Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Maier of New York

Back in the news almost a decade after his infamous "catch," Jeffrey Maier tries to change his image

By Matthew Taylor


It’s been nearly 10 years and I still can’t get over it. To this day I keep seeing his face. There it was last night in my Sports Illustrated (Scorecard, April 17). Then I saw it again this morning on my television (SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays”). Is there no escaping Jeffrey Maier?

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough that you don’t recognize the name Jeffrey Maier. He became baseball’s most notorious 12-year-old on Oct. 9, 1996, when he did some early trick-or-treating during the ALCS, tricking Baltimore’s Tony Tarasco out of a routine catch in right field and treating Derek Jeter to his only homerun of the series. With Maier’s help the Yankees won Game 1, 5-4, in extra innings. They later went on to win the World Series against baseball’s perennial runners-up, the Atlanta Braves.

Jeffrey Maier is back in the news this week, but this time it’s for his bat rather than his glove. Maier, now a senior third baseman at Wesleyan University, became the team’s all-time hits leader on April 12 with a third-inning double against Bates College. After tying the record on April 9 he told The Philadelphia Inquirer (the quote was also included in the aforementioned Sports Illustrated article): “People seem to be noticing that I’m a pretty good ballplayer. What happened when I was 12 is finally just a sidebar.”

“O” if that was only true.

Whether he likes it or not, Jeffrey Maier cannot escape his past. The scarlet letters might be interlocked - an “N” and a “Y” - but, like poor Hester Prynne, Jeffrey Maier must forever bear the burden of his impure act. He can keep references to his Yankee Stadium heroics out of the Wesleyan baseball team’s media guide, but Maier is to fan interference what Monica Lewinsky is to White House interns. His image, like that infamous blue dress, is stained.

In my opinion, Maier should stop trying to resist his place in baseball history. Rather, he should do like those faded stars on VH-1’s “The Surreal Life” and simply accept the fact that he’ll forever be typecast in his most famous role.

Bronson Pinchot will always be Balki. Sherman Helmsley will always be George Jefferson. And Jeffrey Maier will always be a 12-year-old punk kid who rode the shoulders of fans in the right field seats, appeared on “Good Morning America” and “Live with Regis and Kathy,” turned down similar opportunities with Geraldo (who was reportedly offering $1,000) and Letterman, was treated to lunch at Manhattan’s All-Star CafĂ©, and got a limousine ride and free tickets to Game 2 of the ALCS, all because he stole a baseball (source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 11, 1996).

Rudolph Giuliani cleaned up the streets of New York City by focusing on small quality-of-life crimes. But when a 12-year-old committed a baseball fan’s biggest crime under his watch, Guiliani gladly allowed the kid to ruin the quality of Orioles fans’ lives for days, weeks, and years to come. The Mayor did nothing about The Maier. Instead, the city celebrated Maier's theft and gave him his 15 minutes of fame in the media capital of the world. During that 15 minutes Jeffrey Maier was typecast. No number of record-setting hits will change his role in baseball history.

Some would have you believe there are ghosts in Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter said as much following the 2003 ALCS (funny thing, those “ghosts” went away during the World Series that year), and others have followed suit. But the thing that really haunts me – other than Tim McCarver’s unlimited ghost references during any and every taut Yankee playoff game – is Jeffrey Maier’s fishing expedition in 1996 when he reeled in the big one for the Bronx Warning Track Bomber.

Unforgettable. Unforgivable.

3 comments:

Jeremy said...

I hate the Yankees as much as the next guy (probably more), but I have to give it up for Jeffrey Maier. I assumed he was some spoiled son of a business executive/client who got complimentary tickets to a playoff game (btw, business execs and family make up the vast majority of playoff crowds in major cities). I have to admit that I am impressed that he was more than a spoiled Yankee brat, and pounded out a respectable college athletic career. Division III or not, being a productive college athlete is nothing to scoff at.

Oh, and by the way, don't look now, but the New York Mets are 8-1. I am sooooooo conflicted. I loathe the free agency era in baseball. I would so much rather root for ateam that produces young players through the minor league system (Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves). But what can I do...? I have always been a Mets fan, so I guess I will root in a lukewarm manner for our fantastic mercenaries. Go Mets!

Matthew Taylor said...

Thanks for the comment.

I'm certainly not scoffing at Maier's college numbers; I'm just having fun with the guy. It is funny, though, that he wants the ALCS incident to be a "sidebar" when the truth is that SI and ESPN wouldn't have mentioned a thing about his recent accomplishment had it not been for his infamous catch during the ALCS. Fame - or infamy - is a double-edged sword.

By the way, what's Steve Bartman up to these days?

As for free agency versus minor league development, Chris is going to post an article soon (maybe today) that may interest you. It's about Melvin Mora and the loss of "The Oriole Way." It relates directly to the topic of minor league development. Not to mention Mora's status as a former Met.

Jeremy said...

Word on the street is that Steve Bartman has developed a nasty knuckleball and is challenging the single strikeout record at Depauw University.