76:50 — The lifespan of the anti-Jim-Gray website


“Slow and steady wins the race” is a maxim hanging over no Web-weaver’s cubicle. Speed is a function of viability, whether fairly or no; projects go from lunch meeting to launch in a matter of weeks, and the odd straggler-say,, delayed once again this week and limping to the starting gate under a dark cloud of speculation about its future-is picked off the herd like a wounded zebra on the veldt.

Which is why no one need find the short happy life of unusual. Still, even in these Net-driven days, it’s something to see a site have a fabulous rise and fall, the entirety of which lasts just under 77 hours. The Fire Jim Gray And Apologize To Pete Rose Boycott website had exactly that, and no more than that. Here’s its life story:

Sunday, 24 October, Around 4 (we’ll call it T-hour): The Team of the Century is presented before the second game of what will prove to be a sad and distracted World Series. Among the awardees is Pete Rose, on the field for the first time in a decade. (Well and good. Though I’m not a fan of Charlie Hustle, 3,000 hits entitles a man to stand in the presence of the faithful.) After this Hallmark moment, Rose is interviewed by NBC reporter Jim Gray. Gray, who got a taste of the crime beat when he snagged the post-bout interview with ear-munchin’ Mike Tyson and hasn’t recovered yet, chooses to badger Rose into admitting that he gambled on baseball. Millions cringe. Rose does not punch him out on national television, though you could see in his eyes that it wasn’t out of the question.

T + 3:45 The online sports discussions are going wild, particularly at NBC; however, the topic isn’t the incipient Yankees sweep but Gray’s “interview.” Michael Rhine, of Reston, Virginia, whips up a boycott page and posts the URL to various online discussions. He gets 350 emails in the next 45 minutes, all pro-Rose. Rhine adds NBC phone numbers to the page.

T + 6:15 ESPN posts an article about the Gray flap. Reporters (including this one) find Rhine’s page and start asking for interviews. NBC’s phones are swamped, often not even able to deliver a busy signal.

T + 7 MSNBC, which hosts the NBC sports site, pulls down its discussion area. Fans who were previously venting are now bottled up, with predictable results. Someone at NBC is leaking info to Rhine, including an internal memo instructing affiliates in how to direct complaints; the source notes that “your voices are definitely being heard-whether or not they’re being listened to remains to be seen.”

T + 9 (Monday) Fans start contributing art to the boycott site. MSNBC re-launches its discussion area overnight. Rhine posts a list of NBC-exec email addresses as well as contact information for advertisers.

T + 16 The exec email addresses start shutting down from overload. Rhine does his first radio show.

T + 17 Sources report that MasterCard, which sponsored the Team of the Century, is very close to making a formal protest. Readers send Rhine several MasterCard phone numbers staffed by live people taking messages from angry fans. The site has delivered 37,437 page views and garnered 1,600+ letters, exactly one of which is pro-Gray.

T + 17:52 ESPN reads a number of emails on the air. The site tops 50,000 page views.

T + 19:32 Jim Gray’s voicemail number is posted on the site.

T + 20:38 The site posts a copy of the anti-Gray letter MasterCard will be mailing to customers.

T + 21 Mastercard puts out a press release entitled “MasterCard International Demands That NBC Reporter Jim Gray Apologize To America’s Baseball Fans.”

Tuesday USA Today covers the site. By late afternoon Rhine’s inbox is 5,200 messages deep. Jim Gray delivers a scripted apology before the start of Game Three. After the game, home-run hero Chad Curtis refuses on air to interview with Gray, saying that the Yankees had decided as a team not to speak to him. Rhine’s source inside NBC passes along another internal bulletin forbidding affiliates to replay the Gray apology. MSNBC’s chatmasters take matters into their own hands; fans report that mentioning Gray’s name gets them booted from discussions. Rumor has it that if the Yankees sweep tomorrow, Gray will not be reporting from their locker room.

Wednesday Yankees win. George Steinbrenner, that well-known diplomat, “intercedes” for NBC; Yankee players give a series of hard-eyed interviews to a cringing Gray. At 8:50 p.m. (T + 76:50), Rhine posts a final message to the site.

And that was that. The site sits now abandoned, and sports fans have mostly moved on. But for 77 hours it was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; for 77 hours the liveliest game in baseball. What more could a Web weaver ask?