Maier's review of instant replay? O's antagonist says it's right call

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August 31, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

It might be a little late to learn this, but I thought you should know.

Jeffrey Maier supports instant replay.

Major League Baseball began using it last week to determine whether potential home runs were fair or foul or whether they cleared the wall.

And the boy turned man who was involved in one of the most controversial "boundary" calls in the sport's history, certainly the most painful one in the Orioles' 55 years, believes baseball should do whatever it can to get those calls right.

"I think it is probably a good idea. I imagine every team has been robbed at some point," said Maier, 24, who works in accounting at a Boston bank. "There is a play we are all familiar with that comes to mind."

It occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning of the opener of the 1996 American League Championship Series. The Orioles were leading 4-3 at Yankee Stadium when Derek Jeter hit a deep fly to right field.

The Orioles' Tony Tarasco was camped under it when Maier, then a 12-year-old Yankees fan, reached out his glove in an attempt to catch the ball and deflected it over the wall for a home run.

Umpire Rich Garcia was watching Tarasco, never saw Maier and confirmed the game-tying homer. The Yankees eventually won in extra innings and took the ALCS in five games.

The Orioles protested, but judgment calls weren't reversible after the fact. If it happened now, though, umpires would be able to use in-game video to change the call.

Maier, who was a standout baseball player at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, loves the game the way it was but understands the reasons for the change.

"I guess I'd have to side with the majority and say it is a good thing," he said. "From a fan's perspective and a baseball purist's, I'd say it signifies where we are as a society and in baseball in general. But from a strategic standpoint, it makes sense."

He still contends the Yankees could have won that game without his help. Garcia has gone on record saying he doesn't think Tarasco would have caught the ball - meaning even if he had seen the interference, Jeter might have been awarded a double and could have scored later in the inning to tie the score.

"In all likelihood, the ball probably would have gone out or been a double. Or maybe it would have been caught. It's easy to play devil's advocate," Maier said. "I don't think you can assume a catch, and so it probably would have been called a double, just like when a ball is hit down the line and a fan picks it up."

If instant replay had been around in 1996, Maier's moment of fame would have been reduced to a footnote instead of an integral part of the Yankees' dynasty. Maier, who goes by Jeff and is engaged and pursuing his MBA, would be OK with that.

"In the end of the day, everyone would like to see them get the calls right," he said.

Another memory from Yankee Stadium

Thursday marks the 15th anniversary of one of the most inspirational moments in the history of Yankee Stadium: left-hander Jim Abbott's no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.

"You try not to lend too much importance to one game," said Abbott, who was 87-108 with a 4.25 ERA in a 10-year career despite being born without a right hand. "But it has amazed me how many people connect with that game, particularly Yankee fans, but really people everywhere."

Orioles fans will be able to congratulate Abbott in person Friday, when he throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Camden Yards. Now a motivational speaker, Abbott is working with the U.S. Department of Labor to promote its PITCH (Proving Individuals with Talent Can Help) program, which encourages businesses to hire disabled workers.

In 1993, the baseball world stopped and took notice of a one-handed pitcher no-hitting a great offense in a pennant race on the game's biggest stage.

Fifteen years later, Abbott is still pitching inspiration.

"The goal is to have employers look at [disabled workers] the way coaches looked at me," he said. " 'We need a left-handed pitcher. We don't care what he looks like as long as he can do the job.' And we are trying to get people to look past those things and give disabled people a chance."

Stretch run is a stretch

Much is made about making a strong September push to get into the playoffs. But the reality is if you aren't really close Sept. 1, you won't be winning your division.

Since division play began in 1969, only 10 teams that were trailing by three or more games beginning play Sept. 1 ended up winning their division.

It has happened twice in the past four years: The Anaheim Angels trailed by three games Sept. 1 and won the AL East in 2004, and the 2006 Minnesota Twins were back five games before rallying ahead of the Detroit Tigers.

In the past 39 years, the 1995 Seattle Mariners made up the most ground to win their division, eliminating a 7 1/2 -game deficit in the final month with a 20-11 record.

So a note to the Boston Red Sox: The AL East can still be yours, but it isn't likely.

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