September 20, 2010

And The Oscar Goes To …

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Last Wednesday night, I was thoroughly impressed by a baseball’s player’s commitment to his game. Perhaps I was biased since I was rooting for his team, but I would’ve been impressed even if he was on the opposing team. His craftiness had just changed the game.

In a close game against the Rays, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was hit by a pitch by Chad Qualls and was rewarded first base. Yet that’s only what the umpire called. Later, replays in slow motion showed that the ball actually only hit the knob of Jeter’s bat. In fact, even when it happened, a loud metallic ping was clearly heard, even for viewers at home watching on T.V. Jeter reacted immediately as though he had gotten hit, and his amazing acting earned him a trip to first base. Otherwise, the ball hitting the bat would have been an easy grounder back to the pitcher for an out. The play impacted the game immediately as the next batter, Curtis Granderson, hit a homerun and gave the Yankees the lead.

Although the Yankees did end up losing the game to the Rays, and Jeter later admitted that he did not get hit by the pitch, this incident became a hot topic for sportswriters. Writers ranged from poking sarcastically at Jeter to openly calling it cheating. Others defended his act as they cited other instances in baseball when players act in front of the umpires. Think about all the instances when a catcher tries to frame a pitch for strike three, or when a hitter throws his bat towards the dugout like he just took ball four. There are countless instances when players act to gain an advantage. Even Rays manager Joe Maddon praised Jeter for his sneaky way of getting on base.

These instances are not just in baseball, either. Basketball players are sometimes instructed to dramatically exaggerate when trying to draw a charge or offensive foul. Football wide receivers try to make incomplete passes look like completions. Even in the global setting of the World Cup, soccer players pretended to get hit harder than they actually were and sell it to the referees. Have sports just become a stage for acting more than they have for playing the game fairly?

I hope not, and I doubt they will anytime soon.

Scouts are still judging and drafting players from their skill sets and talents, not their ability to act to get on base. These instances do occur in sports everywhere, but do not make up the majority of the game. Sure, one small instance might change the outcome of a game, but over an entire season and then even an entire career, these instances will not make a big difference.

Not only that, but the attention should not have fallen on Jeter alone. After all, it was the umpire who got the call wrong and gave Jeter the base. Even though it is easy to believe Jeter because of his reputation, the umpire should have been able to hear the metallic sound and rule that the ball hit the bat. To question the umpire, though, means that the flaw comes within the game and that is completely fine. All games are made with rules and aren’t all rules made to be bent slightly for your favor?

Acting and exaggerating in sports is just an inevitable part of the game. The two can no longer be separated. When athletes enter a game, their mindset is to win. This competitiveness does not turn off, and any opportunity to gain an advantage over the opponent will be taken. Of course, I’m not advocating for the use of steroids now since there’s always a line. Within the rules of the game, professional athletes are forced to seek even a small advantage because that could be the small edge that could translate into a victory. In this particular case, the advantage came from the human error inherent in most sports. The referees and umpires can decide the outcome of the game just from one bad call. To influence these calls, athletes have now started to compete in a different area altogether. After all these years, who knew that Jeter was so skilled at acting too?

Original Author: Wankyu Lee