The insertion of erroneous death dates in a number of articles about former baseball players received attention last week when a newspaper reported on one such player who is still alive.
The Beaver County Times revealed these changes on Tuesday, 2 August, in a story about local resident Tito Francona, a retired player and the father of current Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona. A claim that Francona had died in November 2004 was added on 6 July, and the information remained in the article until after the Times published its report.
This was one of several biographies on baseball players hit by similar vandalism, sometimes involving changing dates for people who have already died instead. Also affected were articles on Buddy Myer, Cecil Travis, Buddy Lewis, Sam West, and Tommie Aaron. The edits were sophisticated enough to remove the inclusion in Category:Living people from articles to which this applied, and add categories that matched the incorrect dates.
Besides Francona, the articles on Myer and Aaron had not been fixed, or the corrections had been incomplete, before the appearance of the Times report. In the case of Myer and Francona, the edits added other bogus biographical tidbits at the same time, in addition to the erroneous death dates.
Based on the timing of this vandalism, it appears that the inspiration came from another Wikipedia-related story in the news. The changes took place one day after the death of Kenneth Lay and a widely publicized report about inaccurate information that briefly appeared in the Wikipedia article on Lay (see archived story).
WHOIS information showed that the IP addresses involved came from Wyoming.com, an internet service provider based in Riverton, Wyoming. It seems likely that only one person was responsible but was assigned different IP addresses at different times. The initial batch of edits, which also targeted articles about actors and films, was largely reverted within a couple of hours by Jaranda, but some from a second IP address survived longer.
Francona was undisturbed by the erroneous report of his death—he said he had never even heard of Wikipedia. According to the Times story, he could not recall specifically what he was doing on the day he supposedly died.