Twenty years ago, Oriole Park at Camden Yards brought in an era of fake history in baseball architecture. So it fits that The Baltimore Sun's roundup of the park's greatest moments would feature fake history too. For the No. 1 moment, baseball beat reporter Dan Connolly described the night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak, on Sept. 6, 1995:
In the fourth inning, He hit a 3-0 pitch from Shawn Boskie into deep left for his 15th homer of the season. Maybe it was grooved. Maybe it wasn't. Doesn't matter. The stadium may never be as charged up as it was that night.
We'll skip over the copy-editing error that, as a tipster pointed out, turned Ripken into Jesus. The bigger sign of what's wrong with The Sun—and baseball, and 21st century civilization—is the part about the grooved pitch. It didn't happen.
This isn't a debate. This is a fantasy. Check the box score. Boskie gave up three runs, all on solo home runs. The batter before Ripken, Bobby Bonilla, led off the fourth inning with a homer to break a 1-1 tie. The batter after Ripken, Harold Baines, hit a deep fly to left-center. Perhaps Shawn Boskie was trying to make this a special, memorable evening for the entire Baltimore lineup?
No. Boskie was trying to win a baseball game. That's exactly what he told Buster Olney, then with The Sun, in 1997 when the question of a grooved pitch came up: "We really needed to win that game."
Specifically, the California Angels came into that game in first place in their division, but in a 1-10 tailspin. Over the previous 12 days, the Seattle Mariners had made up six games in the standings, on their way to catching the Angels and beating them in a one-game playoff.
And the night before, the Orioles had beaten California 8-0, with Ripken going 3-for-5 and hitting a home run.
Cal Ripken Jr. was an extraordinarily good ballplayer. It's strange that this should need to be said, but it does. The press and the public have decided they prefer celebrating him as a plaster saint, a monument to the American Work Ethic, the Man Who Saved Baseball. This has helped make Ripken wealthy and beloved, but it has simultaneously turned him into a sort of anti-Derek Jeter, his actual achievements diminished, rather than inflated, by the hype.
And so we end up deep in needless mystification, with Ripken's hometown newspaper peddling a conspiracy theory to explain how it was that a two-time MVP, a future Hall of Famer, managed to hit a home run off a pitcher with a 5.14 career ERA, on a 3-0 count.
Or not peddling it. Connolly is merely floating the idea: "Maybe it was grooved. Maybe it wasn't. Doesn't matter." This is the worst part of all. This lazy little throwaway—because it is a lazy little throwaway—betrays a deeply depraved fake-sophistication, ignorance dressed up as knowingness. Dan Connolly is at peace with the idea that a sportswriter's job is to peddle made-up narratives. He doesn't care whether he's been lied to or not. He's just telling a story he heard. Doesn't matter.
Hey whatever: when the legend becomes fact, print the legend, right? No. The legend is stupid. The facts are there. Print the facts.