Speaking of the bizarre, I was there at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 9, 1996, when Derek Jeter sent that lazy fly ball toward the right-field seats in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco drifted back with ease, and while he stood on the warning track, he looked up for the catch.
The ball hit the glove of ... well, not Flavor Flav. I'll get to the man otherwise known as William Jonathan Drayton Jr. in a moment. This mostly is about Maier, a wide-eyed kid from Old Tappan, N.J. With the whole world watching, he leaned over the right-field wall as far as his little body would let him. Before long, he felt cowhide smack against leather, and then he pulled himself back from the wall with his glove and the ball to create baseball history for the short run, the medium run and in the long run.
Here was the short run: Instead of right-field umpire Rich Garcia calling fan interference on the play, he signaled "home run" for Jeter, and the game was tied, and the Orioles went bonkers. The Yankees used the momentum from the chaos to win that evening along the way to the AL pennant.
As for the medium run, those 1996 Yankees won the first of their four World Series championships in five years. In contrast, the Orioles went on a lengthy playoff drought that lasted until 2012, which ties into the long run, which continues regarding The Home Run That Wasn't. That's because Maier's fifteen minutes of fame have lasted two decades.
For one, Maier returned home from Yankee Stadium back then with his glove to finish his Little League career, and he later starred for his high school baseball team. After that, he went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he became the school's all-time hits leader as a standout third baseman and outfielder. His Division III exploits weren't Major League worthy, but he remained close to the game with roles spanning from a scout to an adviser in baseball leagues around New England.
Through it all, Maier kept the glove. He eventually sold it to a collector, and now that collector has it in the hands of the Heritage Auctions folks. Those familiar with such things say Maier's glove ranks with the ball that rolled through Bill Buckner's legs during the 1986 World Series, Curt Schilling's bloody sock from the 2004 AL playoffs, and the broken bat that Roger Clemens flung in the direction of Mike Piazza during the 2000 Fall Classic.
In the end, Piazza's bat went for $47,800, Schilling's sock went for $92,613, and Buckner's ball went for $418,250.
The final bid for Maier's glove? Let's just say I won't be surprised by the final number, which will be slightly beyond ridiculous. I saw this coming. Like within 24 hours. That's because I decided to spend the next game after the whole controversy sitting in the same Section 29 of the right-field bleachers of Yankee Stadium that featured Maier the day before.
This was one of my all-time biggest thrills as a sports journalist. The bleachers were so New York. There was that huge guy sitting in front of me wearing a Santa Claus outfit and holding a sign that said, "Where is Jeffrey?" There also were those two Yankee fans screaming into my face with Bronx all over their voices. After they noticed my media credential, they demanded that I'd explain to them why national and local reporters blew the call. Not the one about Maier's fan interference, but the one about his error, at least in their minds.
"You guys never mention the kid didn't make the catch," one of those Yankee fans said, getting louder by the millisecond. "You would have caught the ball. I would have caught the ball. I mean, the kid is supposed to be a Little Leaguer, and he couldn't even use two hands. What a bum."
Those Yankee fans also joined the slew of others who conversed (and not quietly) with members of the large security force that was placed in Section 29 to avoid another Maier situation. They spoke of wishing to keep their inalienable right to interfere with a fly ball if they chose to do so. Somebody even yelled at a New York policeman, who apparently was blocking the view of the batboys in the Yankee dugout, "Sit down, buddy. You're killing me."
Then there was Flavor Flav, complete with a gigantic purple cap turned sideways and that clock around his neck. He stood at the bleacher gate, where he argued with a stadium usher while waving his ticket in the air. Due to the heightened security, fans only could enter the area between half-innings, and that included rappers wearing purple caps and clocks.
Gradually, those in the bleachers began chanting, "Free Flavor Flav, free Flavor Flav, free Flavor Flav."
I left my seat to interview the man of the moment, and he filled my notebook with his thoughts on the Yankees and Jeffrey Maier. That's when I knew the following: If Flavor Flav was discussing all of this with gusto, then this Jeffrey Maier thing was destined for longevity.
At the end of the interview, Flavor Flav glanced at what I had dangling around my neck, and he said, "Can I borrow your media pass?"
I said no, by the way.