Brett Lawrie has been in the headlines a lot over the last couple days. It wasn’t just in Blue Jays land north of the border either. Lawrie’s run-in with umpire Bill Miller was the talk of sports and news outlets across North America. The helmet tossing moment and Lawrie’s “fire” and “passion” for the game have been dissected enough.
There’s no denying Lawrie was wrong in his reaction. But guess what, Bill Miller was wrong too. By calling back-to-back balls strikes Miller could have possibly changed the outcome of the game. Instead of having Lawrie on first in a one-run game the Jays were left with two outs in an eventual loss.
Of course this isn’t the first time a game has been affected by a blown call by an umpire. Bad calls have likely impacted the outcome of games for as long as baseball has been around. Until someone develops infallible robot umpires that never miss a call it will continue to be that way and rightly so.
As bad as “Lawrie-gate” was it could have been worse. Take a walk down memory lane to remember 10 of the most memorable and worst missed calls in my lifetime in chronological order.
This one was before my time, but I decided to include it because it’s such a strange story. In the 1970 World Series the Orioles faced the Reds. In the sixth inning of Game 1 controversy found home plate umpire Ken Burkhart.
With the Reds Bernie Carbo on third and Ty Cline at the plate, Cline hit a high chopper in front of the plate. Burkhart moved in front of the plate to call the ball fair or foul, but Carbo was also speeding toward the plate. Orioles catcher Elrod Hendricks grabbed the ball and turned back toward the plate to tag the now sliding Carbo. The only problem was that Burkhart was in his way and got knocked to the ground.
Hendricks was able to get his glove on Carbo before he crossed the plate. To bad he was holding the ball in his bare hand. When Burkhart recovered from his shot from Hendricks he saw Carbo away from the plate and Hendricks still holding the ball. He called Carbo out and despite arguments from Sparky Anderson the call stood.
In Game 2 of the 1991 World Series between the Twins and Braves Kent Hrbek displayed a new way to record an out. Simply knock the base runner off the base. In the third inning Ron Gant hit a hard single to left field. He made quite a wide turn around first and had to scamper back to the bag after pitcher Kevin Tapini threw the relay throw on to first baseman Hrbek.
While returning to the bag Gant got tangled up with Hrbek who appeared to pull Gant off the base and tag him out. The umpires said Gant’s momentum carried him off the bag, but it looked more like Hrbek, who had a good four inches and nearly 30 pounds on Gant, picked him up and lifted him off the base.
The greatest thing about this controversy was the Twins made a commemorative bobble head of the play.
This play didn’t change the end result of the game, but it did steal a piece of history from the Blue Jays. In Game 3 of the 1992 World Series (the first World Series game played outside the USA) Toronto should have turned the first World Series triple play since 1920.
In the fourth inning the Braves had two men on with Terry Pendleton at first and Deion Sanders at second. David Justice hit a rocket to center field which off the bat looked like extra bases for sure. The sure hit turned into an amazing catch by Devon White who caught the ball and slammed into the center field wall. The base runners, who were off on the crack of the bat had to get back. Pendleton actually passed Sanders on the base paths which meant he was automatically out.
The Jays did not know this though and threw to first to double off Pendelton. John Olerud, who received the ball at first threw the ball across the diamond to third baseman Kelly Gruber. He chased Sanders back to second and at the last moment dove and touched his heel with his glove. This should have been the third out of the triple play, but umpire Bob Davidson missed it and called Sanders safe at second. The picture below tells a different story though.
7. Jeffrey Maier steals one for the Yankees – October 9, 1996
Was there a non-Yankees fan alive that did not hate Jeffrey Maier back in 1996? In the opening game of the ALDS between the Orioles and the Yankees Maier stuck the dagger in the O’s by turning a Derek Jeter fly ball into a home run.
In the eighth inning with the Orioles leading 4-3 Jeter, then a rookie, drove a fly ball to deep right field. Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco prepared to make the catch with his back to the wall when Maier stuck his glove out into the field of play and despite unsuccessfully making the catch forced the ball over the wall.
What was a clear case of fan interference was instead called a home run by right field umpire Rich Garcia. The home run tied the game and New York would go on to win in extra innings off a legal home run by Bernie Williams.
The worst part of this incident was how it was promoted by Yankees fans and the press. In New York Maier was called a hero and actually appeared on Late Night with David Letterman and received the Key to the City from New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Really? You celebrate a kid helping the Yankees cheat to win? I wonder if the Florida Marlins thought about giving the Key to the City of Miami to Steve Bartman?
6. Eric Gregg racks up the K’s for Livan Hernandez – October 12, 1997
For his part in helping the Florida Marlins top the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS home plate umpire Eric Gregg should have received a World Series ring. Hernandez went the distance in the win for Florida, pitching all nine innings and racking up 15 strikeouts.
A few of those called third strikes may have been a bit outside though. Check out the YouTube video to see for yourself. The final strikeout of Fred McGriff was criminal. Just a bit outside right Bob Uecker?
Did I miss the part in the baseball rule book where you can tag the air around a runner to record an out? Was that part of the rule book during the 1999 ALCS between the Yankees and the Red Sox? It must have been part of umpire Tim Tschida’s rule book I guess.
In the eighth inning the Yankees squashed a potential Red Sox rally with a double play that never happened. With Jose Offerman at first a ground ball was hit to second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. Knobby tagged Offerman and threw to first to complete the double play.
The only problem was Knoblauch never touched Offerman. In fact, he never came close to touching him. You could have placed another player in between Knoblauch’s glove and Offerman during the “Phantom Tag!”
If you tag a runner with the ball when he’s not on a base he’s out right? Tim McClelland thought otherwise during Game 4 of the 2009 ALCS between the Yankees and the Angels.
With one out in the top of the fifth inning Jorge Posada was on third and Robinson Cano was on second. Nick Swisher, at the plate, hit a ground ball back to the pitcher, Darren Oliver. He quickly threw the ball home to catcher Mike Napoli. Posada was tied up in a run down between third and home and Napoli ran him back to third. While Napoli was chasing Posada back to third Cano did the right thing and started for third base from second base. Here’s where things went wrong.
As Posada reached third Napoli noticed Cano standing beside third base, but not yet touching the bag. He quickly tagged Cano (still not on the bag) and then immediately tagged Posada who had not yet returned to third. Bang, bang, double play right? Well, no.
McClelland was standing right beside third and had the whole scene play out right in front of him, but still called Cano safe at third. What? Cano was safe at third despite never touching the bag before getting tagged by Napoli. Insane.
On June 2, 2010 Detroit Tigers’ starter Armando Galarraga pitched the game of his life against the Cleveland Indians. Through 8 2-3 inning Galaragga had not allowed a single base runner, retiring 26 Cleveland players in a row. One out away for perfection it all went wrong.
Jason Donald was Cleveland’s last hope and he sent a slow roller to Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera who flipped it to Galaragga covering first in time to get Donald. Only that wasn’t how first base umpire Jim Joyce saw it. Joyce called Donald safe and Galarraga’s moment of perfection was gone.
Joyce would later admit he made the wrong call, but it was too late to change history and give Galarraga the official perfect game. Galarraga being a class act, took it in stride. A call that could have haunted Joyce for the rest of his life career was put to rest quite quickly. Baseball fans may have been cheated out of a perfect game, but we did get to see a great act of sportsmanship from Armando Galarraga.
2. 19 innings ends badly for Pittsburgh – July 26, 2011
The Braves and Pirates battled for 19 innings on July 26, 2011 (and July 27 technically) before a astoundingly bad call at home plate ended it all. With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom in the 19th inning the Braves have men on second and third.
The batter hit it right to the third basemen who came home with a strike well ahead of the runner, Julio Lugo. Lugo practically slid into the catcher on the way to home plate, but he was shockingly called safe by home plate umpire Jerry Meals. Take a look on Youtube for this one if you don’t remember it or haven’t seen it before.
1. Tim Welke doesn’t know where first base is – May 2, 2012
This baffling missed call happened earlier this season when the Colorado Rockies faced the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 2. In what many have dubbed the “worst call ever,” Welke called the Dodgers Jerry Hairston out at first when Rockies first basemen Todd Helton was nowhere near the bag.
Here’s how it unfolded. In the sixth inning the Dodgers were down by one and threatening with Juan Rivera at first and two outs. Hairston hit one to the left side of the infield and Colorado third basemen Chris Nelson made nice diving play to corral it.
His throw to first was offline and Helton looked to be two feet off the bag when he caught it. Despite Helton being nowhere near the bag umpire Tim Welke called Hairston out. Unbelievable!
Do any other blown calls stand out in your lifetime? Let us know about them in the comments section.