Faking = Cheating? The Curious Case of Derek Jeter
As anyone other than the home plate umpire watching Wednesday night could easily determine, both from the loud “doink” of the ball hitting the bat as well as video replay, Chad Qualls did not hit Derek Jeter with a pitch in the 7th inning ‘s of the Rays-Yankees game. Instead, Jeter faked (acted, simulated, …) pain from being hit, prompting the ump to award first base. While Jeter has received a little bit of “Cheater” backlash, most media reflections on his actions have been very mild. (Huffington Post hosts a vote on “is it cheating or not”.) Rays manager, Joe Madden, although thrown out of the game for arguing the play, applauded Jeter’s theatrics (maybe so much so as to really be putting him down — hard to tell):
“There’s several thespians throughout baseball,” Maddon said. “I thought Derek did a great job, and I applaud it, because I wish our guys would do the same thing.”
Yet, most American soccer fans view the playing up of real or phantom injuries or diving with little or no contact with utter contempt. As Big League Stew and one of my colleagues mused, what if A-Rod had done the same thing? He likely would not have been treated so kindly by fans and the media. BLS discourages anyone from calling Jeter “Cheater” given that the ump really made the call. (Of course, taking a base is one thing; playing up the theatrics to insure a call is something else.)
The soccer and A-Rod comparisons point to factors that influence how fans react to faking by players. Possibly the frequency of occurrences in the sport matters, or reputation of a given player. In addition, cultural influences on the fan seems to matter — maybe a person grows accustomed to seeing. From the 1980s onward, there was a lot flopping in college basketball. Many defend diving in soccer, including such “theatrics” as an integral and compelling part of the overall game (See Globe and Mail article by Paul Doyle as well as a reply to this way of thinking by Cesar Torres in the NY Times). At some point, the theatrics-to-real ratio can grow so large as to leave one in the world of pro wrestling. It isn’t just theatrics where these worlds meet. The manipulation of outcomes by governing bodies can also turn fans on or off (See my TSE post on NASCAR, Wrestling, and Managing).
These and other possible influences behind different reactions sets up a very interesting field for experimentalists to plow.