At 45 years old, I’m the geezer of Over the Monster, which makes me the target of many good-natured jokes. Born in January of 1978, I’m actually younger than Zack Hample, the notorious Major League Baseball ballhawk who caught Rafael Devers’s first inning homer last night and celebrated like he won the lottery:
some see a Rafael Devers.— Gavin McHugh (@gavinmchughh) July 24, 2023
others see a ball directly to Zack Hample.
By Hample’s count, per his Instragram page, it’s the 92nd homer he’s caught. He has also grabbed Mike Trout’s first dinger and Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit, also a homer, and then refused to give it to A-Rod in a petty standoff that somehow made modern baseball’s most aloof modern superstar look like the good guy. Earlier this season, he caught a Cedric Mullins homer in Baltimore and declined an opportunity to do something very nice with it for a famous Mullins fan who was at the game, which was his right, but in typical Hample fashion he was an asshat about it until reversing course under pressure and later offering up the ball, as if it was the totemic sphere itself, and not the well-timed gesture, that mattered.
There is a subset of fans and enablers who excuse Hample’s otherwise universally off-putting behavior by saying it’s okay because he’s great at what he does, or that he makes money from it, or that he signed a baseball for their kid, etc. Gotta hear both sides, right? If I’m going to rip him to shreds, I need to state his case for the record, just to be fair? Is that how it goes? Maybe, maybe not, but I’m not here to rip him to shreds. It’s been done many times, many ways, most pointedly by the New York Post. So what do I have to add? And why did learning that Hample caught Devers’s ball bother me so much?
I’ve been thinking this over for a few hours, and I think my answer is that Hample is as cynical as they come, a one-man public relations agency for a traveling one-man clown show that dances on a house of cards. He seems amicable enough right until you get in his way, at which point the veil drops, as it did in his well-publicized argument with the Colorado Rockies security who told him that he had to stay in the area proscribed by his ticket. When someone else catches a homer near him, he pouts. When he catches one, he doesn’t celebrate — he genuflects. He’s an addict with a very particular fix, and when it’s within his grasp he’ll stop at nothing to reach it.
For background, Hample is a New York City kid and the son of an accomplished and charmingly named (Stoo Hample) kid’s book author and illustrator. Without getting too far into armchair psychology, I don’t think it’s a leap to suggest that, having immersed himself in a childlike world in his father’s footsteps, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. But there’s a huge difference between the father and son’s work. Stoo worked for the kids. Zack is, plainly, out for himself.
Take the cap. Having been appropriately scolded for shuffling through the home team caps during his homer hunts, he has settled on a Major League Baseball logo hat as a uniform. I would bet that on most nights, he’s the only fan in the stands wearing said cap, which is the whole point. He wants to represent something larger than local baseball, and in a way he truly is an avatar of the larger game. It’s just not in the way he thinks. He’s an avatar of the single worst tendency of sports fans — to believe the game is about them, and not about all of us.
In this way, he’s no different than Fireman Ed or Marlins Man, both of whom are famous, obnoxious attention hounds. In another way, he’s plainly worse. At least those guys love their teams and are plainly, and more or less directly, asking for attention. Hample wants attention when he catches a ball and wants you to look away when he’s shoving or whining or sneaking into a game he had no business being at.
In short, Hample’s a con man of sorts. You think he won’t flatten the people he charges $1,500 to concierge them to games and shuffle back and forth between likely homer spots? You think he won’t maul the kid whose ball he just signed? These are lovely thoughts and all, but if you believe them, the wallet inspector would like a word.
As much as we’d like it, there’s no banning Hample from ballparks until he does something truly egregious, and like any swindler, he knows all the angles. The only recourse we have is public shame, but most people don’t even know who the guy is and go to the baseball game to see the players on the field, not an asshat in the stands. We are stuck with him, no matter how much he bothers us, until his body grows out of all this, because it’s safe to say the rest of him never will.