Being a baseball fan isn’t all beer, brats, and sunshine. You also have to work to keep your name out of the history books.
Everyone knows Steve Bartman. He’s more of a household name than most of the players that appeared in that fateful 2003 NLCS Game 6. Jeffrey Maier? Fans 30 or over remember his star shining bright in New York as the 12-year-old that gifted Derek Jeter and the Yankees a critical home run in the 1996 ALCS.
You may not know the name Troy Caldwell, but you probably know a fan cost the hometown Houston Astros a home run in this year’s ALCS. And Caldwell’s role in it could be the impetus behind some a new movement when it comes to how MLB handles fan interference — although the Astros have already assured fans that this isolated incident won’t cause any structural changes at Minute Maid Park as the Astros “are not a reactionary group.”
No other sport has fans who are virtual household names, cemented into the memories of millions of people across the nation for all of the wrong or, depending on your rooting alliance, right reasons.
Baseball fans have a unique task. Thousands of fans in the ballpark every night are quite literally putting their safety at risk due to the proximity of the seats to live action and the astounding speed at which balls leave the field of play. If you’re lucky enough to sit in the front few rows around the ballpark’s perimeter, you also have a responsibility to not find your name among the trio listed above, etched in stone in the hall of infamy.
We need to have a conversation about fan interference. Lucky for you, Grandstand Central was fortunate enough to find Bartman, Maier, and Caldwell sitting down for just such a conversation in a friendly neighborhood bar in baseball fan purgatory. This was our exclusive conversation.
This panel was in no way real, and all quotes are fabricated with what we’d like to imagine these guys would say.
GSC: Thanks for taking the time, gentlemen. I know it probably isn’t easy to revisit your moments of infamy, but Houston Astros fans have forced our hand. We appreciate it.
Bartman: Of course. And you know what would’ve been easier? If Alex Gonzalez hadn’t made that error and botched the inning-ending double play. Water under the bridge though, right?
GSC: Right… sorry. So, Jeffrey, you’re the O.G. when it comes to postseason fan interference. Anything you want to get off your chest right away?
Maier: Sure, yeah. I go by Jeff now, by the way, but no biggie…I mean, at least I helped out my own squad. Steve hurt the Cubs, and Troy had the right idea but umpire Cowboy Joe West really screwed him. If 12-year-old me doesn’t deflect that ball into the stands, Tony Tarasco catches it and the Orioles don’t have to deal with Mariano Rivera the next two innings in a tie ballgame.
GSC: Good point, Jeff. None of you guys directly impacted a game-winning or losing play, but yours was the closest in terms of actual game impact. Isn’t that right, Steve?
Bartman: Absolutely. Mine was a foul ball, and if it weren’t for Mark Prior and the bullpen choking and the error by Gonzalez, everyone forgets about me and my stupid headphones.
GSC: Troy, yours was in the first inning. Sure looks like you played everything correctly and fell victim to the ego of Joe West and friends.
Campbell: That’s right. I didn’t reach over the wall, the ball came to me. The idea that I wouldn’t play the ball out of sheer self-defense — not to mention the fact that it would be a top-notch souvenir — is crazy.
I’ll tell you what I told the Houston Chronicle: I didn’t reach over the wall; I was on this side of the line. I don’t understand what happened. I know the rules, and I didn’t reach over the line.
GSC: You bring up a good point, Troy. How can a fan not be expected to defend themselves from a ball leaving the field of play? It isn’t your fault that you were put in that position.
Campbell: Nope. And you know what? This is the only sport where this is even a thing. You didn’t see me sitting on the rim last year in the Western Conference Finals trying to swat away a Steph Curry three as the Warriors were beating the Rockets. Or I’d love to come out of nowhere and trip-up Andrew Luck or Blake Bortles right before they cross the goal line to clinch the division. But different game, different rules, I guess.
Bartman: No kidding, same here. I was just trying to protect my Walkman from that screaming line drive. Moises Alou was practically in my lap trying to catch it. No interference.
GSC: Actually, Steve, replays are clear that you reached over the railing and deflected the ball away from Alou. Pretty different from Troy’s.
Bartman: Borderline at best. But at least it wasn’t a home run ball. Besides Pee Pee Hands Alou wouldn’t have caught it anyway, and if the Cubs hadn’t choked, everyone forgets about me. But I guess I wouldn’t have received that 2016 championship ring either.
GSC: Outside of needing literal police protection after the game, changing your phone number, being harassed to the point the governor suggested you enter the witness protection program, and never attending a game at Wrigley Field again… yeah, I’d say you came out in good shape.
Maier: Being in my home ballpark helping the Yankees really softened the blow for me I guess, huh? I even interned with a big-league team out of college. Could you imagine Steve catching on in ticket sales with the Diamondbacks?
Bartman: I mean, the Cubs gave me a ring, so…
GSC: Okay, we’re off track. Let’s talk ab-
Campbell: About how I was the only one who clearly didn’t reach over the outfield wall, yet was also the only one called for interference?
GSC: Sure. MLB instant replay tends to be nearly as arbitrary as the NFL’s system. Though in this instance, Joe West made the call on the field of fan interference and there apparently wasn’t a definitive replay angle to overturn it. Here was the angle that should have done the trick.
Screen shot from TBS of why they likely didn’t have a “definitive” look at Betts glove in the crowd pic.twitter.com/HZKuqMRhSW
— Mike Ferrin (@Mike_Ferrin) October 18, 2018
Campbell: Thanks a lot, security guard.
Bartman: Wonder if that’s one of the same security guards that didn’t keep me from being pelted with beer and hot dogs.
GSC: Seems unlikely.
Campbell: MLB security hasn’t exactly been top notch in recent memory. Remember the crazy father-son duo that attacked the Royals’ first-base coach in 2002? How did that happen, and why did it take so long for security to stop them?
GSC: For sure. That’s probably the most severe example — the poor coach suffered permanent hearing damage from the incident — but that’s only one instance. Steve, you’re the Cubs fan on this panel. Were you at the Cubs-Dodgers bullpen incident in 2000? That drunken brawl between players and fans led to permanent security changes.
Bartman: Do you think I would admit it if I was anywhere in the vicinity of that situation?
GSC: Maybe not. But it wasn’t all that far down the foul line from where your problems started three years later. Besides, those updates encouraged league-wide security updates in foul territory. Just ask Gary Sheffield. Security helped keep him from decking a fan with a quick right hook after he thought he was sucker-punched at Fenway Park in 2005.
Bartman: But none of that helped me, so…
GSC: Right. At any rate, let’s get back to how culpable MLB is in this whole thing. What could be done differently that might avoid a life-altering event for fans?
Maier: Well, in my case, I was one of several fans that ran down in front of our seats into the aisle. There weren’t actually seats along the outfield wall in old Yankee Stadium, perhaps for that reason. Sure seems like nowadays, security wouldn’t allow fans to access a space like that if it wasn’t their assigned seat.
Bartman: Not sure there’s anything to be done in my case… even today’s instant replay system probably wouldn’t have overturned the non-interference call.
GSC: Both fair points. Tony?
Campbell: Well, for one, stay out of the way of the camera shot. Isn’t the security guard supposed to be watching the crowd and not game anyways? As far as avoiding these situations in the future, I’m not sure many additional steps can be taken. Do we really want fans removed from along the outfield wall just to avoid a controversy every half a decade?
GSC: Well, most MLB parks have implemented more protective netting around home plate, extending as far as the ends of each dugout in some cases. What about netting all around the ballpark? Or at least foul pole to foul pole?
Bartman: That would have saved me a lot of trouble, not to mention protected me from that frozen rope of a liner…
GSC: Steve, I let it slide the first time, but I feel obliged to point out that it was a pop-up that you deflected away from Alou. Not a line drive. Not even close.
Bartman: Agree to disagree. I have my World Series ring, and everyone else can have their protective netting. I’m done going to games now anyway.
GSC: I could get behind protective netting from foul pole to foul pole. Not sure it’s necessary in home run territory. Perhaps each ballpark could add wall cameras in the power alleys and center field? Adding those to the foul pole cameras would ensure that there are at least two cameras catching every possible disputed fly ball. Two cameras equals a lesser chance that we’ll have a view entirely obstructed, as in Troy’s case.
Campbell: Seems easy enough. Would have helped both me and my Astros out a great deal.
Maier: I’m good with cameras now. But I’ll go on the record as saying that I’m glad the technology didn’t exist in 1996…
GSC: Fair enough, but even regular old instant replay angles showed that you reached over the wall. If MLB had today’s replay infrastructure with those old-school cameras, they still would have overturned that call on the field. Clear fan interference.
Maier: I plead the 5th.
GSC: Gotta say, Jeff, you came out of all this the best of anyone. Everyone except Orioles fans loves you, the Yankees won the game and and the World Series, and you got to move on with your life. The jury’s still out for Troy, but his team didn’t win. And Steve… well, you had a documentary made about your moment. Which is either a really good sign or a really bad one, and let’s just say that it wasn’t the former.
Bartman: Yeahhh… So about that protective netting…