It fascinates me how individual people respond to public opinion. Building off of the introduction topic from yesterday, the relative “goodness” or “badness” assigned to a given object is dependent upon a myriad of factors. Yesterday, I explored the idea of historical context shaping how various performances are judged. For example: On its face, a .400 On Base Percentage is horrible; that means sixty percent of the time you went to do your job, you failed. However, considering that an average baseball player fails at doing said job sixty-five to seventy percent of the time, the forty percent success rate doesn’t look so bad.
But consideration of objective historical context of past performance is not the only factor influencing our judgements on the relative value of something. Bias and subjectivity always pop up and play a role in thwarting our efforts at objective analysis of relative value. Stephen Brown’s Second Law of Biases states that recognizing a bias at the societal level results in an equal and opposite bias at the personal level. For example, when a large group of people speak negatively of a recent film, we have a natural tendency to talk up said movie and make it sound terrific, when in actuality we only found it to be mediocre. By pointing out something is underrated, we focus on the positives in the object to make our case, creating an alternative bias of overrating it. This phenomena clearly works the other way, as well.
During the course of his career, Derek Jeter has been made to appear as a god-like figure in the baseball world. This year he announced that the 2014 season would be his last, and it has led to an extravagant farewell tour that has been continually glorified by the collective baseball community. Rival teams hold mini-ceremonies and present gifts. Media personalities gush over his character and the fact that he “always played the game the right way.” Former teammates have even made statements suggesting he’s the greatest New York Yankee of all time, a statement certain men with the last names Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle would be happy to dispute. Judging by certain fan reaction, you’d think the man was dying.
If you’ve been following my train of thought to this point, I’m sure you can guess what the public response has been.
“His defense sucked.”
“[Player Y] was a way better hitter.”
“Yeah, but what about those gift baskets?”
As the old cliche goes, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Do I find the media response to Derek Jeter’s career overwrought and obnoxious? Yes. But do I also consider him to be one of the best players to ever take the field? Yes. So instead of constantly swinging the pendulum back and forth between one extreme bias and another, let’s be honest about the man’s career and his impact on the game of baseball. Derek Jeter was a terrific baseball player. He truly did play hard, he truly was a great leader, and he truly did have a career full of timeless moments. And how it all came to an end, I consider priceless.
CONTEXTUAL PLAYER OF THE DAY
The stage for this must be set before last night’s game. 2014 has been a tumultuous year for Derek on the baseball diamond. His already questionable range at shortstop has shrunk even more. The textbook inside-out swing that delivered so many opposite field hits has instead produced countless weak grounders. He’s a 40 year old baseball player, and the numbers have shown it. And whether it has been for the farewell tour or for lack of other options, manager Joe Girardi has continued to pencil #2 into the lineup, and he’s continued to come up short.
That is, until the final at bat of the final inning of the final home game of his career. Jeter shouldn’t have even had the at bat. A close game had turned to the Yankees favor in the bottom of the 7th when they managed three runs to go up 5 to 2. In the top of the 9th, all they needed was for lights-out closer David Robertson to record three outs without giving up three runs for them to finish off the victory. But the Orioles rallied, tying the game at 5 runs each. Jose Pirela came up to bat first in the bottom of the ninth and managed to sneak a groundball through the infield for a single. Antoan Richardson came in to pinch run for Pirela and moved to second base after a Brett Gardner sacrifice. One out. A man on second. Derek Jeter now at the plate. All he needed was to do exactly what he’s always been known for doing: hit the opposite way, and come through in a big moment.
Maybe Derek Jeter isn’t the god-like figure some make him out to be, but he’s a damn fine baseball player and I’m damn glad to have been able to see him play.
Note: I really wanted to include this sentence but couldn’t figure out how: Perceiving public praise permits improper appraisals of player performance.