Are we a nation of cheaters or just competitive to the end?
That question has been on the minds of every sports fan and Little League coach this fall after New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter won an Oscar for his acting performance in a game against Tampa Bay.
Jeter grabbed his elbow and grimaced in feigned pain after a pitch hit the knob of his bat during the seventh inning of the game. Jeter managed to sell his cause to the umpire and was told to take his base after the Yankees’ trainer checked the arm carefully.
Meanwhile, slow-motion video on the replay clearly showed it was the bat and not Jeter’s arm that was hit. The umpires held a conference and Tampa Bay’s manager hollered at the umps long enough to get ejected.
Later, Jeter admitted the pitch hadn’t hit him and the opposing manager said he couldn’t blame Jeter for trying the stunt. He even tipped his cap to him for selling it.
In the end, the blown call didn’t matter but it set off a firestorm of debate about whether or not instant replay should be used in such instances and, more importantly, exactly what constitutes cheating.
Every young basketball player knows that a good acting job and fall-down skills can come in handy when another player drives the lane against you. Selling it to the refs is an art with some.
Football receivers work hard to sell the refs on counting a trapped reception. Punters and kickers are trained to fall down if a rusher even gets close because a roughing the kicker penalty can turn a game around.
Catchers are among the biggest salesmen in baseball what with placement of the glove to sell a strike, pointing out footprints and ball marks on a dusty plate and faking passed balls or throws to second to get a runner committed to a run-down.
What about professional TV wrestlers? We all know they’re faking it 90 percent of the time, right?
On a personal level, I don’t see a whole lot wrong with what Jeter did in selling the play because it was up to the umpire to make the right call. As Jeter said later, “My job is to get on base. He said it hit me, so I’m not going to argue with him.”
The former Little League coach in me, however, has me a little torn. How would I have felt if it were one of my players who pulled the stunt or an opposing player? I’d most likely tell my kid to knock off the acting and play baseball. I won’t say I wouldn’t protest a little if the ruse was perpetrated against me. I don’t think it would be long or loud enough to get myself tossed. I would probably chuckle about it later.
Cheating within the context of the game seems innocent when placed against the backdrop of steroids, off-field violence, recruiting violations and other serious problems. I hope we don’t have to take the jesters like Jeter off the stage just to solve those problems.