May 2, 2022
E1: The Rumor
A seemingly innocuous conversation at a birthday party starts Sam and Mac down a long and winding road of rumors, conspiracy theories, and legends, all connected to a mysterious power outage in 1997. Along the way, they meet a shock jock, a disgraced journalist, and a very creaky mailbox. By the time they pause to consider how far they really want to travel down this treacherous path, they realize it’s too late to turn back.
[Mad Dog 2 0:09]
SAM: Um, all right: I’m gonna put the note in the mailbox! Ok…[Text Wrapping Break][sound of Sam struggling with the mailbox]
SAM: Oh boy.
[Mailbox squeaks and almost breaks]
SAM: Are you kidding me? Wow.
[Sam clinks the mailbox helplessly]
[The mailbox door finally closes]
SAM: Ok. Now we should go.
MAC: That odd noise you just heard is the sound of my friend, Sam, attacking the mailbox of a dangerous man.
SAM: A mysterious man. Now, to be fair, we don’t know for a fact that this man is currently dangerous.
MAC: That’s true, but, we do know he’s a former Baltimore cop who once roughed up a schoolteacher, which led to the teacher bringing an aggressive policing lawsuit against the guy.
SAM: And we know, this guy has several very angry-sounding bumper stickers on the very menacing pickup truck that he keeps parked outside his house on a dead-end street.
MAC: And, perhaps most terrifying to Sam and me, we know this cop’s nickname is ‘Mad Dog.’
SAM: So, in retrospect, maybe not the kind of guy whose house you want to skulk around?
MAC: Maybe not. Now, I’m dying to tell you why Sam felt the need to wrestle with Mad Dog’s mailbox, but first we need to go back in time a little bit.
SAM: What happened was...one day, a little over a year ago, Mac here, called me the morning after he went to a birthday party.
MAC: This party was really weird for me... I think I probably told you at the time, everybody else in attendance was wearing Hawaiian shirts. I guess it was a tropical theme. And, I just felt really out of my element. So, I did what anyone in that situation would do: which is, I found someone else who looked out of place, and essentially started talking his ear off. And if you think there couldn’t possibly be anyone more out of place at a birthday party with a tropical theme than a tired middle-aged writer - Sam, think again. Because, there was also a cop at this party.
SAM: Ahhh. Now, a cop at a party, that’s usually...a bad thing.
MAC: Usually, yeah, totally. But this cop was off-duty - just a friendly guy who also lives in the building. And, for the purposes of our story, we’re going to call this guy “E.” So, E and I start talking, outcast to outcast, and it comes up that I’m from Baltimore. And, as soon as he hears this, he, like, perks up, and leans in. And he goes, “Ah, you’re from Baltimore. I guess that means you’ve heard The Rumor?” And as soon as he says this, I know exactly what he’s talking about.
SAM: Now just in case everyone listening is not from Baltimore…The Rumor goes like this: on August 14th, 1997, and the Baltimore Oriolesare supposed to play a night game against the Seattle Mariners at their home ballpark, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But, just before the game is supposed to start, a handful of bulbs in the light tower above the first base dugout go out.
[SFX: outage effect]
So, there’s this long delay while they try to get the lights back on - and this delay goes on for two hours. And while it’s happening, there are tens of thousands of fans in the stands clamoring for the game to start.
MAC: Did you say, “fans in the stands?”
SAM: Yeah, that might hit people’s ears weird in 2021 - the idea of fans in the stands at an Orioles game. Which is fair - the Orioles are literally the worst team in baseball.
MAC: Totally fair.
SAM: In fact, as one national headline recently put it: the Orioles of 2021 are “Legendarily, Historically Awful.” Other news outlets have used words like: “dreadful,” and “disgrace.” And, this has been happening for a while. As of this recording, since 2017, the Orioles have lost 65% of the baseball games they’ve played. But, believe it or not, back in 1997, the Orioles were one of the best teams in baseball. They actually led the American league in both wins and attendance. In 1997, a night game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a hot ticket. And to the fans in the stands the night of August 14th, the delay doesn’t make sense - to a lot of them, it looks like there’s more than enough light to play. But they don’t get their wish - shortly before 10 pm, the game is postponed until the next day.
MAC: Up to this point, everything we’ve told you is totally true. Everyone agrees and acknowledges: there was a mysterious power outage on the night of August 14th, 1997. And this outage did cause the game between the O’s and the Mariners to be postponed.
[archival] : The lights fans and players waited for all night are now shining underneath a sunny sky. Today, stadium electricians plugged away at finding the source of trouble. Why do you think...
But...what caused the power outage?
[archival] : Still trying to isolate that problem? It could be bad cabling, it could be a bad fixture. It looks like it's not a breaker problem...
MAC: Well, that’s where The Rumor comes in.
SAM: This is where it starts to get weird. Within a few days of the outage, this story starts to spread. Nobody knows where it came from, but suddenly it’s everywhere - from the barstools of Pickles Pub across the street from the stadium, to the newsroom at the Baltimore Sun. The rumor is that the Orioles faked the power outage. And that they allegedly did this because, allegedly, shortly before game time the night of the outage, someone in the Orioles clubhouse looks around, and notices that future Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Junior, is missing.
MAC: And if Cal Ripken Jr. is missing, that's super, super strange. Because Cal Ripken is a legend precisely because he was always there. He’s known to this day throughout the baseball world as The Ironman. Just two years earlier, in 1995, he’d broken Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played. A feat many journalists say saved baseball when the sport was on the brink and fans were staying home in droves following a player strike and a cancelled World Series. So the streak was super important.
SAM: Now just like it's no exaggeration to say that Cal saved baseball. It's also no exaggeration to say that he was the pride of Baltimore, born and raised right there in Maryland. He's the son of a journeyman Catcher in the oils minor league system. So the legend of this precocious, cyan of oriel dumb, had been building for years ever since he was a teenager. And by 1997. He's a full blown folk hero. He's won two MVP awards. He's made 15 All Star teams. He's a big man with soft hands. He clovers home runs yet cradles erratic ground balls tenderly in his glove, and he's wholesome. It's 1997 the height of the sports drink craze and Cal Ripken Jr. is literally the national spokesman for milk. He has steely blue eyes, and a quiet voice he never seems to raise. Basically, he is Clark Kent AND Superman at the same time.
MAC: I love that part about tenderly, cradling ground balls. That just makes me feel kind of calm.
SAM: I'm going to admit, as a young child, I sometimes wish he would tenderly cradle me.
MAC: More on that soon. But for now, Sam, I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here because back on the night of the outage in 1997. Cal was still in the midst of the streak as Orioles fans called it. And on the night of August 14 1997, everyone just assumed he would extend his record by playing in his 2432nd consecutive game because that's what Cal does. He just shows up, day in and day out and plays the game the right way.
SAM: The Oriole way, which is not a phrase Mac and I made up. It's a phrase that was actually used in the Orioles organization, a phrase to make things even more folksy that was coined by that journeymen catcher I referenced earlier, Cal’s dad. So why is Cal suddenly missing in action on the night of August 14 1997? Well, legend has it, it’s because Cal is on his way to the ballpark that night when he realizes he's forgotten something at his house. In some versions of the story, it's his glove and others, his cell phone. But either way, he turns around, he goes home. And when he gets there, he finds his wife Kelly in bed with another man.
MAC: And not just any man. The rapscallion in question is none other than Hollywood Hall of Famer and, until this moment, personal friend of the Ripkens, Kevin Costner.
SAM: The Postman himself.
MAC: The Postman ringeth.
SAM: The pride of Waterworld.
MAC: In all seriousness, these guys were friends back then. Costner’s star, in fact, originally rose largely on the strength of baseball movies like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. Although Cal and Kevin apparently met at the Washington DC premiere of Dances with Wolves, eventually they were close enough that Kevin Costner occasionally took ground balls during batting practice before Orioles games.
SAM: Anyway, as the story goes, when Ripken discovers Costner in his bed, he and Costner get into a fistfight. And afterwards Cal is banged up, nothing catastrophic, but bad enough that he doesn't think he can play in the baseball game that night, which means all of a sudden, after 15 years, the streak is suddenly in danger. So Ripken panics, he picks up the cell phone that he supposedly went back to retrieve and he calls the Orioles and says, I need you to figure out a way to postpone the game.
[SFX: repeat outage effect from earlier]
MAC: So that’s The Rumor. And as it spread, so did its implications.
CHUCK BOOMS [H&C]: Let's face it, guys. If this ever turned out to be true or any of this, baseball is destroyed. The Orioles -- Cal Ripken as Mr. Baseball. The streak is fake. I mean, it's a big story.
MAC: But over the years, The Rumor has been investigated…
ROCH KUBATKO: Trust me - if there was a police report out there, it would’ve been posted on social media by now...it doesn’t exist.
MAC: Denied, by both Ripken…
CAL RIPKEN: I was definitely there. I was ready to play.
MAC: ...and Costner…
KEVIN COSTNER: I’ve never been to their house, I couldn’t even tell you what it looked like…
MAC: And as fans we spoke with at a baseball game made clear, ultimately, it was sort of forgotten.
SCIENCE TEACHER (2:11)
SAM: Does the phrase “the rumor” mean anything to you?
SCIENCE TEACHER: “The rumor?” No.
SAM: Does the phrase “the rumor” mean anything to you?
CLINT: Not really.
SAM: Anything come to mind?[Text Wrapping Break]CLINT: Nope.
THREE WOMEN (1:05)
SAM: Does the phrase “the rumor” mean anything to you?
SAM: It involves Kevin Costner. [beat] Nothing?
SAM: So...why are we talking about it more than 20 years later? Well, because of what happened at that stupid millennial birthday party, right after E asked Mac if he’d ever heard The Rumor.
MAC: Right. Which is that I nodded and smiled. And E smiled, too. And then goes, “Well, it’s all true.”
SAM: I’m Sam Dingman.
MAC: I’m Mac Montandon. And from Blue Wire, this is The Rumor.
SAM: A story about the truth, and why it may or may not matter.
[PRE-ROLL AD BREAK]
SAM: So when Mac called me the morning after that birthday party, and he told me this story about E, I was intrigued, but I was also freaked out. Cal Ripken is not just my favorite baseball player, he's my actual hero. I am 39 years old and I still have a life size cardboard cutout of Cal Ripken on the wall of my childhood bedroom. But there was something about Mac's story that made it seem like E's tip wasn't just casual party gossip...
MAC: That's right. As a New York detective, he knew a bunch of other detectives all over the country. And one of them had told E he was there in Baltimore, the night that all went down. So after the party, I figured it was worth giving E's guy a call to follow up. But then the guy caught a bad case of cold feet and didn't want to talk, which honestly, that was sort of a relief. Because Sam and I, we weren't sure how far down this rabbit hole, we really want it to go.
ALIX [22:59] So you're like, so you're going to uncover the truth of this basically?
MAC [00:23:06] Well, we're going to try. And // we start out extremely conflicted about even trying.
SAM: Mac and I decided that before we got too carried away here, it might be a good idea to run the story by a respected journalist - “respected journalist” being a phrase that has never been applied to either one of us.
MAC: Fortunately, I do know a respected journalist. I grew up with her. Her name is Alix Spiegel. She’s reported stories for some of the most revered news organizations in the world, like This American Life, The New Yorker, The New York Times. And she’s the co-founder of the NPR podcast Invisibilia, which is all about the unseen forces that shape human behavior. Also, she’s from Baltimore - and when we got on the phone with her, she told us that she’s definitely heard The Rumor.
ALIX: So somebody took a hedge clipper // and they cut the electricity for the entire stadium. // [00:18:34] That was, that was what my dad told me.
SAM: Now, that was a version of initiating the power outage that neither Mac or I had heard before. And when we heard it, we got really excited. Maybe we're going to find a rusty old pair of hedge clippers in a safety deposit box somewhere in suburban Maryland.
MAC: Totally, this was gonna be our like Big Lebowski toe. Just like the image around which the whole story is built, right?
SAM: Well, wrong.
ALIX [00:09:28] And I need to, like, pause here and just emphasize that // you cannot believe any stories that come from my father // They're all highly entertaining, but they're all highly entertaining and they're all not true.
MAC [00:10:10] But did he believe them to be true, or he was trying to, like, entertain you?
ALIX [00:10:15] I think he believes them to be true. // and actually some of his stories I've gone on to do documentary work about. So I, I know for a fact that they are not true.
MAC: But then I told Alix about the tropical-themed birthday party, and the Kevin Costner-ness of The Rumor. And the fact that, while it may not have been caused by a set of hedge clippers, the outage was real, and the Orioles have never provided a clear explanation of what happened. That was all news to Alix - she’d just assumed the whole story was something her dad had made up. And this peaked her interest.
ALIX: [00:21:50]I have to say, just the fact that there was // was a day when the whole stadium got shut down like that, that's more than I expected. // [29:49] I'm like, maybe there's some element of it that is true. //
SAM: So we tell Alix we are leaning towards trying to figure out whether it really is true. But we also confessed that we were feeling nervous. Like, really nervous.
ALIX [00:23:16] Why are you extremely conflicted?
MAC: [00:23:26] I guess I just am unsure...you know, what is it like 20 some years later? // is it foolish and mean, even, to like, re-open these wounds, these potential wounds? Like what will the world gain from knowing this is true? [00:23:53][27.1]
SAM: This is a question Mac and I had actually been agonizing about ever since the birthday party. Did we really want to dredge up this gnarly old story which does seem sort of far fetched on the surface, and which was probably really painful for Cal and Kelly Ripken and Kevin Costner to deal with back then?
MAC: Then again, we are not the first journalists - respected or otherwise - to look into this...
CHUCK BOOMS: Kevin Costner and the Orioles. Boy, what a // day that was.
MAC: That's former sports talk radio host Chuck Booms, the guy you heard earlier, claiming that if the rumor is true, baseball would be quote, "destroyed." He made those comments in a 2001 interview with Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes on Fox News. When Sam and I started looking into the rumor, we quickly came across this weird story that seemed hard to believe about Kevin Costner doing an extensive interview about the whole situation with these two shock jocks, Kevin Kiley and Chuck Booms. But it totally happened. And at the time, it made some headlines and Chuck's appearance on Fox.
SAM: So we tracked down Chuck Booms, and I got on the phone with him and he told me that this whole thing started with actually a previous segment that he and his co host, Kevin Kiley, did on their radio show in 2001. That was four years after the power outage. And Cal Ripken Jr. had just announced his retirement.
CHUCK BOOMS: Everyone is all emotional // He's Cal Ripken. He’s a good lookin’ dude, he never does anything wrong // he's Captain America. He's G.I. Joe, he's apple pie and Chevrolet. // You know, just the endless drivel about how he is Mr. Perfect. And I don't find any human to be perfect, including me.
SAM: Those feelings are the reason that right in the middle of this 2001 segment about Cal's retirement, Chuck decides it's time to talk about the rumor.
CHUCK BOOMS: We're doing, I believe, the story of celebrating him as the Iron Man of all time // You know, Captain Perfect. And I said, yeah, not to me. // because the Streak’s a fraud anyway, because everybody knows they had somebody take a chainsaw - you know, I make it a little more colorful and funny - somebody took a chainsaw, like a scene outta Die Hard, and they went down the manhole cover, and cut the power to Camden Yards - and he’s like “wait, what the hell are you talking about?” So I go through the whole thing... (clip ducks under narration) Then a fight ensues and he gets a black eye and all nine suffers. And obviously he's in no frame of mind to play baseball. He's got to deal with his wife. You know, he's just thrown out by the seat of his pants, get out of the house. And the Orioles are in a panic or whatever. They come up with the phony power outage…
SAM: So live on the air, right in the middle of this show about Cal Ripken's retirement, Chuck Booms runs through the version of the rumor that he's heard - Ripken turning around because he forgot something, discovering Costner with his wife, the fistfight, the whole thing. And Chuck says, while he's telling this story, Kiley is basically on the other side of the studio, waving his finger back and forth across his throat, like, Booms shut up!
CHUCK BOOMS: and he goes, this is the most cockamamie thing you've ever done on this radio show. And you've had some doozies. I said, oh, yeah, open those phones up and tell me and watch how many people call, especially from the Baltimore area that will call and tell you this is exactly what went on. And that's when it happened.
SAM: The lights on the phone board in the studio go haywire.
CHUCK BOOMS: [00:38:41] when I'm like a Christmas tree. People that live near the stadium, people guys that I still have tickets to that game. Chuck, you're 100 percent right. It was a sham. Oh, yeah. // It was it was off the hook. So this goes on the entire show. Yes, it's real. I can tell you I'm an a lifetime Orioles fan // A guy called up and said I could tell you right now // I am friends with the guys who were told to go cut the power. Wow. And he said and it was only to the stadium and a few other ancillary things around, which is why people couldn't figure it out // And then comes the Los Angeles calls and now it takes on a whole nother play. Oh, man. OK. So we have people that call up and say, look, // I golf with Costner. I've worked with them. I played tennis with them. And that's exactly what happened. No way. I don't want people to know that I am now and now. Oh, my God. What the hell is going on? What is going on? // I said I told you. I told you. If you open the phone up, I said I can't because I was ripped off, Kevin. I said, I can't help you live in a closet, you know, in a broom closet. And you're and you don't ever hear anything and you're not exposed to the real world. I'm telling you what's going on. // So at the end of the show, the phone rings. And it's our boss // Tom Lee is his name and Tom says. // I just got off a 20 minute phone call with Kevin Costner and we're like, get the hell out of here. // And he says, No, no. He heard the entire thing. // And he's furious. // He demanded that he get an hour of time to come out and tell his side of the story. And I almost fainted!
SAM: And that’s how Kevin Kiley and Chuck Booms end up talking to Kevin Costner live on the air about The Rumor.
CHUCK BOOMS: He called and he came on and boy, was it eye opening.
MAC: The Postman returneth. I’m determined to make this work, Sam.
SAM: The Postman ringeth.
MAC: We’ll be right back.
[AD BREAK 1]
COSTNER: I happened to be going to work yesterday, and as I was going to work, a friend of mine called me, said, "They're really dogging you on -- on this sports network," and I said, "What? About what? Not sports guys. Sports guys are my guys. They're not dogging me." And they go, "No, they're dogging you about Kelly Ripken and Cal."
SAM: That is Kevin Costner calling in to Kiley and Booms in 2001. Two days earlier, Kevin Kiley and Chuck Booms had spent a few hours fielding calls from listeners who claimed The Rumor is true.
KEVIN COSTNER (on phone): something in me snapped. It really snapped. I thought, "You know what? I'm never going to clear my situation, but I'm just going to let people know that this is -- it's wrong. I've never been to their house. I couldn't even tell you what it looked like. I've seen Kelly twice in my life, and if you added up the minutes, it would probably be about 10 minutes, and anybody who would say that -- this police officer, this guy who had dinner with a person, some taxi cab guy -- if they say that, they're less than honest. They're liars.
SAM: Now, here’s where this part of the story gets tricky. That clip of Kevin is from the Chuck Booms segment on Hannity & Colmes that Mac told you about earlier. And it’s one of only a handful of clips that survive from an old recording of the actual Kiley & Booms broadcast that Kevin called into. Now, Mac and I did successfully track down that recording, and we were excited to play you several other clips of Costner. But shortly before we went into production on this episode, after initially sharing that audio with us, Fox Sports Radio suddenly and mysteriously blocked us from using the tape. In the words of our contact at Fox, "I've checked up the line and have received clear direction that this audio is not something we can grant." So when it comes to what was said in the rest of the interview, we have to rely on Chuck Booms’ memory. And according to Chuck, this appearance did not go well for Kevin Costner.
MAC: According to Chuck...
SAM: According to Chuck...
CHUCK BOOMS: The whole thing got crazier the longer he was on. I said, Kevin, I'm just going to ask you straight out. He goes, Go ahead Booms, ask me anything I said. Have you ever been to Kelly and Cal Ripken at home when Cal wasn't there? And it was dead silence. And he says, what do you mean by that? I said, It's pretty straightforward, Kev. Have you ever been over to the Ripken's home with Kelly when was wasn't home? And he kind of like chuckled uncomfortably. // and Kevin Kiley said: all you have to do. We had the date of the power outage. Where were you? On that day? And he said, I just can't be sure. // So as Kevin Kiley said, it sounds like he's trying to get his toe as close to the pool water as he can, but not get in the pool.
SAM [01:00:27] He's acknowledging the smoke, but denying the fire.
CHUCK BOOMS [01:00:30] That's it. That's the best way to put it. And not only acknowledge the smoke, he added to it!
MAC: I gotta say - that’s a pretty good point from Mr. Booms. Because - look. I am not a public relations professional Sam, as you know. But I can’t help feeling like calling into Kiley and Booms was a colossally bad move on Kevin Costner’s part, regardless of whether or not The Rumor is true. I mean, he’s just walking right into the trap of these two shock jocks. Costner gets nothing out of giving this story any more oxygen - especially in 2001, four years after the fact. But for Kiley and Booms, it’s like radio gold.
SAM: Yeah! Also - it is notable that he never explicitly denied The Rumor.
MAC: According to Chuck.
SAM: According to Chuck. But yes - Costner’s possibly ill-advised segment on Kiley and Booms seems to have breathed some fresh life into what was, by then, four-years-old. And that is possibly what leads to the only other serious attempt we're aware of, to investigate the rumor.
DAVID MIKKELSON: Genuinely back then, because this was 20 years ago, pretty much our only two inputs were what people forwarded us an email and what search terms people were entering into our search engines.
SAM: David Mikkelson is the co-founder of Snopes.com, which has been investigating the truth behind rumors, conspiracy theories, and urban legends for decades. And his 2001 article, The Cost-ner of Love, is where I first read about The Rumor.
MAC: David told us he’s been fascinated by stories like The Rumor since the earliest days of the Internet. Before he became a writer, he was a computer scientist, back when that was a fairly unique job to have. That gig gave David access to the inchoate World Wide Web -- and all its chat room mishegas. [Text Wrapping Break]
DAVID MIKKELSON: I was kind of the one person who was interested in doing more than just kind of discussing or speculating, I was interested in like, is there really anything to this claim that Walt Disney was frozen when he died - you know, cryogenically preserved? You know, is there any evidence of this? Could you confirm or deny them? So I just started doing that.
MAC: Eventually, that work became Snopes.com.
SAM: And in 2001, when he started seeing an influx of reader emails about The Rumor, he decided it was worth looking into.
DAVID MIKKELSON: Years of experience doing this kind of work taught me like, don't ever reject anything out of hand just on the basis that it sounds ridiculous. You need to do, at least do some checking into it.
MAC: David did check into the Ripken-Costner rumor - to an extent. He figured the easiest approach would be to try to confirm whether or not Ripken was actually at the ballpark on the night of the outage. These days, that’s not a very tall order - almost everyone in the ballpark is carrying a smartphone in their pocket, snapping photos of players taking batting practice and signing autographs before the game. But back in 2001, not so much. So when it came to proving Ripken’s presence on the field, David was stuck.
Mikkelson: Run into the problem, as they say, is absence of evidence, evidence of absence. Of course, eventually there was evidence that he was there that day.
SAM: That’s true. Like Costner, Ripken has directly addressed the Rumor during a radio interview. In 2008, he went on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to promote his book, Eight Elements of Perseverance, and during the broadcast, he was asked if there’s any truth to The Rumor. Cal’s response was classic Ripken - measured, calm, quietly confident.
CAL: It’s easy to check the facts on that one. I remember it very well. The bank of lights went off and Randy Johnson was pitching for the Seattle Mariners. And we were deciding what to do about that. Was there enough visible light out there to actually see a guy throwing over 100 miles per hour? The bank was just over our dugout. And I physically went out and tested it for the umpire. I was in discussion with the umpires. I was definitely there, I was ready to play. // And I’m sure I was on camera a number of times being out on the field.
MAC: In the end, David declared the story false - mostly because in his mind, it just doesn’t pass the sniff test.
DAVID MIKKELSON: If you looked into the details of what you know how and why the game was canceled, it's like, this is kind of a lame plot, and they made it really iffy, right? It's just one bank of lights and like, kinda got some of them working. I mean, couldn't you guys have blacked out the whole stadium? I mean, if this was an actual directed conspiracy to preserve his streak, he needed a really better plan than this one.
SAM: So at this point, Mac and I are sort of at a crossroads. So far, we have one maybe-reliable source at a tropical-themed birthday party claiming that The Rumor is true. We have a shock jock who parlayed The Rumor into several hours of hot talk radio, but didn’t exactly prove anything. And we have David, in whose judgement the story seemed a little far-fetched.
MAC: But then, not long after we spoke to David, we read a Buzzfeed News story that revealed David’s unfortunate history of plagiarism. According to that piece, Mikkelson published over fifty articles containing material that he ripped off from places like The Guardian and The LA Times. He’s since been suspended by Snopes, and has apologized for his, quote, “lapse in judgement.”
SAM: So where does that leave us? Is there some kind of dark, potentially baseball-destroying secret lurking in the shadows of this mysterious power outage? And if there is, can we actually find it? And what do we do about this other nagging feeling.
MAC: The more we thought about it, poking around at the foundations of the mythology associated with our favorite baseball team, that felt a lot like poking around at the foundation of our actual identities as human people.
SAM: After our interview with David, I went back and listened to our conversation with Alix Spiegel again. And there was something about it I had forgotten. It was after she told us the version of The Rumor she heard about the hedge clippers, when she asked us why we were feeling conflicted about the story.
SAM [00:23:55] One of the other things I've been talking about with Mac to this point is I've really moved away from baseball fandom over the last few years and don't really feel like it. It serves me in the way that it used to // And the conflict for me is // I'm also very fearful that it would be the metaphorical hit last set of hedge clippers to my connection to the game.
ALIX [00:25:06] Right, right - I see what you’re saying.
SAM: I remember feeling surprised when those words came out of my mouth - because they felt true, but I wasn’t really sure why. So between interviews with sources, Mac and I started talking on the phone about what the Orioles, Cal Ripken, and The Streak, really mean to us.
12-29 STORY MTG
SAM: so another thing that came up for me when I was thinking about this is I have been looking recently at these old pictures from family vacations that we used to take to the beach in the summer. And in every single one of these pictures, I must have looked at, you know, 20 of them. I am wearing an Orioles T-shirt. But this is the thing, Mac. It's never the same Orioles T-shirt, which means that my entire wardrobe was just Cal Ripken shirts or just Orioles shirts. That's how big a deal this was to me. Like, baseball was my whole personality.
MAC: Right around the time we talked about Sam’s many t-shirts, I’d been thinking about my earliest associations with the Orioles - which are from when I was eight years old, and watched them lose the 1979 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. One day, before I got on the phone, I watched all of Game 1 of that series on YouTube.
MAC: within an hour or two after watching it, I felt physically so bad, like I didn't know what my wife was like. Is that food poisoning? What's going on? She could hear me like retching into a bucket in the back of the apartment. //
MAC: And I didn't know what the fuck was going on. //
SAM: After the break, we try to figure out what the fuck was going on.
[AD BREAK 3]
MAC: So what was it about digging into this story that made me retch into a bucket?
SAM: I have a theory. I think it might be, because this is kind of an oogie story.
SAM: Because on the one hand, you and I are not the paparazzi. We do not care whether or not Kelly Ripken and Kevin Costner had an affair, that's between them. But on the other hand, we do care if there was a conspiracy to uphold the legend of the Iron Man. And according to The Rumor, it was this alleged love triangle business that led to that conspiracy, which means we kind of have to look into it.
MAC: And I think it’s also worth noting here that you and I, we’re not in QAnon. We generally don’t care about conspiracy theories - I mean, we care about them in the sense that they’re ruining the world. But like - this one, it’s personal.
SAM: Very personal. For kids like us, Cal Ripken wasn’t just a baseball player. He was the personification of integrity. And if all that was based on a lie? Well, as we talked about repeatedly in those phone conversations - that would be a problem. Because it was more than t-shirts. The Oriole Way was the mythology we organized our entire lives around.
Sam Dingman: There was something about the reliability of that presence that was so comforting, like on a cellular level, [00:28:20][44.3]
MAC: I think you might be right! //
Mac: [00:23:15] // My great named friend Plato Hieronimus and I // we had a game called Name that stance. // And yeah one person would just stand up with it and get into a like contort their body in whatever position. [00:24:12][57.0] // we would then play probably even nine inning sort of wiffle ball versions of games and like it would be the Orioles against often the Yankees or Red Sox, the biggest rivals. Yeah, and we know the batting orders and we know the stances so well that we could, you know, go through it // it's just mind boggling. [00:25:10][52.5]
Sam: [00:25:10] I am now I am now completely gobsmacked because // my version of that is that I would stand outside in front of my house with // a bat // the only difference here as I was doing this friendless [00:25:52][42.0] // And so I would stand there and I would look at my reflection and I would check my reflection to make sure I had the batting stance perfect, whether I was imitating a member of the Orioles or a member of an opposing the opposing team that they were going to be playing that night. And I would then adopt this imaginary broadcaster voice and kind of whisper a broadcast into the crook of my shoulder and simulate, as you said, an entire game, that way I would stand out there for hours doing this to the point that, you know, like neighbors would be walking down the street and see me staring up to their eyes, staring into a car with a baseball bat, whispering to myself and probably think like, what's what's cooking with that Dingman kid?
MAC: Oh, Lord...
SAM: I hope he's OK. [00:26:58][62.4]
MAC: I think then when you're a baseball fan, part of the appeal was these people seemed not that different than you. And I was like, even if you were just sort of tricking yourself, you could sort of start to believe that if you just did what they did enough, maybe? Yes, have a similar life and career.
SAM: Yes. Like if you literally could emulate their physical movements, it would somehow grant you access to the life that they seemed to lead.
SAM: As cringe-inducing as these memories may have been, they were also from a long time ago. As I mentioned earlier, I’m 39 years old and Mac is 50 - what possible relevance could this ridiculous baseball story from 25 years ago have on our lives now? Well, I hate to say it, in light of that Buzzfeed article, but the guy with the answer to that question was...David Mikkelson. He hasn’t just been debunking rumors and urban legends all these years - he’s been trying to figure out why people are drawn to them in the first place.
DAVID: A lot of what drives conspiracy theories, is people trying to make sense of things that otherwise make no sense to them. It's kind of like, you know, a way of people regaining control over something they have no control over. // You know, it's present in all of our religions. People want to think that there is a reason and a purpose behind things.
SAM: And that was it. For Mac and me, Cal Ripken and the Baltimore Orioles were our reason and purpose. Now, it seemed clear that there was at least some reason to wonder about that purpose.
MAC: And that left us with some tough questions: could we find the fire at the center of Chuck Booms’s cloud of smoke? Could we investigate the Rumor without a Mikkelson-shaped cloud hovering over our judgement? And what would actually happen if we uncovered the truth?
Sam Dingman [01:04:26] I think I think what I'm afraid of I think my biggest fear in this project is would be to discover that baseball no longer feels relevant to my life. And that it really is all just a giant wool over the eyes on the part of these teams who are basically private corporations that sell us merchandise under the guise of civic pride. And that they did perpetrate this conspiracy because they knew we would fall for it because we love this myth too much to let it go. And that that would be a nail in the coffin, in my mind, drift away from this thing that used to create all of the meaning in my life. I think that's my biggest fear. [00:55:19][78.0]
Mac: [00:55:23] Well, when you put it like that, [00:55:24][1.3]
Sam: [00:55:27] so, you know, low stakes. [00:55:27][0.5]
MAC: Just as Sam and I were in the midst of processing all this, we tracked down a guy named Doug. And by tracked down, I mean: a friend of mine gave him Doug’s phone number.
DOUG: [00:01:43] I'm not sure I'm going to be know podcast worthy, but but I'm happy to try
MAC: Doug’s a lawyer in Baltimore, and just like Sam and me, he grew up idolizing Cal Ripken. But unlike Sam and me, he actually knows Cal Ripken personally - they’ve hung out a few times at ballgames, fundraisers and other events around the city in recent years. Now, Doug has not only heard The Rumor - he doesn’t think it’s that far-fetched.
DOUG: I bet he beat the shit out of Costner. I bet he beat him within an inch of his life because there's no way, you know, Carl's losing that fight because if you've seen him, he is enormous // He's a big, powerful guy. And has a sort of quiet intensity. It's sort of under the surface. // And it doesn't change how I think about it at all. It's just probably makes him a little bit more human because I'm like I think I would do the same thing if I were him I guess.
MAC: That idea actually made sense to me. I am no longer a kid looking up to a mythic god. Hell, I’m not even sure any more that mythic gods exist. In a way, if Cal had pummeled Costner in a jealous rage, his flaws would make him more human to me, and in that way, easier to understand. To identify with. These complicated feelings were running through me as Doug spoke, but there wasn’t time to think too deeply about them at that moment because Doug was just warming up...
DOUG: [00:01:43] I'm happy to try and put you in touch with the Angeloses and if you've ever spoken to them or wanted to speak to them.
SAM: The Angelos family Doug’s referencing there owns the Orioles, and has since 1993. So if there was a conspiracy to protect the legacy of Cal Ripken, there’s a good chance they’d know about it. And the fact that Doug has a connection to the family, and at least some connection to Ripken, made the next thing he said...extremely podcast worthy.
DOUG: I have it on fairly good authority that it's true.
SAM: And that’s how Mac and I ended up on a quest to uncover the truth about a twenty-five year old rumor - and, for better or for worse, ourselves. It was a journey that would eventually lead to my wrestling match with a dirty cop’s mailbox...and a whole lot more...
MAC: Coming up on this season of The Rumor...
MALSTROM: [00:43:11] I don't know, guys, exactly what I can say on this on this subject, because this is thin ice for me. [00:43:26][14.6]
REBOULET[00:18:06] Cal would want to have a conversation // and he'd say, hey, you want to hang around after the game? I'm like, yeah. So we sit around after we work out, everybody go home and we be in the clubhouse, you know, maybe maybe having a few adult beverages [00:18:15][14.5]
MAC: Like [00:05:59]a conspiratorial minded person could see a red-ish mark, there [6.0s]
Sam [00:06:06] [00:06:06]Yes, an abrasion, some might say. [1.4s]
Mac [00:06:09] [00:06:09]Perhaps an abrasion. When I showed my wife, she thought it was, quote, knuckle shadow, which I don't know if that's a thing.
LEDESMA [65:10]: I hope you guys use stuff that's not going to get me in a courtroom or anything // you guys seem very trustworthy
GLOCK (39:30): I love it, I think it's funny, and I think what I think is interesting, too, is that you guys, you know, you're all in your feelings about it. I think that's...that's interesting to me. [00:39:42][12.0]
SAM: This is a good idea, right?
MAC: I don’t know what else we can do…
SAM: Should we leave a note?
MAC: In his mailbox?
MAC: We’re not doing anything terrible.
SAM: We’re not doing anything terrible…
SAM: That's all coming up on this season of The Rumor.
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.
MAC: We used archival audio from Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and Baltimore’s WMAR-2 News. And, our outro music is Farewell Transmission, by Songs: Ohia.
SAM: We’d also like to extend our special thanks to Adrien Behn, Catherine Crawford, Heather Chaplin, Jayson De Leon, Matt Haber, Anjali Khosla, Miles Kohrman, Nick Markovich, Oona and Daphne Montandon, Odelia Rubin, and Alan Smith for story consultation, leads, and moral support. Thank you for listening to The Rumor. If you liked the show, please help spread the word by giving us a five star review in Apple Podcasts, telling two friends, and don’t forget to follow and subscribe in whatever app you’re using to listen.