The silly, silly controversy over whether Adam Wainright gave Derek Jeter "a couple of pipe shots" is a great thing. Not necessarily the act itself, nor the discussion over it, in which people seem upset not that it happened but that Wainwright didn't lie about it, or even the immediate fallout, which will see more heat for Wainwright and Jeter than either deserve. But eventually, inevitably, this will be one of those watershed moments that leads baseball to extricate the all-star game from World Series home-field advantage. I can't think of many better legacies for Derek Jeter than this: to have helped stopped this shit from counting.
One of the neater moments in the nightlong tribute to Jeter came just before the fateful at-bat, and it came courtesy of Wainwright, and it's going to be totally forgotten. Jeter soaked in the cheers from fans, teammates, and opponents alike, then tried to dig into the box. Wainwright, who had dropped his glove and retreated behind the mound, wasn't ready to stop the applause. "He told me, 'Let's go,'" Wainwright said, "and I told him no. It's the only time I'll ever tell Derek Jeter no."
Wainwright started Jeter off with a four-seamer, too low to do anything with. Then he offered up a meatball, a belt-high 90 mph cutter that didn't cut. Not prima facie evidence, sure, but if you wanted a guy to make good contact, that's what you'd throw.
While the game was still going on, Wainwright gave an interview to assembled reporters. The money quote:
"I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots. He deserved it. I didn't know he was going to hit a double or I would have changed my mind. I thought he was going to hit something hard to the right side for a single or an out. I probably should have pitched him a little bit better."
Was he joking, as he'd later try to claim? Here's the video.
I mean, this is wonderful. A baseball player admitting that he treated the all-star game with the lack of respect it deserves, 12 years after Bud Selig's rash and increasingly regrettable decision to "make it count." Any player who makes a mockery of one of the sillier pieces of Selig's legacy, with Selig in the building no less, should be toasted.
But the bad things and the dumb things started happening. While the game was still going on, arguments began over whether Wainwright screwed his team and his league by grooving a pitch, whether he was disrespectful to Jeter by giving him an easy one, and even—this is particularly incredible—whether Wainwright's true offense was telling the world about his gift. (This exchange is representatively mind-numbing.)
So Wainwright apologized in a second in-game interview. He was joking, or chose his words poorly, or simply "made a mistake." It was theater, absurd, hilarious theater, the kind that's going to make this all-star game one of the very few memorable ones. If you want to fit this game into historical context, let's group it with the farces, like the 2002 tie game, and not with the genuinely moving memories, like ... uh, Cal Ripken's 2001 home run in his last all-star game, off a belt-high 92 mph fastball from Chan Ho Park. Huh.
"If he grooved it, thank you," Jeter said, which should put an end to things, but as has been the case throughout his career, Jeter is not a man to sportswriters so much as a Precious Moments figurine on the family mantel, symbolizing "the way things ought to be." This arrangement makes demands on the people around Jeter, too, as Wainwright learned last night when, in speaking honestly, he failed to prop up the easy and inspiring storyline. Because god forbid we get any humanity into our sap.
Bless Wainwight for putting the lie to the idea that players care about the all-star game, home-field advantage or not. It's a dumb, desperate stipulation, and the cause of last night's needless drama. Don't be mad at Wainwright for grooving a pitch in a game that counted. Be mad at the game for counting.
And bless him for fessing up, even if he quickly walked it back amidst the maudlin protestations of the professional fussbudgets. It's not Wainwright's job to preserve their narratives, nor to explain to them that some moments can still be meaningful if—because—they're manufactured. The fiction of Jeter coming through in his last all-star game is nice. The truth, that other players like and respect Derek Jeter enough to help him get his moment, is much better anyway.