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Baseball's most famous fan-interference plays: Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman

The Rays got all bent out of shape Sunday when a fan interfered with a ball that appeared catchable to third baseman Evan Longoria and extended the ninth inning of their 5-3 victory over the Red Sox. First, let's give the fan a break. Despite manager Joe Maddon trying to educate fans on etiquette, let's be real: A fan sees a ball coming at him in the stands, and the natural instinct is to at least put his hands up to protect against getting plunked by a baseball. Anyway, Sunday's play turned out to not hurt the Rays. Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit the foul, ended up flying out to right for the final out. But here are two cases of fan-interference plays that potentially altered the outcome of a game and what became of those two famous (or perhaps infamous) fans.

Jeffrey Maier

The situation: The Yankees trailed the Orioles 4-3 in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.

What happened: Yankees star Derek Jeter hit a fly ball to deep right. Orioles rightfielder Tony Tarasco drifted back, and just as he reached up for an attempted catch, a 12-year-old from New Jersey named Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and knocked the ball back into the stands. Rightfield umpire Rich Garcia ruled it a home run, and the score was tied at 4.

What happened next: The Yankees won 5-4 in 11 innings. The Orioles' protest was denied because judgment calls cannot be protested. After reviewing the tape, Garcia said Maier did reach over the fence but he didn't think Tarasco would've made the catch.

The effect: The Yankees won the series in five games, then defeated the Braves in six games to win their first World Series since 1978.

The aftermath: The next season Yankee Stadium put up a railing in right to prevent fans from reaching over the fence. Maier became a celebrity. He appeared on David Letterman's show and was given a key to the city by Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He went on to play baseball at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and became the school's all-time hits leader. He was a consultant for a minor-league team and, according to the New York Times, is seeking a major-league front-office job.

Steve Bartman

The situation: The Cubs led the Marlins 3-0 in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field and were five outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. There was one out and a runner on second.

What happened: Florida's Luis Castillo lifted a foul pop down into the leftfield corner. Just as leftfielder Moises Alou jumped in an attempt to catch the ball, fan Steve Bartman, sitting in aisle 4, row 8, seat 113, reached over and deflected the ball. Alou went crazy, and Castillo had new life.

What happened next: Castillo walked on a wild pitch. That was followed by a single, an error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez (the real blunder of the inning), a double, an intentional walk, a sacrifice fly, another intentional walk, another double and a single. By the time the top of the eighth was over, the Marlins led 8-3.

The effect: Regardless of what effect Bartman had, this much is fact: The Cubs lost 8-3, then lost Game 7, also at Wrigley, 5-3.

The aftermath: The Cubs haven't won a playoff game since Game 4 of the 2003 NLCS. Five years later, Alou told the Palm Beach Post he doubted he could have caught the ball, but he later claimed he didn't remember saying that. As for Bartman, at the time he was a 26-year-old office worker. He was the subject of death threats and remains a villain to many Cubs fans. Bartman apologized the next day and has not talked about it since. He still lives in Chicago but well out of the public eye.

Baseball's most famous fan-interference plays: Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman 05/04/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 10:48am]
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