BOY OH BOY OH BOY - 10/13/96


Staff member

By Tony Kornheiser
October 13, 1996

Enough with this kid. I am referring, of course, to The Kid, the apple-cheeked Jersey lad who leaned over the right field railing at Yankee Stadium, stuck out his glove and gave the Yankees a gift home run.

All anybody's writing about, all anybody's talking about, is The Kid.

Jeffrey Maier, 12, has gotten so much attention, he's retained a publicist. A publicist! He's 12! At that age the only thing he should be retaining is his front teeth. A deli in New York has named a sandwich after him. The press is eating it up. So to speak. How much publicity is The Kid gonna get? Who is he, Tommy Hilfiger?

It's a sad commentary on my profession that the debate between two of the most dynamic political figures in America, Vice President Hal Gore and that other guy, was hardly noticed because my colleagues were infatuated by a 12-year-old boy with a baseball glove.

As a journalist, I'm embarrassed by this. The Kid's been on the front page of The Washington Post, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Hustler and the Rawalpindi Gazette. He has been on Letterman, Rosie O'Donnell, "Good Morning America" and "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee." I hear he's been booked on "Nightline," to discuss his views on a Middle East summit.

Enough, already.

Okay, here's my take on The Kid.

He's a punk, I sez.

I was at the game in New York, I seen the play, so listen up:

First, The Kid cuts school to go to the game. So he's a truant, and I think he should be suspended from school for five whole entire days. But not during the playoffs. Starting next season. (Geeky baseball joke.)

Second, what was he doing out at night in just a T-shirt? He could catch cold. What kind of parents does he have? A child welfare agency should take him away and put him in an orphanage and feed him gruel.

And third, he drops the ball!

Kid has it in his glove, and it pops out like a poultry timer. What a doof.

Tony, this is the lowest you've ever sunk. He's a 12-year-old boy, and he's as cute as a button. So what if he hurt the Orioles? Stop pandering to the Washington audience.

I am not pandering. I suppose you think it is pandering to point out that some little drip manufactures a home run that loses a game for a team of selfless, noble, Olympian super-athletes for whom everyone with any decency is rooting, including, to my personal knowledge, God himself. As opposed to the Yankees, most of whom are necrophiliacs. You call that pandering?

All the kid did was try to catch a fly ball. You'd have done the same thing yourself.

Actually, I wouldn't have.

I was in Jeff Maier's shoes once. This is a true story. I was just a year or so older. I, too, had gone to a baseball game in New York, in the old Polo Grounds. I, too, had brought my baseball glove. And I, too, had a ball hit near me. It was a foul ball, coming right at me, at approximately the same speed as that flying cow in "Twister." Any kid worth his spikes would have lifted his glove hand and easily caught the ball.

Instead, I panicked and ducked. The ball sailed over me, and clobbered the old man sitting behind me. It hit him in the forehead, knocking him out. It hit him so flush I could see the stitch marks from the ball on his face. I thought he was dead. I felt like a murderer.

That moment of cowardice has stayed with me for almost 35 years. It haunts me now when I take my kids to sporting events. I fear having good seats -- the seats near first or third in baseball, and the loge seats, just above the plexiglass in hockey -- because I know those seats expose us to sharply hit foul balls and whizzing pucks. My kids will be depending on their famous sportswriter dad to keep them safe from any flying missiles, and I know I won't catch them if they come my way. I'll duck like the coward I am. And my kids will take the shot in the labonza.

So, in truth, I envy The Kid for trying, for getting a glove on the ball. By the same token I fear for him. He is already past the high point in his life and coming down the other side. By next week, he'll be nostalgia. He's 12 years old, and it's over for him. Where does he go from here, "Hollywood Squares"? "I'll take the kid who swiped the ball, to block."

See, in our minds Jeff Maier will always be this 12-year-old kid who reached over the rail and gave the Yankees a home run they shouldn't have had. But you can't stay 12 forever. Think about it: The kid who played Eddie Haskell is over 50 now.

I'm looking 30 years down the road and seeing this kid in an Atlantic City lounge wearing a bad hairpiece and nursing a martini. By then he'll have been divorced three times (most notably from Anna Paquin), and he'll have gone bankrupt after sinking all his money into a roasted-chicken franchise. He'll be reduced to autographing glossy pictures of himself from that magic night at Yankee Stadium at card shows.

Every few months a talk show host like Maury or Geraldo will do one of those cheesy "Remember When?" segments, and they'll trot him out, alongside people like Danny Bonaduce. He'll take the place of the girl from "Father Knows Best," who will be in a nursing home and unable to remember which one was Bud and which one was Princess.

His siblings will hate him; they'll go on TV shows and criticize him for being the favored child in the family and being the cause of their own identity crises. His parents will go on those same shows and express chagrin at his alienation from them. Everyone will agree that it started with the night he reached out and tried to catch that ball at Yankee Stadium.

And they'll blame the media.