Oct 14, 2003

Until a few days ago,

Until a few days ago, I would have loved to have seen a Red Sox / Cubs World Series. But after the debacle of the AL's game three and Dusty Baker's press conference tonight, I'm not so sure. Even if the Sox and Cubs defy the odds, I'm starting to get that 1994 feeling in the back of my throat...

First, the Yankees / Red Sox fiasco. Those were very well paid grown men going at each other's throats on national television. And regardless of the bragging rights, bonus dollars and emotions involved, outbursts like that don't belong in a pennant race. Adding insult to injury, Ramirez, Zimmer, Martinez and Garcia were fined by the league for their behavior, but without any public acknowledgement by the league of either (a) why they were being fined or (b) the amounts of the fines. Memo to Selig: these are the playoffs, not some mid-June three-game road trip. Transparency into the disciplinary workings of MLB would go a long way towards re-establishing trust that the league actually cares about behavior like this.

Second, the foul ball. What a goddamned shame. Here's a guy, clearly a Cubs fan -- complete with hat and headphones -- lucky enough to have a seat along the third-base line. Foul ball comes his way, and he does what any fan would do -- he goes for the ball. Alou misses the catch, gets upset, and neighboring fans (the ones wearing identical Cubs hats) start pelting the poor bastard with beer and hotdog remnants. It's one foul ball, one that would have been meaningless had the Cubs not gone on to blow the rest of the inning with subpar pitching and a critical error by Alex Gonzalez. (And for those of you not following along at home, the Cubs go on to lose the game, 8-3.)

Hey, it sucks to lose. And it sucks to lose if you're a Cubs fan, if only because they've had so much practice. But the way this is being handled by the press is irresponsible, and even dangerous. In the broadcast immediately following the game, ESPN's SportsCenter anchor essentially blamed the fan for the loss, and joked about whether he'd be safe inside the city limits of Chicago. At this moment the front pages of ESPN.com, The Chicago Tribune, Yahoo Sports, The New York Times and MSNBC all feature that heartbreaking photo. But the insult on top of the injury was Dusty Baker's comments at the press conference after the game. When asked about the foul ball, Baker shook his head in disbelief and muttered that the guy -- the one in the bright blue Cubs hat and headphones along the third-base line -- must have actually been a Marlins fan.

I know it would be naive of me to tell these guys "hey, relax, it's only a game," since professional sports are anything but. For me, though, the images of Zimmer on the ground, the Cubs fan wiping beer from his face and Dusty Baker crying "fan interference" have tarnished baseball. Nine years after the World Series that wasn't, it's starting to feel like 1994 all over again.

Update: Andy Baio posts a summary of how The Smoking Gun and the Chicago Sun-Times have outed the fan's name, his age, employer, little league team and neighborhood. He's also tracking photoshop remixes of the photo. What a shame.

Update #2: Some quotes from Cubs players. Pitcher Mark Prior got it right...

"We didn't lose the game because a fan jumped in (Alou's) way," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the people here in that situation would have done the same thing. You can't blame him. Hopefully, most people understand that. We didn't lose the ballgame because of that."

First baseman Randall Simon did, too...

"If something happens to that kid, it's going to hurt us as a team. I am going to be praying tonight for nothing to happen to that kid."

But Moises Alou hedged...

"I kind of feel bad for the guy," Alou said. "Every fan in every ballpark, the first reaction they have is they want a souvenir. They don't think about the outcome of the game or what could happen. Unfortunately, it happened. The guy saw a shot at having a baseball, and he went for it. Hopefully, he won't have to regret it for the rest of his life."

Update #3: The Dead Parrots Society has links galore, including this Editor & Publisher interview with Sun-Times editor-in-chief, Bob Steele's piece at Poynter.org about the Sun-Times' naming decision, and a link to a supposed eBay auction of the guy's business card, which has since been pulled.