The definitive Derek Jeter conspiracy theory: a shot to grass past the knoll
Derek Jeter
On Thursday night, Derek Jeter ended both a game against the Baltimore Orioles and his home career in Yankees pinstripes by knocking a ball right through first and second base, past the knoll and on to the grass – just enough to let a team-mate sprint to home for the win.

“It’s like a movie”; “an ending so perfect it couldn’t possibly have been scripted”; “as if it was planned all along”; “unbelievable”. Thus came remarks from team-mates and the press.

“Meatball”, “grapefruit”, “pipe shot”, “grooved pitch”: thus came baseball terms from other voices, all referring to a baseball intentionally thrown within a hitter’s wheelhouse – their best hitting range – thus giving him/her the best possible chance of striking the ball.

For the many Americans who don’t like the Yankees (and many who gleefully despise them) “too good to be true” meant just that. Did the ghosts of Babe Ruth and George Steinbrenner inspire Derek Jeter, or did a pan-baseball conspiracy buy the Yankees yet another win they didn’t earn?

Derek Jeter, who this year FiveThirtyEight named among “the worst All-Star starters of the past 40 years”, is 40 years old. Before Thursday night’s game he had a batting average of .253, which is slightly lower than the average of averages. By the time he sent Yankees fans into raptures he’d already hit a double and, going by that average, would be pushing his luck to get a hit on his fifth at-bat. He had also made an error and as he admitted later, emotions were affecting his play:

I was throwing balls away. I was giving signs to … second base and there’s no one on base, so I was all messed up.

By the bottom of the ninth, he faced the Baltimore relief pitcher Evan Meek. Meek threw what he later said was “a cutter away” (a type of winding fastball that should break away from the batter) but what also resembled a change-up (a ball that looks like a fastball but slows dramatically as it nears the plate). Meek’s cutters usually reach the plate at 90.2mph; his change-ups – which he rarely throws – at 85.2mph. The pitch to Jeter clocked in at 86mph, right where he could strike it.


For anyone outside a 50-mile radius of New York – or for Mets fans within it – this was all a bit much. The internet duly made its displeasure known.

One commenter boldly analysed: “The last pitch was a gift … it was too perfect.” Saturnalia93 agreed: “The walk-off was pre-planned and staged to make sure it went off without a hitch. Would shatter their fairytale if he, say, struck out the last time he played Yankee Stadium.” On Deadspin, the coincidentally named StupidJeterWins voiced relative skepticism: “I’m not saying orders were sent down from Obama, I’m saying the pitcher grooved it.” On Reddit, Zamboniman46 postulated and proclaimed: “Just let it be known he got that hit on a meatball.”

Indeed, why didn’t the Orioles intentionally walk “Captain Clutch” as they – as Meek – had a few days before? Brian “couldn’t be given away for free” McCann was next up at bat for the Yankees, with a batting average lower than Jeter’s and a notorious reputation for grounding out. Why taunt “Mr November” with the fact that he would never play in the postseason again?

Why were the Orioles’ first- and second-basemen so close to their bags, rather than in position to intercept a signature slash into right field by Jeter? Was it to keep the runner at the base, or to let the ball pass between the fielders?

What happened right before Meek threw that mutant cutter-change-up? Was he intimidated by shrieking Yankees fans, many of whom had spent more than $300 simply to revel madly at a moment just like this? Did he feel the stadium shaking, as did pitcher Kevin Gausman earlier in the night? Why would he open his duel with “Jeet” by trying a pitch he almost never uses?

Why does the Orioles right fielder, Nick Markakis, move so casually when he takes Jeter’s shot from the grass and hurls it back toward the knoll in the center of the field? Doesn’t he know that while this game is meaningless for the Yankees, Baltimore could still try to win home-field advantage in the American League Championship Series?

Does it mean anything at all that Baltimore’s manager, Buck Showalter, was the Yankees manager in 1995, Jeter’s first year with the team?

After rain almost forced the game to cancel, a rainbow appeared. Is it possible that some organization with sophisticated misting technology, perhaps with a history of staging theatrical, seminal moments such as moon landings and aircraft-carrier victory banners, could have set up the whole thing?

Yet another denizen of the internet calculated that based on Meek and Jeter’s recent performances, “Derek Jeter had a 0.9% chance of doing that naturally last night”.

All of this may or may not be true.

What also may or may not be true is whether pitching ace Adam Wainwright gave Jeter “a couple of pipe shots” at the All-Star game earlier this year. The St Louis Cardinals star had saluted the soon-to-be-retired Jeter and later said that the Yankee “deserved it”. He eventually tried to explain that this was a bad joke, and that Jeter, that terrible All Star and walking goodbye party, had hit a double off a cutter that was too slow and was on the edge of his range.

Beloved by fans, respected by his peers and the subject of a thousand hagiographies, it’s hard even for non-Yankees fans to hate Jeter – which makes it hard to hope that the Yankees are the villains yet again. But Mickey Mantle took a grooved pitch, and it’s possible Cal Ripken and Barry Bonds did too.

The Yankees are the marquee name in American sports, for whom image is everything. Could it be any other way?

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