Last night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game served as a sort of farewell to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who was playing in his final Midsummer Classic before retiring at the end of the season. Fox mentioned Jeter’s game no fewer than 100 times, and he was given big ovations when he was introduced before the game, batted in the first inning, and left the game in the fourth. Jeter went two-for-two with a double, and considering the universe’s habit of screwing Mike Trout out of MVP awards, it’s a little surprising he wasn’t named the game’s most outstanding player, the way Mariano Rivera was last year. But that double didn’t come without controversy, inasmuch as anything that happens in the All-Star Game can be considered controversial.
Because the All-Star Game is an exhibition, National League pitcher Adam Wainwright spoke to reporters while the game was still in progress. When he did, he admitted that he’d grooved the pitch to Jeter, which is to say, that he threw him a meatball down the middle that he could hit.
The backlash began almost immediately after his comments started to make the rounds on social media. Wainwright wouldn’t have been the first pitcher to throw a meatball to a retiring legend in an All-Star Game. But unlike Chan Ho Park, who many believe grooved the pitch that Cal Ripken homered on in the 2001 All-Star Game, Wainwright admitted he’d done so. The thinking went that by making those comments, he was taking away from Jeter’s moment, diminishing his double and defeating the purpose of giving him a pitch in order to look good.
It got to the point that Wainwright was compelled (or perhaps forced) to do an interview with the Fox announcers later in the game, in which he backed off those comments, saying they were “mis-said.” He explained that “I hope people realize that I’m not intentionally giving up hits out there. I know this game means something.” He added that he was on the record saying that he didn’t want Jeter to get a hit off of him. Here’s the full interview with Wainwrgiht, in which he also uses the scariest word in the professional athlete’s vocabulary, “distraction”:
So why did Wainwright back off his comments? Maybe he really was joking initially and didn’t realize how quickly it would spread. More likely, someone pointed out that his comments could be seen as disrespectful — sorry, di2re2pectful — to Jeter, which would make him look like a monster, fairly or not. And either way, now that the All-Star Game stupidly counts for something, a player has to at least give the illusion that he’s giving 100 percent in an exhibition game, lest he be criticized for costing his league (and maybe even his team) home-field advantage in the World Series. Not that everyone actually treats the game as if it’s important; after all, the best players are removed after a couple of innings. But Wainwright eventually realized how that would become the story.