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Revisiting Jeffrey Maier: Forgive that swine?

I remember Jeffrey Maier. Not fondly, I'm afraid.

On October 9, 1996, I was watching Game 1 of the ALCS on TV with a bunch of Yankee-rooting friends (don't ask) and was struck with disbelief, then rage, when the long arm of Maier reached over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium, turning a deep fly ball by Derek Jeter from a possible out into a home run. When the replays showed Maier's glove extending over the wall into the field of play and pulling the ball into the stands — clearly a case of fan interference — none of the Yankee fans in the room denied that the umpire, Rich García, had made the wrong call in crediting Jeter with a game-tying homer. One of them said, "Well, too bad. That's the way the ball bounces." And then Bernie Williams hit a home run in the 11th to give the Yankees the win, making for a lot of smug faces in the room — and one glum one.

Yesterday, Washington Post baseball writer Dave Sheinin served up an underhanded story about Maier, the kid who helped steal a World Series appearance from the Orioles ten years back. In the article, Sheinin catches up with Maier, now 22 and a recent graduate of Wesleyan University with a degree in government and economics, and gets reflections on the incident from Maier and members of both teams who were at the scene of the crime ten years ago.

Ordinarily that's where the story would end. But it turns out that Maier had a standout career as an outfielder and third baseman on Wesleyan's Division III baseball team. So Sheinin can't help but suggest the outrageously ironic possibility that Maier could be drafted by the Orioles in the upcoming amateur draft and wind up playing for the very team he once robbed of a crucial playoff win. Or, he could be selected by the Yankees, his hometown team (he's from north Jersey), and continue to torment the O's with his glove and his bat. Never mind that few Division III players get drafted, and almost none advance to the majors. Talk about journalistic license — the lengths to which writers will go for a good story! Maybe Sheinin should write sports-themed novels instead.

Despite such absurd suppositions and the unusual length (over 2,000 words), the story is an engaging read. Sheinin interviewed all sorts of people, including:

  • scouts assessing Maier's baseball abilities ("there is a 50-50 chance Maier ... could be selected during next week's draft");
  • Orioles Hangout founder Tony Pente ("... for some people, there's almost a hatred of [Maier] — to this day");
  • players who were at the 1996 game such as Williams, Andy Pettitte, Scott Erickson, and Cal Ripken ("I don't blame the kid.... It was a reaction. It was not premeditated. Why harbor any resentment?");
  • then-Oriole manager Davey Johnson ("I could still be in Baltimore if that didn't happen"); and
  • then (and current) Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos.

The most curious part of the story involves Angelos. Sheinin reports that when Maier phoned Angelos out of the blue a few weeks ago and advertised his collegiate baseball accomplishments, the owner's response was not bitter, but conciliatory: "To forgive is divine." Well, well, full of surprises, isn't he? But what Angelos tells Sheinin next is either uproariously funny or profoundly disturbing — I'm not sure which:

"I wouldn't be at all opposed to [drafting Maier]. In fact, I'd say it's a very interesting development," Angelos said. "You can say the Orioles are very seriously considering him. I know this much: I was at that game, and he certainly did seem to be a heck of an outfielder. Sure, we'd take him. In fact, I like the idea more and more, the more I think about it."

I really, really hope Angelos is joking there. (The story doesn't make clear if he is.) Because if he sincerely meant that the Orioles are "very seriously considering" a Division III player of middling athletic ability, and if he actually thinks Maier seemed "a heck of an outfielder," he is bordering on delusional. Maybe he is just trying to con the Yankees into selecting Maier with one of their picks.

I can see it now: Tuesday in the Orioles' draft room, before the club's first selection (9th overall), Angelos forces his way in and yells to the scouts, "I know you guys are eyeing that toolsy high schooler in the first round, but we're not going to take him. And not a college pitcher either—remember that Townsend guy two years ago? Sorry about how that one turned out, by the way. You know, I've been thinking. How about that Maier kid? I hear he's pretty good. A heck of an outfielder, too. Did you see that catch he made as a twelve-year-old? What a talent!"

(I'm just kidding around... I hope.)

Realistically, Maier is not a serious pro baseball prospect. If not for his infamous grab in '96, he would be just another of hundreds of good Division III players, and even the best of that lot would be fighting for jobs if they played for Division I programs.

Should Maier come into the employ of a major-league club, most likely it will not be because of his glove or bat, but because of his mind and his initiative. Given that he studied at Wesleyan, a high-ranking liberal arts college in Connecticut, he may have the aptitude for a front-office job in baseball. He could assume the career arc of the Orioles' Jim Duquette, who was a Division III baseball star at Williams College in Massachusetts (generally regarded as one of the top three liberal arts colleges in the country) before breaking into pro baseball as a player development assistant with the Mets in 1991.

Or maybe Maier could go to law school, pass the bar, and get a job... in Angelos's firm. Still ironic, and more realistic to boot.

Update (June 8): Maier went undrafted, as could have been expected. According to a follow-up story by Sheinin, Maier "hopes to have a career in baseball as a front-office executive." He has made plans to break into pro ball as a scout this summer, though he won't be working for the Orioles, which is probably best for him and for the O's.


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