He is, to me, the only likable Yankee—Curtis Granderson excluded.

There’s no profundity in hating the New York Yankees, I realize that.

A rumpled sportswriter once said that rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel; that quote could be updated, and you’d substitute Microsoft or Comcast for U.S. Steel.

So I’m not the Lone Ranger when it comes to being anti-Yankees.

But nor do I think I’m alone in my admiration of Derek Jeter.

Jeter, the most classy of the Yankees. The best of them, too—Alex Rodriguez NOT excluded.

Derek Jeter, the quiet leader of the best team in baseball.

Jeter is today’s Lou Gehrig on the Yankees. You can spot Jeter easily because he’s the calm in the eye of the storm.

Jeter is as smooth as silk and as lethal as a heart attack.

All Jeter does every season is show up, play his 150+ games, score his 100+ runs, smack the baseball around the ballpark at a .300+ clip, and tend to his position like an Irish cop walking a beat in the Bowery.

He’s not there to please the media types, not there to talk of straws stirring the drink. You have to drag interesting quotes out of him like paper jammed in a copy machine.

I’ve almost thought that Derek Jeter is too good for the Yankees, as a person and as a player.

Jeter belongs on a team made up of players who you’d want your daughter to marry.

I don’t like the Yankees, never have, but I sure do like Derek Jeter.

No one has accumulated more base hits in a Yankees uniform than Derek Sanderson Jeter, whose first and middle names are ironic because they make up the name of a hockey player who was the anti-Jeter.

Jeter is 36 and he’ll have 3,000 hits sometime next season. His 2010 batting average isn’t as robust as normal (.262 as of today), but even Mays and Ruth and Williams were entitled to an anomaly season.

Jeter might be, when all is said and done, the greatest of all the Yankees. In fact, it’s damn likely.

So imagine my consternation when classy Derek Jeter was caught with his hand in the cookie jar the other night.

His arm, to be more accurate.

Jeter, in a key divisional game against the Tampa Rays on Wednesday night, feigned being hit by a pitch and was awarded first base.

Say it ain’t so, Derek!

“The bat,” he said after the game when asked what the baseball hit, without apology. “It’s part of the game.”

Well, damn.

It might be part of the game, but I never thought cheating was part of Jeter’s game.

Everyone does it, I know. As if that’s supposed to make it right.

Sign stealing. Spitballs. The hidden ball trick. Cheating, by definition, though some have called it “gamesmanship.”

But sign stealing, to me, is just cracking codes. The spitball doesn’t always work. Neither does the hidden ball trick.

Besides, those are acts designed to take out your opponent, directly.

What Jeter did in Tampa on Wednesday was a blatant attempt to hoodwink an umpire. And it worked.

I hope Tampa manager Joe Maddon was on something when he said afterward, “I thought Derek did a great job, and I applaud it, because I wish our guys would do the same thing.”

As if baseball needed another reason why it should expand its use of video replay.

“Jeter cheater!” the Tampa fans chanted.

Hard to argue with that.

Derek Jeter, the classiest, best Yankee—maybe of all time—engaging in “gamesmanship.”

Jeter the cheater. What’s next?

Dudley Do-Right is going to leave the girl tied to the railroad tracks? Richie Cunningham is going to sneak a smoke behind the garage? Uncle Bill is going to start hitting the kids from “Family Affair”?

“It’s part of the game,” Jeter said.

Here’s what’s truly part of the game: If players like Derek Jeter are doing it, then there’s no hope for baseball integrity.

Say it ain’t so!

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