Have You Heard About the Red Sox Player and the Freshman Hottie?

The notorious photograph shows the ballplayer, a popular member of
the exalted Red Sox, sitting in a chair and looking straight at the
camera, beer in hand and a half smirk across his face. He's wearing
street clothes and, judging by the bunk beds in the background, appears
to be in a college dorm room. The girl—a pretty, bronzed, dirty-blond
19-year-old Northeastern freshman—is on his lap, her legs draped across
his body. She has on jeans and a tight, lacy, plunging black tank top.
Her smile is confident, enticing. There's no freaking out about hanging
with a Red Sox player, not from her. She looks like she does this every
day, like this is soooo not a big deal. Like she's in control. And
perhaps she was, at least until she went and posted the photo on the

When the photo landed in your inbox—and for several weeks this
spring, it seemed the shot had been forwarded to everyone in Boston—you
couldn't help but guess at its backstory. Like a picture of two
celebrities snogging on a beach snapped by a hang-gliding paparazzo,
the image suggested intimacy. Except there was no paparazzo; the
ballplayer and the girl recorded this private moment themselves. It's
possible that what it captured was just some harmless flirting. The
more popular conclusion, of course, was that it pointed toward
something a lot less innocent.

Even in these gossip-soaked times—when entire careers can be made or
lost by scoops about Affleck fiancées—there was something uniquely
engrossing about the rumors set off by the photo of the girl and the
ballplayer. Certainly, news of their trysts could have filled a stack of gossip columns: See
if you can guess the Newbury Street dive bar where the coed cutie first
caught the eye of the curse-killer. Or which sophisticated steakery the
sweetie-pies swung through scot-free. Or the BoSox front-office bigwig
who blasted the ballplayer and begged him to back off the barely legal
As it was, they scarcely made the papers. This
scuttlebutt remained the old-fashioned, do-it-yourself variety, which
of course was the real source of its appeal. Because that's still the
best kind.

Ultimately the ballplayer, a bona fide celebrity by Boston standards
(and a married one, you ought to know), sidestepped public exposure and
damage to his reputation. The girl was not so lucky. We could out them
both right now, but that's not our purpose here. (Besides, if you've
seen the photo, you no doubt already know their names.) We're after
larger truths about the way Boston gossip works in the digital age,
which can only be uncovered by tracking the rumor from start to finish.
When you take that ride—when you finally meet the girl—you learn a
lesson Mom never mentioned: Even if all the dirt is dished over cable
modems, someone still gets hurt in the end.

Like a lot of good rumors, the one stemming from the photo of the
girl and the ballplayer can be traced back to someone with too much
time on his or her hands. In this case, that someone is Dave
MacDougall, an unassuming third-year Northeastern student. Late one
February night, he sits in his Comm. Ave. studio, thoroughly bored. So,
as today's college students are wont to do when not out drinking or
hanging with friends, he logs on to thefacebook.com, an Internet
directory that lets users create groups based on shared interests,
which in turn provides a high-tech way for them to ogle other students,
or at least put off their homework. MacDougall, an Andover native, is a
devout Sox fan (“It's inbred from my dad. But I'm not crazy or
anything.”). He decides to look for Red Sox groups to join. One called
Girlfriends of BoSox Players catches his eye. Figuring it to be a joke,
he clicks the link.

Girlfriends of BoSox Players lists the girl as its president and
only member. MacDougall pays no mind, figuring lots of young women have
imagined romances with sports stars. But—being bored—he does some
digging. Eventually he makes his way to the girl's online photo album.
After scrolling through several months of typical college scenes—she
and her friends dancing with bartenders, she and her friends clad in
Hooters costumes for no apparent reason—he comes to a collection of
pictures posted earlier that month. To MacDougall's surprise, a man in
one of the photos looks a lot like the ballplayer. “And I'm like, could
she really be dating this guy?” Intrigued, he scrolls through more of
the girl's snapshots. The ballplayer turns up in more than a dozen,
dancing in the sweaty subterranean confines of Daisy Buchanan's in one,
decked out in a suit in another, which is captioned “Before Grill 23″—a
memento, it appears, from a date at the swank steakhouse. There he is
at a college kegger, and in a hotel room wearing a white tank top. (The
caption on that last one reads “Mmm.”) The girl's bold assertion seems
true. She and the ballplayer really look like a couple.

Armed with this bit of juicy information, MacDougall does what any
of us would do: He brags about it to his friends. “I told them, 'I know
a chick from Northeastern is dating a Red Sox player.' And they were
like, 'Weird.'” As it happens, MacDougall also has his own blog, More
Cowbell, at exploringthestudiospace.blogspot.com, which gives him the
means to share his discovery with the masses. But he's not ready to do
that just yet.

One of the people MacDougall tells about the photos is his good
friend Mike. “So Mike sees this story on ESPN.com,” says MacDougall.
“The article mentioned [the ballplayer's] wife and includes a picture
of them at the Grammys.” Mike sends the link to MacDougall, who had
assumed the ballplayer was single. Suddenly whatever was going on in
those photos starts to seem to MacDougall like a barefaced
indiscretion. “They just won the World Series and they're gods in
Boston and then he does something like this so blatantly,” he says. “It
kind of pissed me off.”

MacDougall now has a potent new ingredient in the gossip recipe:
indignation. Yet he's still reluctant to broadcast his find more
widely. “For the most part, that's all blogs are—gossip and rumors
written by people with no real evidence or style. I wasn't very willing
to join their ilk,” says MacDougall, the kind of hyperliterate kid who
uses words like “ilk” without irony. “Mike was like, 'Dude, you've got
to do this.' He assured me it'd be interesting and funny, and not just
a rumor or gossip, since I had some pretty strong proof.”

On April 4, two months after his initial find, MacDougall posts an
entry on More Cowbell about the photos. He's convinced himself his
dispatch is justified. “It's pretty much all her fault,” he says. “Once
you put the pictures out there, it's anybody's guess what will happen.
Facebook is pretty much a gossip machine.”


As MacDougall turns his blogging energies to other weighty topics,
word of the girl's liaisons with the ballplayer swirls around the
Northeastern campus. Soon, at least one other person starts spreading
the rumor online. On April 22, blogger Garrett Walker, a young
programmer in New York, posts an anonymous note sent to his blog from a
Northeastern account. In it the writer lists the girl's name, dorm, and
prospective major. The info is attributed to the classic
brother's-cousin's-neighbor source: “A friend of the girl that
apparently is hooking up with (the ballplayer) is in a class with a
girl that lives down the hall from me.”

About this time, MacDougall notices that online sports message
boards around Boston are citing his blog. And lots of people are
visiting his website. “Before, I would get 100 to 200 hits a day,” he
says. “By the end of April, I was getting around 400.” With sports fans
across the city abuzz about the pictures, someone copies the photo of
the girl on the ballplayer's lap and attaches it to a mass e-mail. From
there the image spreads like a virus, pinging from cluttered college
apartments in Allston and the Fenway to the shiny towers of the
Financial District and suburban office parks and, somewhere along the
line, quite possibly your inbox, too.

If the forwarded e-mail is the 21st century's answer to the water
cooler, the new medium of choice for spreading gossip, at the same time
it's also like the wave at sporting events—to thrive, it needs
enthusiasm. Especially helpful are any of the following: attractive
people in skimpy clothing; celebrities; imprudent actions involving
celebrities and attractive people in skimpy clothing; unfortunate yet
humorous accidents; things almost too gross to look at; and anything
involving monkeys dressed like humans. Obviously the photo of the girl
and the ballplayer is virtually irresistible. And the best part is, it
didn't come from some glossy magazine. It's like one of the shots from Us Weekly 's
popular Stars—They're Just Like Us! section, in which celebrities are
photographed taking out the trash or buying groceries (themselves!),
the idea being that we'll feel a deeper kinship with Ashley Judd if we
see her schlepping bags from Whole Foods. Except, in this case, we got the goods on our own.

In no time, Red Sox fans as far away as Argentina and Belgium see
the picture—and once they do, those curious enough uncover the entire
trove of photos in the girl's online album with a quick Web search.
Meanwhile the girl is receiving messages of her own through
thefacebook.com, asking if she is indeed the ballplayer's girlfriend,
and whether she knows other players who might be available. All this
goes on without attracting the attention of the mainstream media. That
is, until all the pictures featuring the ballplayer mysteriously
disappear from the girl's website.

Certainly the ballplayer courted scandal, squiring the girl around
the way he did. But somehow he never got caught. No bartender or waiter
or doorman dropped the dime. And that's really not so surprising,
considering the unique dynamics of the city's gossip business.

“We have relationships with the gossip columnists,” says Jason Babb,
the general manager of Grill 23 & Bar, who adds, by way of example:
“When Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson came in last year, we let them
know.” But Babb is very selective about what he leaks, and more often
than not he protects his VIP clientele. “If I see someone come in with
a woman and the next day with another, I never address it. You don't
want to lose a customer. The less you talk, the safer you are.” In the
case of the ballplayer, Babb simply didn't notice him. “I'm not a huge
sports guy,” he admits with a laugh. “[The ballplayer] could be
standing outside my window right now, and I wouldn't have a clue.”

Neither would most people in the rest of the country. It's only in
Boston's parochial hierarchy of fame that the ballplayer qualifies for
the A list. “In New York, celebrities are real celebrities. Ours are
our athletes,” says Laura Raposa, who writes the Herald' s
Inside Track gossip column with her colleague, Gayle Fee. “Media people
are a big deal, too. Nowhere else are people going to care about what
[Channel 7 anchor] Caterina Bandini is doing.” But while the shortage
of stars can make boldface names out of relative nobodies—and a
citywide soap opera out of the prospect of Manny Ramirez leaving town
because he doesn't think he gets enough privacy—it also creates a
gentler gossip culture. “It's a small city, so if you write about
someone, you know you're going to see them. This doesn't necessarily
mean you have to be nice. You just better be right,” Raposa says. But
the fact is, both the Track and the Globe's Names column rarely savage their subjects, and almost never by name.

Raposa and Fee finally learn about the ballplayer's apparent
dalliances with the help of everyday readers. “We got the picture on
April 29,” Raposa says. “It was e-mailed to us, like, 900 times.” She
and Fee sit on the tip for a week, discussing whether the photo merits
an item on its own. But when the entire cache of images suddenly
vanishes from the Web, they smell a story. “It only became interesting
when she took them off her site,” Raposa says.

On May 6, the Track gals run a blind item, leaving the ballplayer
unnamed: “We hear that a raft of raaather incriminating photos . . .
disappeared from the website of a college coed who . . . put the
photographic evidence in an online photo album for all the world to
see. Seems the pics were careening all over the Internet—much to the
consternation of the married playboy. LOVED the Care Bear sheets on the
bunk beds!” (As much as we wish it were true, that last part isn't
quite right: The bedding was actually floral patterned.) After the
blurb appears, other media outlets pursue the girl. Producers from WEEI
try to persuade her to do an interview. Bar Stool Sports, a Maxim -style free weekly, offers her $100 to pose in a bikini on its cover.

By this point, public perception of the girl has shifted, bigtime.
The gossip enters its inevitable final stage, descending into
nastiness. On a blog called Mr. DudeMan, the DudeMan—probably not
someone who uses the word “ilk”—claims he got “a crazy e-mail claiming
she isn't exactly a 'GOOD' girl.” Worse still is an anonymous rant on
MacDougall's site questioning the girl's story, calling her “a crazy
slut who is pulling this shit to get attention,” and writing her off as
“the most pathetic person you will ever meet.” On May 11, someone posts
to Garrett Walker's blog a link to an archived Web page of a suburban
police log detailing the girl's 2003 arrest for alleged domestic
assault and battery—charges that, according to the girl, had been
dismissed the day they were made, and have since been sealed. Suddenly
the rumors have become a smear campaign.

When I e-mail the girl, I expect to be ignored, that she'll want to
put the photos and the hoopla behind her, pack up her digital camera,
and move on. Instead she replies almost immediately. We agree to meet
at a suburban Starbucks. She shows up wearing jeans and a low-cut pink
sweater, and, yes, she's striking, with long, dirty-blond hair, almond
eyes, and a rap video?caliber figure. Her mature looks notwithstanding,
she certainly sounds her age. Her voice is high pitched, and
she still speaks in the adolescent vernacular of unfinished thoughts,
ending sentences with “whatever”s and “you know”s.

The real story, the girl says, is this: She met the ballplayer in
early February at Daisy Buchanan's, perhaps the only place where such
an encounter could occur. After they talked for a while, she invited
him back to her dorm. “I was like, 'Do you want to party at
Northeastern?' and he was like, 'I can't, I'm married. But let me have
your number in case, you know, whatever.'” Which might be roughly
translated as “in case, you know, I decide to call you anyway.”

Over the next few weeks, the girl and the ballplayer got together
again at Daisy's and other nightspots. He eventually took the girl up
on her earlier invitation, and two or three times he and an unmarried
Red Sox player came to the freshman dorms at 319 Huntington Avenue to
hang out with the girl and her friends. “He had to check in with the
security guard and he would show her his player's card. She was like,

The night the soon-to-be-troublesome photo was taken was one of
those times. “We went into my friend's room to have a beer. I'd brought
my camera out with me. We'd been taking lots of pictures and I just
wanted one with him.” She insists that putting the photos online was
merely standard procedure. “I post all my pictures. It never occurred
to me it would be such a big deal. I didn't know everyone would freak.”

Before long the girl began to suspect she and the ballplayer might
not be compatible. “He's so not my normal type,” she says. Though she
enjoyed their nights out, she found him a less-than-ideal date. “It was
fun to get dressed up and all that, but I've done that. The annoying
thing was everyone talking to him or wanting to congratulate him. He
would, like, talk to everybody. ” The ballplayer's
approachability was a product of his personality, which is not
flamboyant or flashy. And to the girl, who was maybe expecting a little
more flash, a little more flair, that kind of, like, sucked. “He's
totally down to earth, even kind of nerdy.” One night they got a room
at the Radisson. “I was like, 'Why don't you stay at the Four

After they'd been hanging out for several weeks, the ballplayer had
to leave for spring training in Fort Myers. About the same time, the
girl and her friends decided, conveniently, to go to Orlando for spring
break. While she was in Florida, the ballplayer avoided her calls.
Rather than sulk, she got in touch with a friend of a friend, a batboy
for the Florida Marlins. She wound up hanging out with Marlins pitcher
Josh Beckett, adding to her online scrapbook with pictures of herself
wearing his World Series ring. The ballplayer, she would learn, “was
with his wife—she was sick or whatever. I was like, whatever, we're
with Josh.”

Two weeks after she returned from spring break, the fling all but
dead but the rumor still in circulation, the girl got a call from the
ballplayer's teammate. People on the team had seen the pictures. So had
the ballplayer's wife. “He said I had to take them down.” With little
protest, she removed the pictures that night. The next day she received
a call from the ballplayer himself. “He says thanks for taking down the
pictures, and that Theo Epstein had a talk with him and it's bad PR for
the team. Then he says he doesn't know how long, but we can't talk till
this blows over.” (Red Sox vice president of public affairs Charles
Steinberg denies that the front office stepped in to squash the spread
of the photos. “The Red Sox took no action whatsoever regarding the Web
pictures, and I did check that all the way up to our president. As for
a general comment, I would say that it's difficult to give credence to
things that appear on websites that lack journalistic integrity.
There's so much you can do, from Photoshop to any kind of manipulation,
that we have to draw the line between fans' creative concoctions and
serious credible journalism. So we try to be mindful of that when we
hear of items or see things passed through the Internet.”)

The girl doesn't seem particularly upset about losing her sort-of
boyfriend. It's the whole “celebrity slut” thing that bothers her.
“People post not-so-nice things about me and I can't do anything about
it. It's not like I can go to each person posting stuff and tell them
the truth.”

So what exactly is the truth? Did they, you know, do what everyone assumes they did?

Did they have sex, or not?

The girl stares at me for a long time.



She sighs. “We really didn't. I mean, I know people are going to
assume that we did no matter what I say. But, for the record, we

Then what did they do in the hotel room, in her dorm room, after the rendezvous at the bars?

“Well, we hung out. And, you know, whatever. He was always wanting
to play the guitar and I was like, all right, cut it out.” She puts her
hands on the table between us to emphasize her next point. “I wasn't
completely into him.”

As you read this, the girl is gone. She has transferred to a college
in upstate New York, where she'll pursue her goal of “managing hotels
and casinos and eventually owning them,” which sounds like something
she's completely capable of. “It's becoming too much,” she says. “Red
Sox fans are crazy, and I'm getting sick of it. They should mind their
business. Or at least calm down.”

I ask her if she regrets how things played out. She starts to say
something, then quickly cuts herself off. When she speaks again, she's
perfectly composed. “No, because I don't think I've done anything
wrong. If you have a wife, you shouldn't be doing that, and if he's so
concerned, then he shouldn't have let me take pictures.” She puts her
hands back on the table. “If the best gossip is about things that
aren't supposed to be done, then maybe you shouldn't do them.”

Styling by Ann Fitzgerald/Team. Uniform from Broadway Costume, 273
Summer St., Boston, 617-426-3560. Black top, $107, Betsey Johnson, 201
Newbury St., Boston, 617-236-7072.