umpire he conned, but from me (and my 9 year old Jeter-loving son), as well.

    That said, I appreciate your second “reflection” (an incredibly apt word). I, too, have done things in the moment that I later — even seconds later — have regretted. So while my disappointment in Jeter doesn’t want to go away, I’ve made my mistakes outside the view of 50,000 people and a television audience…

  2. “Stop and think before you act”. I can hear my mom saying it to me now. I know I can still use that pause button as can our students. Great “shovel pass to Posada” reference too. Still think that is one of the greatest plays of “my time”.- Joe

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