- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

When Seattle Mariners general manager Pat Gillick walked into the meeting yesterday at Yankee Stadium to go over the ground rules for the opener of the American League Championship Series, there was one thing on his mind:
Jeffrey Maier.
"We'll make a special point of talking about fan interference," Gillick said yesterday morning before heading to the ballpark to meet with Yankees management and the umpires before last night's Game 1.
He might have opted not to bring it up, though. The last time he did as general manager of the Baltimore Orioles before the Yankees-Orioles Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS it turned out to be more of a premonition than a warning.
"It was like it was almost spoken into existence," Kevin Malone, then the assistant general manager, remembered in an interview several years later.
It was as fateful a moment as you will ever see in sports. Before last night's game, Mariners manager Lou Piniella talked about the mystique of playing in Yankee Stadium. That mystique includes the knowledge that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle once roamed the same land, with their presence memorialized at the stadium's Monument Park.
They should put a plaque up there for Jeffrey Maier, the 12-year-old boy from northern New Jersey who put in motion the Yankee dynasty that has won three of the past four World Series championships and is playing for a chance at another one.
It certainly was one of the strangest plays ever seen in postseason baseball. It was the bottom of the eighth inning, with Baltimore leading 4-3, and Armando Benitez was facing Derek Jeter. The Yankees' shortstop hit a fly ball to right field, and Tony Tarasco backed up against the wall, put his glove up in the air, and waited for the ball to fall in.
It never did.
Before Tarasco could make the catch, Maier stopped it, reaching his glove out over the fence, trying to catch the ball. Oddly enough, he didn't get the ball (he might have caught it today. Maier is now a 16-year-old high school baseball star in Old Tappan). Another fan ended up with the ball, but no one ever found out who he was.
After that, everyone knew who Jeffrey Maier was.
It was clearly fan interference, but umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run, tying the game at 4-4. New York would go on to win when Bernie Williams homered in the bottom of the 12th.
Maier was the toast of New York the next day, with appearances on "Good Morning America," David Letterman's show and the New York Daily News gave him free box seats for him and his family for Game 2.
The Orioles did their best to try to get the result changed. Owner Peter Angelos wrote up a brief that Gillick delivered to the commissioner's office the next morning.
"The best interests of baseball fans is not served by the silence on the part of those who have a responsibility to speak," the brief concluded. "Here, millions of fans, the national media and umpire himself have already spoken. It is time for the commissioner to safeguard the integrity and restore public confidence in baseball. The Orioles respectfully request that the commissioner direct the league president to reverse the umpire's decision."
Pigs would fly before that was going to happen. The result stood, but there is little doubt that it dramatically affected not just the series, but perhaps the future of baseball since then. The Orioles won Game 2 behind a strong performance by left-hander David Wells. If they had that Game 1 win, they would have come back to Camden Yards with a 2-0 advantage, and most likely would not have suffered the meltdown they did, losing the next three at home.
It could have been Baltimore against Atlanta in the 1996 World Series, and, given the Orioles wire-to-wire AL East division-leading performance in 1997, it could have very well been an Orioles dynasty over the past few years, not a Yankees dynasty.
Several years later, Gillick said in an interview that he really thought baseball missed an opportunity to show some courage by not granting the Orioles' appeal. "This was something that was absolutely wrong, and baseball could have said, no, that's not what should have happened," he said. "I thought baseball could make a statement that they want to do the right thing. Instead, the Yankees won the game, and the kid was a hero."
Today, Gillick is more philosophical about the events that October day four years ago. Baltimore is a distant memory, and Gillick has built another winner in Seattle. "It's just the breaks of the game," he said, looking back. "[Umpires] are not infallible."
Still, he planned on taking yesterday's ground rules meeting a little more seriously than he normally would. "Maybe I'd better bring a Baltimore lawyer with me," he joked.

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