Should we call him Derek Cheater now?
That was the question buzzing around the Internet and sports talk radio Thursday after Jeter pretended to get hit with a pitch in the Yankees' 4-3 loss to the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday night.
Jeter hopped around and held his hand and may have even said "Ouch" or "Owie" a few times, convincing umpires that he had been struck by a pitch that actually hit the knob of his bat.
The best part of the performance was the little glance Jeter stole at plate umpire Lance Barksdale to see if his act had worked. It had.
Jeter's decision to fake getting hit was made in a split-second. Our debate about whether it was cheating can last until time itself comes to an end, or until the Cubs win another World Series, and we may still not agree. But here's one take:
Was it cheating? Yes. Was it wrong? No.
Jeter himself called it "part of the game." Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was ejected for arguing the umpires' mistake, said, "If our guys had did it, I would have applauded that."
The only way it would have been considered cheating and wrong is if Alex Rodriguez had done it. (Kidding.)
Seriously, if A-Rod had done this it would have been portrayed as some sort of character flaw, not a brilliant maneuver by a heady player. Which it was.
Already some have wondered how what Jeter did was different from Rodriguez shouting "Ha!" at Blue Jays third baseman Howie Clark in another famous incident. It isn't, really. Both players were trying to get an advantage. A-Rod was trying to unnerve another player. Jeter was trying to fake out the umpires. In both cases, the object was to help the team. And in both cases, it worked.
Want some examples from other sports? Fine. In football, if an offensive lineman holds a defensive lineman but no penalty is called, he is lauded for having good technique.
Same thing in basketball. If you foul a guy, and no foul is called, are you supposed to say, 'My bad" and give the guy two free throws? On the playground, yes. In the NBA, no.
Hockey? Players routinely get away with causing mayhem against other players' bodies. Soccer? How many times during the World Cup did players fake injuries to get the refs to call fouls on the opposing team?
Golf? Yes, we know, golfers are supposed to turn themselves in for mind-numbingly minor infractions. But we're talking about real sports here.
And we're talking about Jeter, which is part of why this story has taken on a life of its own. Doubt it would be a big deal if Ramiro Peña had done it. Even FoxNews.com got involved, offering its readers a poll headlined "Is Derek Jeter a cheat?"
(Not kidding. Sadly.)
Jeter has long been characterized as a guy who would do anything to win - except take performance-enhancing drugs, which is cheating on a whole different level. That's cheating that is wrong. And usually illegal.
What Jeter did? Don't give him a hard time. Give him an ESPY. Or maybe an Emmy.