Derek Jeter and the Greatest Lie Ever Told

Asher ChanceySenior Analyst IMay 19, 2010

NEW YORK - JULY 1:  Trainer Gene Monihan helps Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees off the field after he made a diving catch in the 12th inning of their game against the Boston Red Sox on July 1, 2004 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The Yankees won 5-4 in 13 innings.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Read Adam Rosen's article on The Top 21 Moments in Yankees History.   It is a fun read, and who doesn't love reminiscing about the Yankees? 

Unfortunately, Adam takes the opportunity to propagate one of the great myths about Derek Jeter—that he once made some incredible play where he dove into the stands to catch a ball at a pivotal moment in a crucial game against the Red Sox.

"The game was on the line, so Jeter dove fearlessly into the stands, making one of the greatest catches of all-time," Adam wrote.

Adam isn't the only person who has mischaracterized  the greatness or the significance of this play. 

The New Yorker once ran a comic-strip style two page spread of the great moments in Yankee Stadium history, and somehow failed to include Roger Maris’ 61st home run while including Jeter’s catch.

The New York Daily News once ran a piece in which it also gave great critical acclaim to Jeter’s catch, placing it amongst the immortal moments in baseball history.

Here is what the Daily News had to say.

"In the top of the 12th inning, the Red Sox had two outs, and runners on second and third. Trot Nixon hit the ball towards shallow left. If the ball had dropped in, the Red Sox would have gone ahead.

As Jeter raced for the ball, he realized that he would have to dive for it. But the ball was coming down just in front of the stands.

There was no way that Jeter could get the ball without diving face-first into the stands. But the game was on the line, and Derek Jeter did not hesitate to make the play that, along with the 2001 Flip Play, has defined his career.

Jeter fearlessly made the catch, fell into the stands, and ended up bruised and bloody. People sitting near him helped him up. Then a dazed Jeter, holding a cloth next to his mouth to stop it from bleeding, was helped off the field."

Sorry, this didn't happen.

Before this falsehood becomes part of baseball history, I would like to set the record straight. 

Hmmm. Where to begin? How about...

a) This game took place on July 1, 2004. The Yankees were 7.5 games ahead of the Red Sox at the time in the AL East. I don’t think that this was a must win.

b) Don’t dare compare that catch to his play against the A’s in 2001, which was one of the greatest plays of all time.

In 2001, the Yankees were down 2-0 in a best of five series, and Jeremy Giambi scoring on that play would have tied the score in the bottom of the seventh.

That throw missed not one but two cutoff men—Jeter could have easily stood by and watched, expecting either of those guys to make the play—and Jeter came out of nowhere to make a throw that would have been late a milli-second later.

That single play saved the Yankees playoffs and gave us one of the most exciting World Series in history two weeks later.

c) If he had to dive into the stands to make the catch, doesn’t that make it a foul ball , which would not have allowed any runners to score? Wouldn’t that be the case even if it was coming down merely in front of the stands ?

At this point, an incongruity emerges—either the ball was foul, in which case there was no danger of runs scoring, or it was fair, in which case diving into the stands was absurdly unnecessary.

Let’s go to the tape!

I have managed to capture some stills from the play. In this first one, we see Jeter with arm and glove outstretched, the ball is a blur just above his glove.

In the second frame, Jeter has caught the ball, and as you can clearly see, he is both several feet inside the foul line, and probably another ten feet or so from the wall.

This next shot shows Jeter in his last step in fair territory. As you can see, he is standing on his right leg, with his left leg raised.

In the shot before, he had his right leg raised and was standing on his left leg. He has now taken at least one step with the ball, and he is still in fair territory.

He has caught the ball, and he has saved two runs from scoring. The inning is over.

I should point out here that, from the video of the play, Jeter was apparently playing over by the bag with a left-hander batting, so he really has ranged quite far.

This next shot is Jeter about to step over the foul line.


In this next shot, we see Jeter stepping across the foul line and facing the stands. At this point, I think it is safe to say Jeter realizes he is going over, and is bracing for the impact.


The next shot shows Jeter jumping into the stands. It looks to me like he had the option —in split second timing, of course—of colliding with the wall and absorbing all of the impact, or jumping over the wall and hoping the cushion would be softer.

I would have jumped too.


In the next two shots, we see why this play has gained so much notoriety—these shots show Jeter, heading into the stands, parallel to the ground, totally laid out.

Over the years it has been too easy to assume that he laid out parallel to the ground to catch the ball, when in reality he'd had it for two or three steps by now. The lay-out was simply a way of containing the damage.


The last shot is enough to make you question the whole play when you compare it to the first picture.

Jeter is in full lay out dive into the stands.


Now look again at the first shot. Look how far from the stands he is just as the ball is about to land in his glove. Look how much ground he had to cover to end up in the stands.


Are you kidding me?

Look, I will be the first to admit that when you watch the video at full speed it is an impressive catch, but to call it a "diving catch" or a "catch where he dives into the stands" is to mis-characterize it.

To chalk up his diving into the stands to "bravery" or "fearlessness" is absurd.

To say that "As Jeter raced for the ball, he realized that he would have to dive for it," is simply untrue. Because he DIDN'T dive for it, and it isn't clear that Jeter knew anything about the approaching wall.

Basically, this is simply pro-Yankee demagoguery.

Perhaps the funniest line of all from the Daily News coverage of the event is "There was no way that Jeter could get the ball without diving face-first into the stands. "

It is almost like they're trying to be ironic. I mean come on—he could have hopped, he could have cannon-balled, he could have slid.

But let's not be too hard on the Daily News. After all, they aren't the only people who have overblown the importance and incredibility of Jeter's catch.

Jon Robinson of INGSports.com once asked Jeter in an interview, "When you flew into the stands like Superman last year after that ball, did you know you were going to pay the price with a little blood?"

The great Ed Bradley once described the catch by saying, "No play says more about Jeter than the now legendary diving catch he made last year in which he placed his body—not to mention his $20 million salary—at risk."

Mark Bechtel, actually writing about how overrated Jeter is said, "A look at Jeter's numbers shows that he probably shouldn't be making $20 million. Yes, I know about the diving catch into the stands against the Red Sox and the flip to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate against the A's in a playoff game."

In a kidzworld.com biography of Jeter (compelling stuff, right?), the narrator states that "Jeter's diving-in-the-stands catch during a 2004 regular season game against the Boston Red Sox was one of the most memorable catches ever. So memorable, in fact, that we don't even tend to remember what actually happened."

The year that Jeter's play was named Play of the Year by Major League Baseball, MLB.com described the play like this: "Derek Jeter dives into the stands to rob Boston's Trot Nixon in the 12th inning of a huge midsummer game." That description actually includes sensationalising the play AS WELL AS the importance of the game.

Ironically, Tim Kurkjian, one of my least favorite baseball writers, is one of the few writers to accurately describe the play, "There was the running catch, and subsequent bloody tumble into the stands, on July 1 last year against the Red Sox."

Of course, its not like Kurkjian was downplaying Jeter or his accomplishments—this description actually came in an article in which Kurkjian was making the case that Jeter, rather than Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, or Roger Clemens was the current "Face of Baseball." Ugh.

I could go on forever, but I think I've made my point.

Next time someone asks you about that great Derek Jeter diving catch into the stands against the Red Sox, make sure you correct the person.

The lie has been perpetrated long enough.

Read more of what Asher thinks of Derek Jeter at BaseballEvolution.com.


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