The Rumor

E6: To Love Somebody

Sam Dingman
Host
Mac Montandon
Host
Host

The Rumor - To Love Somebody

AL CLARK: If you if you've got any kind of baseball acumen in your bloodstream at all, to have been in Baltimore that week was absolute magic and I'm glad to have been there.

MAC: After countless emails, phone calls, mysterious messages, and strange encounters with rusty mailboxes, Sam and I finally got in touch with a source we’d been chasing for months.

SAM: It was not Cal Ripken - still angling for that white whale.

MAC: True. But it was...a blue whale?

AL CLARK: Very, very seldom do you see empires getting caught up in the game because we work the game. And we take that charge very seriously.

SAM: Former American League umpire Al Clark, who is in no way whale-like in actuality, was on the field the night Cal Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game. He was part of the umpiring crew that didn’t intervene while the game was suspended for twenty minutes as Cal took that memorable gratitude lap around the field.

AL CLARK: It was the first and only time. That I ever saw four umpires applauding an accomplishment of a player.

MAC: Since his retirement, Al’s done a lot of something most umpires don’t do: he’s talked about what it’s like to be an umpire. Major league umpires are notoriously private - but not Al. In fact, in our conversation with him, he was very open about a pretty big blemish on his record. The story’s a little convoluted, but basically, Al authenticated some baseballs from historic games he was on the field for - including the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record. The problem is, some of those baseballs weren’t actually used in those games. Al pled guilty - to conspiracy, of all things - and spent four months in jail. And these days, he owns up to it.

AL CLARK: I have no problem talking about it. I talk about it in the book. I do some motivational speaking and include it in my talks there. I made a mistake. I made a huge and drastic mistake. I did a favor for somebody that I should not have done.

MAC: He even published a memoir in collaboration with journalist Dan Schlossberg, which includes the phony ball story, and many others.

SAM: There are two men pictured on the cover of Al’s book - Al and Cal. The cover photo is an action shot of Clark ejecting Ripken. In fact, it’s the moment Aaron Ledesma told us about back in Episode Three.

MAC: July twenty-first of ‘97, you threw Ripken out in the second inning ostensibly for arguing balls and strikes. One former player has suggested. That perhaps Cal needed a little extra rest that day, that week, that season even, right, and that might have factored into what transpired during that game.

AL CLARK: That was early in the ball game. It was a Sunday afternoon, Mac. It had been rumored that Cal's back was hurting. And as the game progressed into the second or third inning, I don't remember which one it was. Cal took a couple of pitches, was called out. Believe it or not, Cal knows a little blue language. This is complete supposition on my part, I certainly wouldn't put this on Cal. But if his back was hurting, he knew exactly what to say to whom to get the desired result.

MAC: In light of Al’s vivid memories of key moments in Cal Ripken history, there was one game in particular we were especially interested in discussing with him...

SAM: One of the other stories that Mac and I are very keen to ask you about, Al, is the power outage in 1997 in Baltimore. I'm wondering if you can tell us that story kind of from your...from the ump’s side.

AL CLARK: That is really a great story. There's a lot of moving parts in this story.

SAM: I’m Sam Dingman.

MAC: I’m Mac Montandon. And from Blue Wire, this is The Rumor.

SAM: Episode 6: To Love Somebody.

SAM: Al Clark was the crew chief of the umpiring squad on the night of the outage. And one of those moving parts he mentioned in the story of the night was Al himself. As the outage wore on, he was running back and forth between the Orioles clubhouse and the Mariners clubhouse, keeping Orioles manager Davey Johnson and Mariners manager Lou Piniella in the loop about what was happening. Finally, after a couple hours of delay, Al told us there was enough light to play the game.

AL CLARK: I said, OK, good, get your pitcher started and let's go. Well, Piniella, he said, Al I gotta tell ya, in all honesty, Randy’s still gonna pitch the game but, I gotta be honest with ya, he’s had four or five beers.

MAC: Now remember, the scheduled Mariners pitcher for this game - the guy who Al says Lou told him was already several beers in – that was Randy Johnson. A.K.A. the guy who threw so hard that one of his pitches vaporized a passing mourning dove.

AL CLARK : So, I went over to the Oriole side and Davey Johnson was there, Brady Anderson, Cal, Mike Mussina, who was at the time, the Oriole player rep. And we're all gathered in the in the runway, you know, right behind the dugout. And I told these guys, I said, listen, I got to be as truthful with you as I can, Piniella said that Randy’s still going to start the game but he's had four or five beers. Well, those players looked at each other and Brady Anderson looked at me, and he says, I'm going to clean this up a whole lot. He said there's no way I'm going out there and hittin’ ‘em. We're done.

SAM: And with that, Al says, this small cabal - including, according to Al, Cal Ripken himself, reached a kind of unspoken agreement. The game would be postponed, and the postponement would be blamed on the power outage, when the real reason was not a single little yellow wire, or eighteen bulbs, it was four or five beers, and one big unit.

MAC: And so just to follow up a little bit, Al, sprung out of that night was a somewhat elaborate rumor, let's say, that had the Orioles and coordinating with the league or some other entity to figure out how to have the game canceled, right, that it was essentially like an inside job because Ripken was not ready to play that night or able to play.

AL CLARK: That's not accurate. Cal was absolutely ready to play. Cal was in that meeting that we had in the in the runway. I mean, there was no doubt if we had played, Cal was playing. If he was in uniform he- I mean he was there. I mean, he was there just like he was there and Mussina was there and Brady was there. There was no doubt about it.

MAC: Sam?

SAM: Yes.

MAC: Hi.

SAM: Um...did Al Clark just completely upend our entire story?

MAC: I don't even know.

SAM: [01:15:46] I mean, if the if the real story of what happened is, you know, none of this Costner nonsense, but just that Randy Johnson was tanked…?!

MAC: It's still a good story!

MAC: Now, before we go any further here, we should say that we obviously reached out to Randy to comment on Al Clark’s account of the outage, but Randy declined to comment.

SAM: We also reached out to Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner - who Jeff Reboulet told us was enjoying a few brews of his own in a cowboy hat, posibly - as well as Mariners manager Lou Piniella, and they both also declined to comment.

MAC: Right. So - where did this leave us?

SAM: I know that by choosing to believe Al Clark’s story. And I know that by doing that, I’m choosing to believe the account of a guy who pled guilty to bartering his credibility as part of a sports memorabilia scheme.

MAC: So, there’s that.

SAM: There is that. But with that caveat...if let myself take this leap of faith - and in a show where we’ve invoked a fair amount of religious imagery, why not? - For me, Al Clark’s story buttons it all up. It explains everything - or at least everything that I care about. It explains why everyone - players, fans, even electricians - thought it was weird that the game was postponed even though it seemed like there was more than enough light to play. It explains why the game was postponed even though there had been previous outages that took out more bulbs. It explains why no one who was actually at Oriole Park that night thinks the postponement had anything to do with Kevin Costner, but a few of them heard it had something to do with the Mariners. And it even sort of explains why Bill Malstrom told us the story isn’t as juicy as some people think it is, but that it is still a somewhat sensitive subject. Though admittedly, it does not explain what the hell he needed to ask permission to talk to us about - so I suppose the juice paradox persists.

And last but not least, I choose to believe Al Clark’s story because it still lets me have my District Attorney Jim Garrison as portrayed by Kevin Costner in the 1991 film “JFK” moment. Because, when I, against the advice of my mental health professional, re-watched the ballpark b-roll footage from the night of August 14th 1997, for the umpteenth time, methinks I detected a bit of a smirk in the tone of Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina’s comments to reporters…

BRADY ANDERSON: I went out there and I thought it was playable. But you know when you...

MIKE MUSSINA: Yeah, if you don’t have enough light...you know, this is a big league game, and Randy throws pretty hard, and all that kind of thing and we don’t want people in the seats with someone foul tipping the ball…

SAM: Now I’m going to have to ask you all to make your own leap of faith here. But when I look at the expressions on Brady and Mike’s faces and listen to the tone of their voice as they make these comments, and try to imagine that I’m watching them frantically spin the outage as the reason for the postponement because their friend and teammate Cal Ripken has just become embroiled in a potentially massive scandal, it strains credibility. But when I watch them and instead imagine that they’re trying to keep a straight face, because just a few minutes earlier, Al Clark has informed them that the scariest pitcher in baseball is allegedly hammered and might not be able to throw baseballs in a straight line, I buy it. And finally, there is this one image from the b-roll, which I’d glossed over every other time we watched the footage. At twenty-one seconds, Randy Johnson is shown in the Mariners dugout, pointing up at the lights and chatting with someone just out of frame. And in his right hand, he is holding a paper cup. At twenty-five seconds, he lifts that cup to his lips, looks directly into the camera, and takes a sip. Now we will never know what was in that cup. But as back-and-to-the-left moments go - based on what we know now, this one seems a lot more credible than knuckle shadow.

MAC: Alright well, listen-

SAM: Case closed!

MAC: Damnit. I hear you Sam, I hear you. And you make a compelling case.

SAM: Thank you very much.

MAC: However, I’m still not ready to end this thing. I still have questions. Still doubt that we’ve heard the whole story. That we’ve told the whole story. And part of that feeling is because -- there are a few details from our investigation that we haven’t yet disclosed and that I can’t stop thinking about. There are leads that have surfaced over the last several weeks that we have not been able to chase down. Now, we haven’t been withholding them, so much as hoping they might take us farther than they have in the direction of some sort of illumination.

SAM: I see what you did there.

MAC: Thank you. There are three leads, or threads, I’m thinking about especially here: One -there’s the mysterious fifth keyholder Alonzo and Eric told us about, a guy who worked for the Orioles in 1997, and who had a key to the Old Box that once controlled the lights.


SAM: This is the guy whose name may or may not have started with the letter E. But I have to say, it turns out though, that trying to track down a guy whose name might start with E is about as easy as isolating a single faulty wire in a cabinet full of several dozen circuit breakers at the top of a lighting tower.


MAC: Right. So far, we haven’t found this Maybe E - and I’m not sure we ever will. Meanwhile - thread number two - at one point in our investigation someone who was in a position to know such a thing, told us the name of the hospital he heard Cal was allegedly taken to after the alleged fight with Kevin Costner. Without a police report, however, there was no way we could legally try to verify this with the hospital.

And then, the third lead, Dicky. A couple of months back, our producer Alexandra sent us a stack of public records related to Kevin and Cal and Kelly Ripken. Mostly this was stuff about houses they owned, businesses they ran, nothing too damning. But buried in the stack was a seven-page document about a lawsuit brought against the Ripkens by a man who once worked for Kelly and Cal and who believed he was passed over for a promotion due to racial discrimination. He had wanted to be hired as the Ripkens’ estate manager. Ultimately, this case doesn’t seem to have gone too far. But in this document were the names of three other guys who did work as estate managers for the Ripkens. And one of them held the position for just a single month. And you can probably already guess what month that was. That’s right -- August of 1997. The man is named in the document as Richard. And fairly quickly, we thought we found him. Still living in Maryland. Still working in real estate. Only now, he was going by Dicky. And we tried very, very hard to speak with Dicky. But Dicky didn’t reply to several emails and calls. And I started to think maybe he wasn’t responding because I had an out of state area code. So, I asked my cousin Eli, who has a phone with a Baltimore area code, if he would try to reach Dicky for us and pass him a message that we wanted to speak with him. And, pretty quickly, Eli got Dicky on the phone. Eli didn’t want to spook Dicky even more by asking to record the call, so afterwards he filled me in on how it went.

ELI: Our actual conversation was very short and abrupt - he was not happy to be talking about what I asked him about.

MAC: Wait - so did he confirm if he was the estate manager?

ELI: He did not.

MAC: Is it possible that Dicky, during his one month on the job as the Ripkens’ estate manager saw, heard, or learned something that might settle at least part of the Rumor once and for all? Was Dicky actually the same Richard from the public records trove? We may never know.

SAM: And then, of course, there’s that other lingering question: was there something going on between Kelly Ripken and Kevin Costner? And when it comes to that...well, it’s like we said in the first episode: we honestly don’t care if that part’s true. But even if it is: beyond the fact that there’s an abundance of evidence to suggest that it didn’t have anything to do with the power outage. The deal with Kelly and Kevin has never been the question in our minds. At this point, there’s only two questions left: why do I want to close the case?

MAC: And why do I want to keep it open?

SAM: This project gave me the chance to talk to so many people I never dreamed I’d get to talk to. People like Mike Bordick and Jeff Reboulet - people who authored some of the seminal moments in my emotional life. But if I’m being honest, my favorite interview of all was a conversation I had with Gary Thorne. Gary was the Orioles television play-by-play broadcaster for more than a decade. And while the team has had plenty of world-class storytellers grace its booth over the years, from Chuck Thompson to Jon Miller, Gary is my all-time favorite. So leave it to him to say my favorite thing anyone said in all the interviews we did for this show…

GARY THORNE: Cal is not one to turn that light on himself, you focus it on him yourself based on how you feel about him.

SAM: I’ve been focusing a light on Cal Ripken and the Orioles ever since I was ten years old. And it was more than just T-shirts. Some people hate the fact that there’s no play clock in baseball - that a game takes as long as it takes. But I’ve always loved that. It meant that when I watched the O’s on TV every night, for anywhere from two to six hours, I could get lost in a world that worked the way I wished the real one did. A world where heroes roam the earth. Some kids found that in comic books or action figures. For me, it was Cal.

And even when I couldn’t watch the Orioles on TV, I found other pathways to Birdland. Every summer, my family would rent a small cottage at the beach for two weeks. The cottage didn’t have a TV, but the town had a newsstand that sold doughnuts and USA Today, and every morning my dad and I would drive down at six am to pick up one of each. And while the rest of the family spent the day in the waves, we spent it poring over box scores.

But eventually, just following the Orioles...wasn’t enough. In the first episode of this series, Mac and I talked about our shared history of spending hours painstakingly imitating the batting stances of Orioles players. In my case, I would stand on the front steps of my parents’ house with a bat, improvising entire nine inning games.

I started doing these little bits of solitary baseball performance art in the spring of 1998 - the season after the power outage. I know it was 1998 because I remember trying to perfect Joe Carter’s batting stance, and that’s the only season Joe Carter was on the Orioles. In the course of these improvised games, whenever Cal’s spot came up in the batting order, I, as Cal, would always foul off a few invisible pitches, step out of the invisible batters-box to kick at the invisible dirt, check the signs from the invisible third-base coach, and adjust my invisible batting gloves. I would make Cal’s imaginary at-bats last as long as possible.

So - why was I spending so much time alone outside my family’s house in 1998, playing make believe? I think it’s because 1998 was a time when the world inside was changing in ways I couldn’t understand. For as long as I could remember, whenever my mom would come downstairs in the morning, my dad would look up from his coffee and box scores and sing this little fanfare to her. And my mom would stand there in her bathrobe and sort of blush. But suddenly, in the Spring of 1998, there wasn’t any singing - or any talking. Our breakfasts - and all our time together, really - had been overtaken by a stony silence.

That summer, instead of the beach, my family decided to take this camping trip in a state park in California. That meant there was no TV, no doughnut shop, no USA Today, no front stoop - no escape route to Birdland. One night, my dad announced that he was going to make spiced potatoes on the campfire. He had emptied out a bag of chips, and filled it with spices, and he sliced up the potatoes and tossed them into the bag. He stood by the fire and started shaking the bag to coat the potatoes in the spices, and the bag exploded. Potato wedges went flying everywhere, lost in the dark amongst the sand, dirt, and cigarette butts. We all stood quietly for a moment. And then I watched my dad hang his head in defeat. And I remember crawling into my tent and starting to cry. Partly because all of this was too much for me to handle without my baseball security blanket, and partly because someone in the campsite next to ours was - I swear this is true - was singing this haunting rendition of the Bee Gee’s song “To Love Somebody”.

So, we get back from the trip, and about a month later, Cal Ripken abruptly ends The Streak. A few years later, my parents got divorced. That 1998 season would end up being the first of fourteen consecutive losing seasons for the Orioles. And with the exception of a relatively brief surge of relevance during 2012/2016, these days the Orioles are a laughingstock. And I still call myself a fan. But deep down, I know that it’s never felt as good as it did back in 1997. In a way, nothing has.

That is, until Mac and I got off the phone with Al Clark. Because for me, Al Clark’s version of events means I get to keep my hero. And after everything we’ve learned, I see the events of August 14th, 1997 a little differently than I used to. Because let’s say something awful really did happen with Cal’s marriage that night. Even if that’s true, he still made it to the ballpark and suited up for the game. If anything, the juicy part of The Rumor is a story about Cal Ripken, come hell or Kevin Costner, still refusing to let us down. Just like my dad at the campfire - he was doing his damnedest to make it all work.

I know that rumors and conspiracy theories can often bring out the worst in us. But I think they do have at least some value if we think of them as folklore. And that maybe the point of this Rumor is to remember that there are never easy answers to questions that matter. But that sometimes, if you look hard enough, you can find the answer you need.

I don’t know what I would’ve said to Cal if we’d gotten to interview him - but I do know what I’d like to say to him now. Cal, I am so sorry. I'm sorry that when I was a kid I needed you to be a being of pure goodness and righteousness. And that as an adult I apparently needed you to be a vessel for my own self-exploration. You didn't get a say in this, but you will always be my talisman. I needed your consistency to help me navigate the upheaval in my family. I needed to pull apart your legacy to fall in love with it all over again. I can’t help it - I need a god. Everything's too scary without one. You don't know what it's like to love somebody the way I love you.

MAC: While Sam and I may have landed in different places when it comes to thinking about what the evidence in our investigation of the Rumor adds up to, we are united in understanding what it feels like to love someone so much, that the potential for that person to completely destroy you -- that is, me -- becomes frighteningly real.

Growing up, as I’m pretty sure has been established by now, I was obsessed with the Orioles. Steady Eddie Murray was my all-time favorite player, and I have the signed 8.5 X 11 glossy photo to prove it. But in Little League I played shortstop, so I imitated all of Cal’s mannerisms: bending my glove against my side between pitches, slinging the ball sidearm to first base. I loved the team so much that - as you may recall from episode one if you haven’t permanently blocked this memory - I retched into a bucket when I rewatched us lose a Game in the 1979 World Series. And quick update on that: I later learned that the retching may have been due to a gallstone attack rather than latent childhood pain, but the point about loving the Orioles stands.

My childhood, my happiness in life, all that was very much bound up with the Orioles. And my early years also involved too many stories, too many lives, that ended too soon. One night, during my junior year in high school, well past my Little League prime, I was at a house party. My ex-girlfriend Dusty—intense, mysterious, world-weary beyond her years—was also at this party. And I was far from over her. At some point that night, word started circulating through the party that the Orioles were having an open tryout the next morning in Ocean City, a magnificent, grungy beach town about a three or three and a half hour drive from the house party. At first it seemed like a terrible idea to go to this tryout. I was woefully out of practice playing baseball, I had already drank a few National Bohemian beers, and I had no way of getting there. But then Dusty offered to take me. Dusty couldn’t resist an adventure, and I couldn’t resist Dusty.

She drove her white Mustang through the night. Fast. Chain smoking Marlboro Lights. I sat in the passenger seat pretty much not saying a single word -- frozen in place, thinking about what might happen with the tryout, with Dusty, with everything. What my life could become. This moment felt big and scary and thrilling.

We eventually got to a dark beach house Dusty somehow had the keys too. We found our way through the shadows to a guest room with a double bed. Dusty, exhausted from driving, went immediately to sleep. I laid down next to her in my clothes, holding my arms so they didn’t accidentally brush against hers.

The next morning Dusty dropped me at the tryout and told me to find her by a nearby hotel pool that she was going to sneak into, and where she would wait for me, reading magazines in her white bikini.

On the diamond, under slept, a little hungover, and reeling from a wild mix of feelings for my ex, I was a mess. And first thing, the coaches paired us up and had us run a forty-yard dash - two wannabe O’s at a time. This was not my strong suit. My partner slipped and fell, scrambled to his feet, and still beat me. Not an easy thing to do all within forty yards. Next, during fielding drills, my throws from short rarely made it all the way to first, instead they skipped past the burly man-child on the bag. At this point, the coaches had seen enough -- they never even gave me a chance to hit. So I packed up my sunburn and went in search of Dusty. When I found her by the pool, she looked up from her glossy magazine and asked me how it went. Not good, I said, and flopped into the pool. The underwater silence only helped calm my buzzing nerves a little. It was clear I was not going to be the Orioles’ shortstop of the future, and Dusty was never getting back together with me.

If I’m being completely honest I should tell you that I remained in love with Dusty for the next few years. We both ended up at NYU for college, but then I left and moved to Los Angeles to make it big in the movies as an actor (and note here: I did not make it big in the movies as an actor). Dusty also left New York, moving back to Baltimore to work in her family’s business. Not long after she moved home, she was driving a borrowed Jaguar early one September morning in 1996 and she crashed the car and died. The Baltimore Sun called it a one-car accident. Even writing this the other day and now saying it out loud, all these years later, it still hurts. A lot. And there were other painful stories, the lives of people close to me that ended far too soon. Which might help explain why I am not ready to move on. Not ready to end this search for some kind of truth. In fact, I need this story to keep going -- because, if it does, I can also keep these memories of my youth, my crazy adventures, my first real love, alive. Do I really think Cal Ripken beat up Kevin Costner and then told the Orioles to fake a power outage to preserve his streak and legacy? I don’t know. I may never know. But I do know that a big part of me just wants the story to never end.

SAM: Maybe Mac’s right.

MAC: Or, maybe Sam’s right!

SAM: Or maybe both of us are being a little naive.

MAC: Or maybe that’s what this whole story’s really about. Maybe the whole point of rumors and conspiracy theories is to remind us how much easier it is to chase the truth than to actually confront it.

SAM: Because the thing we really know is that whether we like it or not, everything ends. Even baseball games.

MAC: Even The Streak. Even the Legend of the Iron Man.

WILL LEITCH: To me, whether this story is true or whether it is not true is... I'm actually not that interested in that sort of idea. It feels actually kind of like the end of something.

WILL LEITCH: I watched the movie Barb & Starr recently, and they do a suicide drink where they take a drink and they go to a fountain cafe and they put a thermos under Coke and then root beer and then all these other things. And I thought only I and my cousin Denny, who was eleven years old, were the only people- we thought we had invented the suicides. We had not, as it turned out.

MAC: That’s writer and Costner aficionado Will Leitch again - you heard him back in Episode Two.

WILL LEITCH: To me, that was a firm example of all the things - somehow there was no internet, and yet all of us knew what suicides were and all of us knew that Kevin Costner/Cal Ripken story. We all did not realize how connected we were to each other. And I still don't entirely understand how it happened. I don’t know how I knew that story when I was fifteen. I don't know where I got it from. I don't know who told it to me. I just knew that everybody knew it. We understand now how people would find out about that stuff. But how did it happen in an age where no one was on the Internet? I don't know if stories like that can happen anymore.

SAM: So, if there’s never going to be another story like the Rumor - what’s the real legacy of the Rumor? What, if anything, did we accomplish by shining a light on a twenty-five year old piece of gossip? Maybe the Rumor is important because it reminded us that baseball itself is a story.

ERIC HOWELL: You know, when you go in '97 when the lights went out, they could have still played.

ALONZO ANDREWS: Right.

There was plenty of light to play.

MAC: We learned more than the nuts and bolts and loose screws of stadium lighting from our conversation with Eric Howell and Alonzo Andrews. Towards the end of our interview with them, they told us the real reason everyone was worried about getting those eighteen lights back up on August 14th, 1997.

ERIC HOWELL: It's mainly about the television.

ALONZO ANDREWS: Right.

ERIC HOWELL: You know, you only need so much light for the safety of the players But, you need probably two to three times the amount of light for TV.

ALONZO ANDREWS: For TV. Right.

SAM: They weren’t trying to fix the lights for the sake of the Orioles or the Mariners. They were doing it...for you, and me, and Mac. All of us sitting at home waiting for the next chapter in our favorite story.

ERIC HOWELL: In sports, you know, you work in entertainment, you’re not a sports player, you know. Those guys, in my opinion, got it easy.

ALONZO ANDREWS: Yeah, right.

ERIC HOWELL: They show up for a couple hours and then go home. We’re there for five hours before the game and two hours after the game.

SAM: One of the things that was really remarkable to me about the time we spent with Ray was just watching him walk around the stadium and be so...you know, it's like you'd be talking to him about something and he would notice a little speck of dust on the wall and he would look his thumb and try to rub it out. Or like brushing dust off the surface of a circuit breaker or something. Just this constant attention to detail and wanting to keep things...

ALONZO ANDREWS: Uh-huh. Yep. That was Ray. He was- attention to detail – we had to keep all the electrical closets clean all the time.

SAM: When Alonzo said that, I thought back to that moment when Ray opened up the door in the back of the press box and showed us the old lighting control panel. In that moment, I was mostly focused on flipping the defunct switches, trying to imagine the feeling of frantically sabotaging a ballgame via power outage. But now, I remembered something perhaps even more remarkable. Here was this room that contains a now-useless control panel – a room that serves no function – and it hasn’t been converted into a sloppy coatroom, or supply closet full of mops and discarded lanyards. In fact, other than the old control box, the closet was empty. And spotless. Because that’s how Ray keeps things - even things no one else is likely to see. And the more I think about it, even though we never got to talk to Cal Ripken, I think we found the real Cal Ripken. His name is Ray Winfrey. His name is Alonzo Andrews. His name is Eric Howell.

ERIC HOWELL: There’s thousands of people walking around in the background just to make sure things go right. Through the shadow.

MAC: Sam, that’s a lovely sentiment, but also I sort of hate it, because it’s confirming my worst fears: Where do we go from there? This means our story’s kind of over.

SAM: I know. The other thing that does have to end is this podcast. So before it does, I just want to say thank you for being the Tuna Man to my Ponytail Guy.

MAC: No prob, PG. Actually, now that you’re forcing us to talk about endings, I do have a parting gift for you.

SAM: Oh, really?

MAC: Back in the first episode, you told Alix Spiegel you were worried...

SAM: I really moved away from baseball fandom over the last few years and don’t really feel like it serves me in the way that it used to. And the conflict for me is I’m also fearful that it would be the metaphorical last set of hedge clippers to my connection to the game.

ALIX SPIEGEL: Right, right. I see what you’re saying.

MAC: But if you recall, at one point in our investigation, we got on the phone with Tyler Kepner, the baseball columnist at the New York Times. And we were talking about covering things like the Astros cheating scandal, and steroids, and you asked him if he ever gets jaded about the game. And do you remember what he said?

SAM: I do not.

MAC: Well, roll that tape!

TYLER KEPNER: I see all the negative, I see all the stuff that could make someone jaded, but I don't care. I mean these guys, you know, they’re human, infallible. I’ve always felt like the kid in that movie “Almost Famous” where, you know, he’s a young reporter and he sees all the underbelly of what he is covering, but he still loves it. He never loses that sense of wonder, even though he sees the other side.

SAM: I guess I get to keep my ponytail.

MAC: You sure do.

SAM: Well, it turns out Mac, I actually have a little something for you as well.

MAC: Oh, yeah?

SAM: Because the story may not be over after all. If you recall, at the end of our conversation with Alonzo and Eric, Alonzo started reminiscing about another mysterious incident involving a Baltimore sports team - Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, between the 49ers and the Ravens.

ALONZO ANDREWS: The Ravens were winning, I mean big time, and they just came out at halftime and going back on the field to play, and they I think it got like one, two plays off and then the lights went out. They never did say why the lights went out.

ERIC HOWELL: I don’t know. Wasn't it J-Lo’s hair dryer or something like that?

ALONZO ANDREWS: That was the rumor.

MAC: Well Alonzo, thank you. I think you just gave Sam and me our next podcast after this one.

SAM: Yep. I think you got it.

MAC: Our next story to look into.

SAM: The Rumor is hosted, produced and written by Sam Dingman and Mac Montandon.


MAC: Editing and mixing by Sam Dingman. Research and archival by Mariam Khan. Booking help by George Noble. Production coordination by Devin Shepherd.

SAM: Additional production support from Isabelle Jocelyn and Shwetha Surendran. The Rumor is executive produced by Peter Moses and Jon Yales. Our campfire Barry Gibb was Adrian Bane.

MAC: Our outro music is Farewell Transmission, by Songs Ohia. This project would’ve been impossible without the love, support, and inspiration of Jen Appleton, Oliver Burkeman, Peter Cavagnaro, Catherine Crawford, Andrew Dalton, Aaron Goldman, Tyler Gray, Eli Greene, Sean, Shea, and Clea Haran, Billy Kent, Kiran Mahto, Daphne and Oona Montandon, and Aaron Ruby

SAM: And Adrien Behn, Jake Dingman, Peter Dingman, Matt Sadeghian, Claudia Smigrod, and Matthew Walerstein.

MAC: Thanks also to everyone we spoke to for this show, including the dozens of folks we interviewed but didn’t end up having space to add their stories to our story.

SAM: And most of all, thank you so much for listening to The Rumor.