Once in a while, honesty isn’t the best policy. Silence is.
Or as a billion parents have told kids, “Think twice before you speak.”
Also, as a billion more parents have said, only half joking, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Adam Wainwright thought only once, then spoke. It’s highly likely he told the simple truth when he said he had given Derek Jeter “a couple pipe shots” to help him get a hit in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, the last of the Yankees superstar’s career. That honesty was a bad idea.
His intentions were quite nice and slightly inside the lines of baseball tradition although not a policy I would endorse. Denny McLain once laid one down the middle to help Mickey Mantle hit a late-career homer. But then McLain also wrote me a long letter from prison, so maybe he’s not the model to cite.
Wainwright made his comments to pool reporters shortly after leaving the game. I checked with one of those reporters for accuracy, context and tone.
“I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots,” Wainwright said, verbatim. “He deserved it. I didn’t know he was gonna hit a double, or I might’ve changed my mind.”
Context: Wainwright is not just a spectacular pitcher but an elite competitor and known for being very honest, too — sometimes (like Davey Johnson) to the point where friends want to yell, “Stop!”
In baseball, “pipe shot” means down the pipe. “He deserved it” either means Wainwright wanted to help Jeter get a hit or at least give him a manageable pitch, not his 18-inch-break curveball.
Everybody gets an opinion. Mine is that Wainwright threw two of his normal fastballs — the first 91 mph and the one Jeter hit at 90. In that inning, he threw four pitches at 92 and one at 93. So he sure didn’t take off much to Derek. But I think he threw pitches where Jeter had a good chance to hit them.
When Mike Trout tripled and Miguel Cabrera homered, Wainwright had suddenly given up three runs in the first inning — the margin of defeat in a 5-3 All-Star Game that cost the National League pennant winner, which could be Wainwright’s Cardinals, home-field advantage in the World Series.
For elaboration, see: “No good deed . . . ”
Oh, boy. Every other “give him a fat one” pitch in baseball lore has been in a meaningless situation. Not Wainwright’s “pipe shot.” In the past five World Series, the team with the home-field edge has won every time.
There’s this thing called social media. Universal insight in 140 characters. Those with better character than mine would, no doubt, never enter such a medium. (Seriously.) But I quickly joined the Twitter-sphere meltdown with my little 140: “Wainwright says he grooved a couple to Jeter. Maybe ‘bush’ to do it. But worse to SAY you did it. Ruins moment you conspired to create. Dope.”
There’s the world of tweets and sound bites. And then there is reality.
In the actual world, Wainwright feels terrible. “Adam came up to me after the game,” said NL Manager Mike Matheny, who is also his Cardinals manager. “It bothered him immensely, to say the least.”
Wainwright was the last player out of the National League locker room, trying to spin, unwind and re-spin his explanation that he had just been joking with those reporters or exercising his off-center sense of humor — or something — oh, lord, let me think of something that doesn’t sound this implausible.
“Listen, I totally created something here that I did not want to create. . . . What was relayed to me was that . . . people everywhere were really upset about me throwing the game and giving up hits on purpose,” Wainwright said. “I was trying to get him out. . . . I’m definitely not trying to give up a hit. . . . It’s the truth, and that’s all I can say. . . . When I said ‘down the pipe,’ I should have said I tried to execute a strike. I didn’t say that, so I’m probably going to take some heat.”
To his credit, Wainwright even added that he didn’t blame those who had taken his quotes the way they did. He could see how they might. He also called himself a “knucklehead” and an “idiot.”
When something slightly serious collides with something utterly silly — but eminently third-beer bar arguable — the world in which we now live convulses into a blend of seizure and divine revelation. A vortex is created into which everyone is instantly sucked in while his or her IQ is simultaneously diminished by 75 points. (I speak from experience.)
Others, of course, are drawn into the swirl. Few know how to cope. In Minneapolis, perhaps only Jeter did. Told what Wainwright had said about the “pipe shots,” his eyes got big. Nobody admits such a thing, except maybe posthumously (or to sell a book). Within 10 seconds, Jeter, educated in the ways of the vortex by 20 years as a Yankees icon, said, “If he grooved it, thank you. You still have to hit it. I appreciate it.” And he smiled. Ruin my moment? No way. Not with the cameras rolling.
The “if” leaves the issue open. The “thank you” means Jeter’s position is he doesn’t give a darn.
Mere mortals without Jeter’s gift were left to try their best, attempt more good deeds and, mostly, flounder. Matheny had to utter the usual mandatory double-speak of sports controversies. Back your man ’til you’re blue-faced. Blame somebody else. Don’t address the basic point. Take six Advil, then pray.
“That has been completely blown out of proportion,” Matheny said. Translation: But he did say it.
“He’s one of the greatest competitors that played this game.” All agree. Not relevant.
“It’s a shame in this game when people are looking for people with personalities to maybe not be so drab and bland like me and actually mix in some personality and some humor,” Matheny said. “And it’s taken completely out of context and run all over social media. It’s an absolute shame.”
That final point is probably the one truth here: It’s a shame. Adam Wainwright tries hard to be honest. And doing a good deed would be right down his alley. Or right down the pipe.
It’s a warm, good world and a cold, cruel one, too. So think twice, even about good deeds.