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Pete Rose Web-a-thon

"SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE" IS A MAXIM hanging over no Web weaver's cubicle. Speed is a function of Internet viability, and the odd straggler is picked off the herd like a wounded zebra on the veldt.

Still, it's something to see a site rise and fall in just under 77 hours, the life span of the recent "Fire Jim Gray and Apologize to Pete Rose Boycott" Web site. Here's its life story:

Sunday, 24 October, 4 p.m.­ish (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 overshadowed World Series. Among the. awardees is slugger Pete Rose, on the field for the first time in a decade after being accused of gambling. After this Hallmark moment, Rose is interviewed by NBC reporter Jim Gray, who got a taste of the crime beat when he snagged the post-bout interview with ear-munchin' Mike Tyson. Gray tries to badger Rose into admitting that he gambled on baseball. Millions cringe.

T + 3:45: The online sports discussions are going wild, particularly at NBC; the topic isn't the incipient Yankees sweep but Gray's "interview." A Virginia fan, Michael Rhine, whips up a boycott-NBC page and posts the URL to various online discussions. He gets 350 e-mails 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.

T + 7: MSNBC, which hosts the NBC sports site, pulls down its discussion area. Someone at NBC leaks Rhine an internal memo, instructing affiliates how to direct complaints.

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

T + 16: The exec e-mail addresses start shutting down from overload. Rhine does his first radio show.

T + 17: MasterCard, which sponsored the Team of the Century, is very close to making a formal protest to NBC about the Gray interview. Readers send Rhine several MasterCard phone numbers staffed by live people taking messages from angry fans. Rhine's site has delivered 37,437 page views and garnered 1,600-plus letters, exactly one of which is pro-Gray.

T + 17:52: ESPN reads angry fan e-mail from Rhine's site on the air. His page hits top 50,000.

T + 19:32: Jim Gray's voice-mail 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 titled "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 3. After the game, home-run hero Chad Curtis refuses on air to talk to Gray. Rhine's source inside NBC passes along another internal bulletin forbidding affiliates to replay the Gray apology. MSNBC's chatmasters begin booting fans from discussions if they mention Gray's name.

Wednesday: Yankees win the World Series. George Steinbrenner "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 now sits abandoned, and sports fans have mostly moved on. But for just over three days, it was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.


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