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Flash the Leather...Elsewhere (5/14/03) --Take a look at that picture to the left. Make you think of anything? What comes to your head? Nothing? Pride? If youíre like me, itís pure, unadulterated rage. I donít think Iíll forget that moment. For those of you not in the know, allow me to refresh your memory. It was Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS. The American League East was fully represented with the Baltimore Orioles traveling to New York to battle the Bombers. As any loyal American does, I was vigorously cheering against the Yankees. While the Orioles those days werenít exactly a model of fiscal responsibility either, they were still better than the alternative.
Things started off fine for the Orioles as they were leading the Yankees in the eighth inning. A young Derek Jeter stepped in and hit a deep fly off of Armando Benitez (Benitez give up a deep fly? Naaaaaaaaah.) Baltimore right fielder Tony Tarasco backtracks to the right field wall. Clearly, the ball is dying at the warning track and isnít going to make it to the seats. Tarasco reaches up andÖ
The ball never came down because a twelve year-old Yankee fan named Jeffrey Maier stole the ball. While we can expound all day on how the Orioles got screwed and the umpires totally copped out on making the correct call, thatís not what Iím talking about today. Look closer at the picture of young Jeffrey snaring the ball into oblivion. See that on his left hand? Yep, itís a glove. And it cost the Orioles the game. The days of bringing your glove need to go the way of bringing your own cooler. Itís time to let it go.
Wearing a baseball glove to the game is a walking declaration that ďI am one huge dork.Ē I agree this is a generalized statement and is rather cruel in some cases, but let me preface this by saying that I donít consider anybody five or under this way because, hey, theyíre just kids. The fact that theyíre at the ballpark is a good thing in itself, as the game needs to be promoted to future generations. But beyond that, Iím sorry, but youíre fair game. Letís run down the typical life span of a game-attending glove wearer.
Ages 6-10: My parents have decided to offset all the good they are doing for me by taking me to the game. They let me wear my glove, which is required by local laws to be at least five sizes too big, and run around the stadium concourse like Andruw Jones roaming center field. During the game, Iíll wave my huge leather mitt around like a nuisance. Will my parents realize the harm they are causing me? No, instead theyíll send me down to get the monstrosity signed by some Double A third baseman whoíll be selling tires in two years.
Ages 11-13: This is an important time in my life. I am now old enough to realize that I am wearing a baseball glove to games that I have no hope of taking part in. It kind of feels strange to wear one, but itís what Iíve always done. Besides, my parents wouldnít have let me wear one to games if they knew it was dumb. Would they?
Ages 14-29: I have now made a conscious decision to come out of the closet as a loser. While the younger kids canít help it, I can. I wear my glove to the game in hopes of snaring a foul ball, even though I can buy the exact same thing in the gift shop for three dollars. My hand feels naked without the leather. A good thing is that I donít need to worry about it getting in the way of my friends or girlfriend at the game because these people clearly donít exist.
Ages 30+: I have doomed myself to a life of complete and utter shame. In the off chance that I am married, I have married a woman who too, agrees with the principle that the crowd should all be wearing baseball gloves. My kids are all wearing gloves. My seven year-old son has even inherited my trusty old leather, which my parents encouraged me to get signed by former Pittsburgh pitcher Bob Kipper. I am ashamed of that signature.
Now donít get me wrong. There are few things in the sporting world more pure or more sacred than a manís relationship with his baseball glove. That doesnít mean, however, that you bring it to the game. I have absolutely no respect for thirty year-old men wearing their Rawlings to the ballpark, unless they are wearing stirrups and cleats. Itís not only ridiculous, but it can actually affect the game.
Most everyone knows the example of Jeffrey Maier. But I saw two examples in the last week that simply enraged me and made me realize that this madness has to stop. Now.
Case 1. My beloved Minnesota Twins were doing battle in Fenway Park. On a season-opening dry spell, they were battling back against Tim Wakefield and the BoSox. A win in this game would be a dramatic comeback and the clinching of an important road series against one of the top teams in the American League. Down four to zero for most of the game, the Twins had battled back to make it four to three in the sixth inning. Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer steps to the plate and drives a grounder down the left-field line. The ball is rolling to the corner whenÖ
Some moron reaches his glove down and comes within inches of scooping up what is unquestionably a live ball. If he had taken this ball, Cuddyer (who ended up with a triple) is doomed to a simple double, preventing the tying run which scored on the play. Just because you are wearing a glove does not make you the new left fielder. I donít care how close your seats are or how big of a Red Sox fan you are; keep your glove off the field. Or better yet, keep it at home. One more note, this ďfanĒ was clearly well into his teen years.
Case 2. Rafael Palmeiro. Who can deny that he has been one of the most consistent hitters over the last ten years? The baseball world has turned its attention to him recently as he made his pursuit to become the nineteenth member of the five-hundred homerun club. Palmeiro, sitting at 499, steps up and sends a frozen rope down the right-field line. The ball is hooking at the foul pole, looking like it has an outside chance of catching the pole and making history whenÖ
Some 20+ year-old reaches his glove up and pulls it into his lap. Would it have hit the pole? Probably not. But because this guy has a glove, that apparently gives him his Constitutional Right to interfere with play.
The gloves have to go. Iím sick of them and Iím sick of people interfering with play. I dare you to find me two recent examples of somebody batting down a pass or blocking a last-second three-pointer. Instead of Michael Jordan burying his shot and the Utah Jazz in the 1998 Finals, you could have some guy run out and block his shot. Then on top of that the refs say, ďToo bad, the call stands.Ē It sounds absurd, doesnít it? So why is it permitted in baseball?
If you want a foul ball, earn it. Catch it with your bare hands, chase it down, I donít care. The gloves themselves give the fan a sense of invincibility and the green-light to go after balls in play. If that guy at the Ballpark in Arlington hadnít had his glove, thereís no way he would have reached his bare hand up at Raffyís hot smash.
Would you rather be remembered as that guy or like the guy in my next story? I saw a guy at Jacobs Field a few years back catch a homerun in his beer cup. Now this is a true American. He wanted that ball so badly that he sacrificed his brew to catch the ball. Not only that, he caught the ball cleanly in a drinking cup! The fact that this guy had the dexterity to catch the ball in a cup, especially after having a few drinks, makes me think he could play for the Indians right now. This guy earned it the hard way and consequently is immortalized on Leonardite.com. Follow his lead, please, and leave the glove at home. If you catch a homerun with a beer cup, I promise I will include you on here in the future.
In the end, the Jeffrey Maier conspiracy signifies this whole problem. Even with the glove, the ball bounced off his leather and into the hands of the swarm of other fans. The glove didnít even secure him the homerun ball he presumably wore it for. That prize went to some other enterprising fan. Instead, all his glove did was cost the Orioles the game and make him the poster child for why the leather has no place in the stands.