Friday, July 29, 2011

Rays 3B Evan Longoria's spectacular, barehanded catch has become a must-see on YouTube

Did Tampa Bay Rays third baseman
Evan Longoria really make this catch?

From, May 24, 2011

The video, if you haven't seen it, is amazing.

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is talking to a television reporter along the first-base line. Their backs are facing the baseball diamond, and the two are standing about 125 feet from home plate -- where a fellow Ray is taking batting practice.

The teammate sprays a line drive directly at them. Instinctively, Longoria wheels around his head and torso, extends his right arm and catches the ball barehanded.

The television reporter gasps, Longoria shakes off the pain in his hand and tosses the ball back toward the pitcher's mound. "Keep it on the field," he says, nonchalantly.

The :24-second clip was first posted on YouTube May 6, 2011 by MrSprts12 and has since been viewed more than 3.8 million times.

The biggest question: Is the video real? Or is it fake?

PolitiFact Florida decided to take a break from politics to put the now viral video -- and the Rays superstar third baseman -- to the Truth-O-Meter.

At first glance, the catch seems improbable. And to baseball fans, maybe even impossible. But baseball players have made amazing barehanded grabs before. In 1989, then San Francisco Giants outfielder Kevin Mitchell snared a fly ball off the bat of St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith with his bare right hand. And in 2005, New York Mets third baseman David Wright dove over his shoulder to catch a pop fly barehanded. Mitchell and Wright were in the middle of games, we should note, and saw the ball coming. Longoria had almost no time to react.

We know several details about the video's origins, as explained by Longoria himself to the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin and the Tampa Tribune's Roger Mooney.

Longoria said the clip was filmed near the end of spring training, after Longoria spent nearly six hours filming a commercial for Gillette. Longoria said the video was shot at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He claims it's authentic.

The video -- "It's still real, by the way," he said -- was shot with a handheld camera in one take in about five minutes, after the Gillette commercial wrapped.

"Unbelievable, huh?" Longoria, a spokesman for Gillette who has filmed other ads, said. "It's funny when you talk about things going viral; it really does once it gets on things like Twitter and YouTube. It goes from a small snowball to an avalanche quickly."

Let's go back to the tape.

Because there are several things that don't add up.

In the video there are four Gillette logos visible -- two behind home plate and two on a roof facade over the third-base bleachers. But those logos aren't part of McKechnie Field in real life, Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' director of Florida operations, told a reporter for The logos were added digitally and included in the final video that was posted on YouTube.

Next, there is the user who posted the video, MrSprts12. The user created his YouTube account May 4 and has only uploaded the Longoria video. The user lists his company as Gillette.

Then there's the reporter and the video graphic identifying Longoria. There is no television station symbols or letters on the video, and the reporter is holding a microphone without a "flag" that identifies the station where the reporter works. Perhaps even stranger, we could not find the video posted on any news site. (Surely, a TV station would love to claim the video as theirs.)

A strong circumstantial case that the video is doctored.

But we wanted to keep looking. We asked Topkin -- who has covered baseball for the Times since 1987 -- what he thought of the video. From Detroit, where the Rays were playing the Detroit Tigers, Topkin said he believes it to be a well-crafted fake.

Topkin noted several things that aren't typical during a batting practice session. There is no cage surrounding the batter to catch foul balls or stop pitches that aren't hit. There's also no screen protecting the batting practice pitcher. There are no coaches in the video hitting ground balls and no other fielders on the baseball diamond to track down any hits.

And there's more. The batter, after hitting a ball right at Longoria and the reporter, isn't heard yelling for them to get out of the way. And though Longoria makes a miraculous catch, the batter returns immediately to his batting stance like nothing even happened.

The cameraman doesn't warn the reporter or Longoria either.

And there's the frame-by-frame analysis of the video. If you watch closely enough, the ball is falling toward the ground as it approaches Longoria and the reporter. But in the last frame -- right before Longoria catches the ball -- it appears to move upward again.

"Simply put, once the ball has started into a downward trajectory, it cannot then again head upwards without an external force," wrote YouTube user meltingsmoke, one of several thousand people to comment or question on the video's authenticity. "That clearly happens just before the ball is 'caught.' (It's) not the same ball and (its) trajectory is all wrong."

The Times has been asking readers online if they thought the catch was real or fake. The vast majority, though not all, say it's a hoax.

With the evidence overwhelmingly suggesting the video is a fake, we asked Gillette spokesman Michael Norton if the company would put the mystery to rest. "The video was filmed while on location for a Gillette Fusion ProGlide commercial," Norton told us. "We'll leave the 'is it real?' debate up to the viewers."

At PolitiFact, we're ready to make the judgment call for you. From computer-added Gillette signage, to the reaction of the cameraman and the batter, from the way major league teams conduct batting practice, to the video evidence, this viral YouTube video is a clever piece of advertising. And fiction. Longoria is a good sport -- and spokesman for Gillette -- for saying the catch is real. But we're not buying it. We say Pants on Fire!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chicken and gags situation at this baseball induction ceremony

An irreverent nonprofit group that celebrates the game holds its annual awards, honoring the likes of the San Diego mascot and Dodgers great Maury Wills among others.

Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times

July 20, 2011

I was listening to the San Diego Chicken give a speech the other day, and he raised some excellent points about sports and the state of the nation, such that it is.

The chicken sounded good, especially considering that he had just flown in that morning. Describing himself as the "Minnie Minoso of mascots," he talked about his five decades in the game, and how he thought baseball has the greatest sense of humor of any sport.

"Baseball is the only sport where you can still hear the squeal of children in the stands," he went on to say, drawing more knowing nods.

After all these years, I still get a charge when I first spot the San Diego Chicken — that same visceral reaction you get when you see a very pregnant woman walking down the sidewalk — her innie now an outtie. You poke whoever's next to you — "Hey, look!" — as if you're about to witness a miracle, pay attention.

I don't know that this overstuffed bird quite qualifies as a miracle, but he is a blessing, a gift and — when turned slowly over a spit — one of the tastiest summer meals you could ever hope for.

Sorry, I can be serious for only so long, one of the life tricks you learn from guys like Ted Giannoulas and Bob Uecker, Nuke LaLoosh and Tommy Lasorda.

In sort of a Lasorda moment, halfway through Giannoulas' speech I start hallucinating about chicken wings, which happens to me at almost every speech, not just those given by poultry. Food fantasies are my go-to place, my mental B-roll. It would be the same fantasy if Nelson Mandela were speaking, or Michelle Bachmann. Maybe even more so.

Suddenly, the chicken is gone and there's another speaker.

"Essentially, the United States is the greatest poem," says writer Jean Hastings Ardell, quoting Walt Whitman as she expands on the rich language of sports.

Baseball is also a poem, of course. But, mercifully, it's also full of laughs and one-liners.

They honored all this Sunday — the poetry and the punch lines — at the Baseball Reliquary's "Induction Day" ceremony. Basically, it's a salute to baseball put together by fans who at one point started ringing cowbells, a tradition we'll get to in a moment.

I don't even know what a reliquary is — sounds like a place priests stash their cigarettes. But if you're starting to get the idea that this organization is for you, let me warn you that its members are almost hopelessly irreverent, literate and sanguine.

I know, right? Who'd expect all that from a bunch of die-hard baseball fans? And who'd expect me to use a word like sanguine?

But that's this group, full of mirth and a love for the game.

They start their meeting with the national anthem, played on a lone electric guitar. After an amp malfunction, filmmaker/guitarist Jon Leonoudakis apologizes and starts over.

"Let's play two," some wise guy woofs.

That done, they break into a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which should begin every meeting in America, not just Seussian extravaganzas like this one.

Here's the bio on the under-the-radar Baseball Reliquary: It's a nonprofit group that celebrates the game with exhibitions and programs throughout the year. Almost everything is free and open to the public.

Atmospherically, the Pasadena-based group is what you'd get if you crossed a meeting of hard-core preservationists with the Royal Order of Raccoons. Ralph Kramden should preside.

Their annual Academy Awards is this "Shrine of the Eternals" induction, held last Sunday, drawing 200 mixed-up souls to the Pasadena Central Library.

In addition to the Chicken, they are honoring Dodgers great Maury Wills, one-armed former outfielder Pete Gray (Nelson Gary Jr. accepting) and Paul Dickson, author of many things, including his wonderful baseball dictionary.

In some sort of apparent screwup, they also give me a small award, something called "The Hilda," named for renowned Brooklyn nutcase Hilda Chester.

Chester is probably the most famous Dodgers fan of all time, best known for the racket she raised with frying pans and cowbells at Ebbets Field, but also for allegedly lying in court in defense of her hero, fellow nutcase Leo Durocher, after the manager went on trial for pummeling a fan with brass knuckles.

And you thought baseball was purer back then?

In any (nut)case, the shrine ceremony is a hoot, not just for its appreciation for baseball's funny bone, but for its recognition of people like Wills, who at almost 80 still looks lean and cat-like enough to swipe 100 bases — an ageless cheetah.

The former shortstop brought down the house with his stories of how he spent eight years in the minors and overcame a debilitating fear of the curveball — switch-hitting saved his career.

"This [ceremony] spanned the gamut of the baseball experience, from the humorous and irreverent to the scholarly and sublime," says the group's founder, Terry Cannon, when it is over. "I like to think that the annual ceremony, in some ways, represents the most special and enduring qualities of baseball."

Right. Now where'd you stash that chicken?