Lucky for John Doe that the Brewers won today. We don't know the poor guy's name. Nobody's talking, not even the cops who hauled him away after his foul deed. John Doe reached over the fence--the cops say--to catch a fly ball hit by the Angels' Bob Boone. An umpire ruled it a home run, though, thereby setting off a massive anxiety attack in Sudstown.
Reporters stood outside the sheriff's stadium office afterward, hoping to uncover a few details with which to identify the young fellow in a pullover and jeans.
"He can't talk," said a policeman in a brown polyester suit.
"He's a prisoner."
"What's the charge?" a reporter said. "Catching a baseball?"
The cop didn't smile. This was serious.
Ahead, 5-0, entering the eighth inning, the Brewers saw their lead fall to 5-3 during a rally that began when John Doe snatched a ball away from the glove of left fielder Ben Oglivie.
If the Brewers lost, it was all over. The Angels would win the American League championship in three games. If the Brewers lost, John Doe would need a safe house, a fake passport, plastic surgery (his picture will be in the papers Saturday morning) and a one-way ticket to South Yemen.
"I was standing right there," said left field usher Joe Avento, 20, of Milwaukee, "and I saw the fan reach down over the fence. He hit Oglivie's glove and then caught the ball."
Oglivie immediately jumped up and down in anger. The left field line umpire, Larry Barnett, immediately ruled home run. Up in the left field seats, the sheriff's men immediately collared John Doe.
"They pulled him out," usher Avento said.
It took no great detective work to find the miscreant.
"Everybody pointed him out."
And what was the mood of the mellow beer burghers in left field?
"They wanted to beat him up. Look, you want to talk to his buddies? Right over there, the guy with the beard."
The guy with the beard pleaded the Fifth Amendment.
"I won't tell you his name or mine," the bearded one said. "But the people out here wanted to kill him."
In other places at other times, guys who caught home runs became famous. Sal Durante caught Roger Maris' 61st. Tom House caught Henry Aaron's 715th. But John Doe catches Bob Boone's eighth of 1982, and he becomes the most wanted man in Milwaukee. Look for his picture on the post office wall tomorrow.
Oglivie would testify for the prosecution.
As Boone's high fly ball drifted toward the fence, the Brewers' left fielder moved easily across the warning track. It seemed a routine play. He would reach up and make the catch. But as he reached up, John Doe reached out.
Standing on the walkway behind the fence, Doe leaned over the iron railing and with both hands accomplished a fan's dream. He caught a home run.
The only difference here is that it wouldn't have been a home run had he not caught it.
Oglivie said, "I thought it was an automatic out . . . Absolutely. He had his hands extended over the fence, so without a doubt I would have caught it. It was arching into my glove."
The umpire, Barnett, on the run toward the left field fence, saw it differently. His angle put Oglivie, the fence and John Doe in a flattened perspective. The separation of the three elements in his field of vision likely was shortened.
Here's what he saw: "For me, the fan behind the fence touched the ball. When he touched it, the hands were behind the fence."
If that's so, it was a clear home run.
And if it's a clear home run, the sheriff's department didn't need to mount a manhunt to bring in John Doe. It's a heinous crime to interfere with a ball in play, subject to ejection from the stadium and prosecution for trespass. But it's all right to catch a home run.
So the lawmen with guns and the lawmen in gray slacks witnessed the same incident and came away with different explanations. Why, Mr. Umpire, if it was a home run, did Mr. Sheriff haul John Doe away for touching a ball in play?
"I'm not responsible for ejecting fans," said Barnett, showing no eagerness for a game of conundrums.
It was suggested that maybe 50 million people, give or take 30 million, had seen the play on instant replay 10 times. Barnett hadn't seen it but once, then on the run, then with a bad angle. Did he intend to watch the replay?
"It is not my intent," he said, and as a smile grew he added, "I'm sure I'll probably see it."
Probably tomorrow sometime, Larry Barnett will confess that, yes, it sure seemed that John Doe reached over the fence and snatched that ball out of Ben Oglivie's glove.
"If he really wanted a ball that bad," said Don Sutton, the winning pitcher who was replaced shortly after the Boone home run, "he could have come to the clubhouse and I'd given him a dozen."
A half-hour later, the cop in the brown polyester came out of the sheriff's office.
"The fan that touched the ball has been released," the cop said. "We just brought him in so he wouldn't get hurt out there."
No big deal. He would have walked, anyway, pleading innocent by reason of insanity. The 50,000 people here thought he was real crazy.