On Sunday afternoon Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals launched a monumental 392-foot asterisk toward the left-centerfield bleachers in Milwaukee's County Stadium. As it descended, some spectators reached out and tried to grab the ball. Second base umpire Bob Davidson (right) immediately ruled fan interference, and McGwire wound up on second with a mere double, instead of what many felt should have been home run number 66.
The two spectators who claim to have touched the ball as it landed, Michael Chapes, 31, of Waterford, Wis. (far right, sunglasses), and Allen Riesbeck, 45, of Dubuque, Iowa (far right, shirtless), both insist that it cleared the wall before they made contact with it. However, when the Brewers returned to their dugout after that inning, leftfielder Darrin Jackson told centerfielder Marquis Grissom that he believed the ball had not been a home run. Grissom, who says that the tiered wall at County Stadium has caused about 10 similar disputes this season, said, "I'm not 100 percent sure. And if I can't see it from 20 feet away, then that's a very tough call for the umpire."
Davidson, a 16-year veteran with a reputation for calling far more balks than any other National League ump, didn't balk at making the most important decision of his career. "The ball got out there in about half a second," Davidson said after the game. "I got out there as fast as I could. The fan was leaning over, and the ball hit him below the yellow line [painted along the bleacher railing, above which a ball must land to be a homer]. I could care less if he hits 150 home runs. As an umpire you can't get caught up in that."
Moments after the game McGwire watched the replay twice in the St. Louis clubhouse and concluded, "Upon further review, it looked like a home run."
The Cardinals asked the National League office to reverse the call, an appeal which was denied, as expected, on Monday by league president Leonard Coleman. "We may look back on this as a pivotal moment in baseball history," Cardinals catcher Tom Lampkin said late Sunday. "Who knows? This could turn out to be the homer that decides the record."
Among those who hope the controversy continues to escalate is Johnny Luna, an 18-year-old from Queens, N.Y., who wound up with the ball. Luna and four friends had left New York City on Thursday afternoon and had driven 24 hours straight, to Chicago, to witness the final 10 days of the home run duel. After shuttling between games in Chicago (where the Cubs were playing the Reds, page 44) and Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday, they remained in Milwaukee on Sunday and bought five bleacher seats for a total of $4. An hour after Luna grabbed the ball, one friend, 40-year-old Gerald DiGilio, said the group planned to sell it to the highest bidder—a clear case of the national pastime meeting the American way. "We drove all the way out here to see history, and we became a part of it," said DiGilio, the ball bulging in his pants pocket. "Maybe it's a home run ball. Maybe it ain't. But it ought to be worth millions as the homer that didn't count. Heck, we may never go back to Queens. We may go straight to the Bahamas."