The other night against Tampa Bay, Derek Jeter(notes) was awarded first base after a pitch that seemed to hit him. It has dominated a lot of sports headlines the past few days because, after being shown in instant replay and slow motion, the pitch hit the bat, and not Derek's elbow, which should have made it a live ball or foul ball.
Since he was given first base even though the pitch didn't hit him, a lot of people have debated whether this was cheating, human error or even just part of the game. In my opinion, the only way to actually cheat in a baseball game is by stealing signs relayed to a hitter or runner. I just think this play happened to be a great job of acting on Derek's part, which he admitted to, and human error by the umpire.
Plays like this happen all the time in baseball and in other sports, but there really isn't much talk about it. In fact, I'm surprised it was discussed as much as it has been. In basketball and hockey, you sometimes see players falling down to try to draw a foul call. In football, receivers try to sell a catch that may have hit the ground first and defensive players try to sell a turnover even if the ball came out after the whistle.
After the game, Derek said the ball didn't hit him. And even if he had said it right after the play, chances are the umpire is not going to change the call. A lot of people ask why I don't argue balls and strikes, and it is for that reason. The ump already made the call. My argument won't help me in that at-bat anymore.
To use another example: If I'm the runner stealing a base and the shortstop fields the ball, reaches to tag me, misses me but it looks like he tagged me, I'll be called out. I could tell the ump he didn't tag me and even the shortstop could say he didn't tag me, but I'd still be ruled out. That's just the way it is.
There is a sportsmanship TV commercial where kids are playing in a basketball game and the ref rules the play a turnover after the ball goes out of bounds, even though it appeared to touch the opposing team's player. The player who it really touched tells his coach that he touched it and it should be the other team's ball. After the timeout, the coach tells him not to foul and praises him for his honesty. But even in that commercial, the play wasn't overturned by the ref.
When I played basketball, there were times when I would try to draw a charge. As soon as a player came near me, I would yell and fall to the ground, even with the slightest contact. I see nothing wrong with it. Sometimes I was called for a foul, but a few times the offensive player was. As an outfielder, I've tried to sell a diving catch before. It's never worked for me, but at the very least, I may have kept a runner from scoring. Even Rays manager Joe Maddon said he would hope his players would do the same thing that Derek did.
At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to the officials. Every sport is moving so fast and the officials have many things to watch, it's hard to see everything at full speed. It's easy from a viewer's point of view with instant replay and slow motion to wonder how the official made a mistake, but of course the game is never moving that slow. If, as a player, you can act or sell the play to your advantage, then I say more power to you.
If you can do it and it works, why not? At the professional level, we play this game to win. This play was nowhere near cheating.
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Curtis Granderson plays for the New York Yankees and his blog will appear regularly on Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew during the 2010 season. Make sure to check out and support his Grand Kids Foundation.
Read his previous posts here.