By: DOROTHY GIOBBE
NEW YORK CITY had an old-fashioned tabloid story come true last week when 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over the right field fence at Yankee Stadium and snatched a fly ball out of the air.
In a controversial call, umpire Rich Garcia ruled the play a home run, allowing the Yankees to win the first game of the American League Championship Series with the Baltimore Orioles.
The tabs ? rarely understated ? could barely contain themselves.
“Angel in the Outfield” proclaimed the New York Post’s front page the next day. “Kid Glove” thundered the New York Daily News. Maier, the newspapers said, was the “newest Yankee Star” ? part of a legacy of Yankee greats including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
Even the staid New York Times ran a front-page Associated Press photo of Maier’s catch, along with the headline: “Winning With A Boy’s Help, Yankees Make No Apologies.” The accompanying article said Maier “lived out every kid’s dream.” In the sports section, the Times headline announced, “A 12-Year-Old Legend Is Born In Right Field,” and termed the catch the “Play of the Day By Little Leaguer.”
But the tabs clearly cornered the market on screaming headlines and breathless drama. In columns and articles, in news and sports sections, the News and Post praised “the kid’s clutch play” and “miracle catch” as if he were on the team’s payroll.
And despite Yankees manager Joe Torre’s comment that Maier shouldn’t be viewed as a hero, the tabs hinted that Yankees management approved of the boy’s interference, with lines like “Yanks A Lot Says Team.” The News named Maier the Most Valuable Player in the series.
Maier caught Derek Jeter’s long fly in the bottom of the eighth inning, as the Yankees trailed by one run. The umpire’s ruling left the score tied at 4-4, and the Yankees went on to win 5-4 in the 11th inning.
The day after the game, Maier made the media rounds, starting with ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “Live With Regis and Kathy Lee.” The News took him to lunch at Manhattan’s All-Star Cafe and put him in front-row seats behind the Yankee dugout.
A day later, the tabs were still going strong, with articles speculating about Maier’s product endorsement potential. But while the frenzy raged in New York, sports editors elsewhere watched with a degree of detached amusement.
“What’s fascinating is that you had [Baltimore player] Roberto Alomar, who broke a rule and was demonized, and then you had the kid who broke a rule and was a hero,” said William Adee, sports editor of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“It’s a great study to see how each was treated. Maybe it’s because the kid was from New York,” Adee added. “We’ve been down that same road with [Chicago Bulls players] Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan, and it’s interesting to see from afar how the New York media treated it.”
Bill Marimow, managing editor of the Baltimore Sun, had no problem with the massive news coverage devoted to Maier.
“It was an extraordinary event, and it was highly newsworthy,” he said. “It wasn’t the boy’s fault. Because it had such a profound effect on the outcome of the game, I think, instinctively, it was big news.
” ‘Angel in the Outfield’ ? I think it’s funny,” Marimow said, referring to the Post healdine.
“Whoever is at the epicenter of that kind of story, you’re going to write about,” Marimow added. “The trend of the tabs is to lionize him, but whatever the tabs did, I think was in the spirit of the event.”
Gene Myers, sports editor for the Detroit Free Press said he felt sorry for Maier because “he’s been sucked into the media machine.”
“It’s one of those bizarre things that happen,” Myers said. “In some ways it’s fun, for the first day or two, and in some ways it’s unfortunate. I don’t know if the press went overboard, I think it’s a sign of society in general going overboard.”
?(New York City’s tabloids praised12-year-old Jeff Maier in front-page headlines.) [Caption]
?(? Paul Zacks, chief assistant state attorney, Palm Beach County, Fla.) [Photo & Caption]