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Buster Olney on Derek Jeter and baseball politics

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Buster Olney has a fascinating anecdote about Derek Jeter in his blog today:

The Yankees were about to shatter the American League single-season record for victories, and were playing in Baltimore. They had already clinched a playoff spot, and manager Joe Torre had begun to treat the last regular-season games like spring training exhibitions, resting some of his regulars after five or six innings. During a game against the Orioles, he inserted rookie Ricky Ledee into left field, and Chad Curtis shifted to center field.

Soon thereafter, one of the Orioles' lifted a high pop fly over shortstop, and as Ledee and Curtis awkwardly pursued the ball, it fell between those two and Jeter. David Wells, the pitcher that night for the Yankees, was furious, and he turned toward the New York dugout and raised his arms, as if to say: "Are we trying?" It was a classless, knee-jerk reaction, for which Wells later apologized.

The next day, a source told me that Jeter -- then in only his third full season in the majors -- had berated Wells on the field after he made the gesture, screaming at him, in so many words, that his actions were completely unacceptable, and that all the Yankees were in it together.

The source was ironclad, a person with the utmost integrity. I waited in the Yankees' clubhouse to have a chance to speak to Jeter alone, out of earshot of the other reporters. I thought for sure that Jeter would just respond with a no-comment.

But when I finally did manage to pull Jeter off to the side, before the Yankees started their pre-game stretching, to ask him about what he had yelled at Wells, Jeter began berating me. Angrily.

He flatly denied that the incident had taken place, and began accusing me of trying to fabricate something and blow it out of proportion. His voice was rising, and I tried to calm him down, fearing that other reporters would hear and take notice of our conversation. "That's B.S.," he snapped, and he called over second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to ask if he had witnessed anything the night before. "Ask him, ask him," Jeter barked at me.

I don't know if Jeter was winking at Knoblauch, or giving him a look that said "Hey, play along with me on this." Either way, Knoblauch didn't pick up the signal.

"Did Derek yell at Boomer last night?" I asked Knoblauch.

"Yeah, that was wild," he said, chuckling, oblivious to the fact that he had just confirmed the story Jeter was trying to tamp down.

I almost burst out laughing; Derek wasn't laughing.

I actually thought the incident and Jeter's effort to stifle my reporting reflected well on him, because he had policed the Wells incident in-house and was actually trying to protect the team from a perceived distraction.

I think this is a fascinating, and revealing, look at what is considered proper etiquette within the game, and a great example of why baseball people love Derek Jeter.