No announcement yet.

Most controversial calls in playoff history

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Most controversial calls in playoff history

    Most controversial calls in playoff history
    By Rob Neyer
    ESPN Insider

    About last night's strange turn of events in Chicago, Tim McCarver said, "This controversy will go on, and on, and on."

    No matter what happens in the rest of the American League Championship Series, McCarver is probably right. Because no matter who wins and who loses, these things tend to assume lives of their own, and often they attain a certain strain of immortality. As it happens, the immortal things all seem to have happened since World War II, perhaps because it's only in the last 60-odd years that various forms of photography were sophisticated enough to decisively prove that umpires actually blew calls in critical situations. Just flat missed them.

    Here, then, are some of those moments they're still talking about, whether 57 years ago or (in one case) 12 hours ago:

    Game 1, 1948 World Series

    After 7½ innings, the Boston Braves and Cleveland Indians were still scoreless. But Boston catcher Bill Salkeld walked, and pinch runner Phil Masi was bunted over to second. Following an intentional walk, Indians starter Bob Feller got a special sign from manager-shortstop Lou Boudreau. Feller whirled around, threw a strike to Boudreau at second base and, as Feller later recalled, "We caught Masi napping. Unfortunately, we caught the umpire, Bill Stewart of the National League, doing the same thing. Lou put the tag on Masi as he slid back into the bag. ... Lou tagged Masi out by two feet. It wasn't even close. Everybody in the ballpark saw he was out -- except one, the umpire." Two batters later, Tommy Holmes drove in Masi with a base hit, and the Braves wound up winning 1-0 behind Johnny Sain's four-hitter. The Indians, however, wound up winning the World Series.

    Game 5, 1952 World Series

    The Dodgers and Yankees split the first four games; if the Dodgers could take Game 5 in the Bronx, they'd go back to Brooklyn needing to win just one of two. After nine innings the score was 5-5, so on they played. In the bottom of the 10th, Johnny Sain -- now pitching for the Yankees -- led off with a grounder to Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson. There is a wonderful Associated Press photo (not, unfortunately, pictured here) that shows Sain with his left foot squarely atop first base and Robinson's throw still two or three feet from Gil Hodges' mitt. Nevertheless, umpire Art Passarella called Sain out, the Yankees went down in order, and the Dodgers took a 6-5 lead in the 11th on Duke Snider's double off Sain. That was the final score, but all was forgiven when the Yankees came back to win Games 6 and 7 in Brooklyn.

    Game 1, 1970 World Series

    The enduring image of the 1970 World Series will always be Brooks Robinson making great plays at third base. And the Series lasted only five games, with the Orioles dominating the Reds. Things might have been different, though, if not for a strange situation at the plate in Game 1. With the scored tied at three in the sixth, the Reds got runners on first and third with one out. Pinch-hitter Ty Cline hit a chopper in front of the plate. Umpire Ken Burkhart sprang from behind the plate. Catcher Ellie Hendricks fielded the ball and readied for a throw to first base, but pitcher Jim Palmer noticed the runner from third (Bernie Carbo) heading plate-ward, and yelled at Hendricks. And then, according to Ben Henkey in the Official Baseball Guide, "Hendricks whirled and dove for the sliding Carbo, but collided with the umpire instead. The Orioles' catcher managed to tag Carbo, whose path to the plate was blocked by Burkhart, with his glove hand, though sequence photos of the play later showed that Hendricks had held the ball in his bare hand during the action. Burkhart, sitting in the cloud of dust raised by the three-way collision, called Carbo out." Indeed he did, though Carbo was quite obviously (to everybody else) safe. The Reds didn't score in that inning or for the rest of the game. They lost that one, the next, and the next before escaping a sweep by eking out a W in Game 4 (Game 5 didn't go nearly as well).

    Game 4, 1978 World Series

    Dodgers-Yankees, in a rematch of the 1977 Series. The Dodgers took the first two games in Los Angeles, then dropped Game 3 in New York when Ron Guidry allowed just one run despite giving up eight hits and seven walks. In Game 4, the Dodgers led 3-0 until Reggie Jackson's RBI single in the sixth got the Yankees on the board. With Jackson on first base and Thurman Munson on second, Lou Piniella hit a sinking liner to shortstop Bill Russell, who botched the catch but still had a double play right in front of him. Russell could have tagged Munson, but instead he stepped on second to force Jackson, then threw to first base to retire Piniella and end the inning. Jackson, though, was still standing a few feet from first base and shifted his hip into the oncoming throw. He was already out, but Munson scored as the ball caromed into foul territory. As Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda later observed (correctly), "It was obstruction. No question about it. It was a bad call, and he should have been called out." Still, the Dodgers got out of that inning with no more damage, and they wound up losing because the Yankees scored twice more while their bullpen (Dick Tidrow and Rich Gossage, in this case) tossed five shutout innings. And the Yankees won the Series in six games.

    Game 6, 1985 World Series

    This was the granddaddy of all blown calls because of the immediate and obvious impact. After five games and 8½ innings, the Cardinals were just three outs away from their second world championship in four seasons. With rookie closer Todd Worrell on the mound, pinch-hitter Jorge Orta -- no speedster, by the way -- chopped a routine ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to the covering Worrell in time to nab Orta by a good half step. Or so everybody thought, except first-base umpire Don Denkinger. Unable to hear the ball hit Worrell's glove because of the 42,000 screaming fans, Denkinger was forced to fall back on instinct and experience ... both of which let him down in this particular instance, and Orta was "safe." A few moments later, and following a couple of St. Louis miscues, pinch-hitter Dane Iorg drove in the tying and winning runs, forcing a Game 7 in which various Cardinals completely lost their composure (not to mention the game).

    Game 2, 1991 World Series

    It's been 14 years now and I haven't seen the highlights since, but this one is seared into my memory banks. In a Series featuring two teams that had finished in last place just a year earlier, the Twins beat the Braves in Game 1. In the third inning of Game 2, with the Braves trailing 2-1, Ron Gant singled, sending Lonnie Smith to third base. As the throw came back to the infield, Gant scurried back to first base just before the ball arrived in Kent Hrbek's glove. But what's that? Gant overran the bag and was tagged out by Hrbek? Well, sort of. Clear as day, the beefy Hrbek lifted Gant off the base while applying the tag. And yet, somehow umpire Drew Coble called Gant out anyway. (What people forget, though, is that there were two outs even before Hrbek sort of cheated, and thus the odds were against the Braves scoring anyway. They did wind up losing the game 3-2 and the Series 4-3, so Coble's error might have cost Atlanta the game and the Series. But probably not.)

    Game 1, 1996 ALCS

    Bottom of the eighth, the Orioles leading the Yankees 4-3. With one out and nobody on base, Derek Jeter lifts a fly ball to deep right field. Tony Tarasco drifts back ... back ... back ... Tarasco would say, later that evening, "To me, it was a routine fly ball. It was like a magic trick because the ball just disappeared in midair." It disappeared because a 12-year-old Yankees fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out and deflected the ball into the stands. Which would have been fine, except right-field umpire Rich Garcia, who'd run toward the fence in case he was needed, signaled for a home run instead of fan interference. As Garcia said, "Obviously, once I saw the replay, it was not a home run." (For all the talk about Garcia's blown call, though, it's often forgotten that the Yankees made fairly quick work of the Orioles in the rest of the series. Baltimore did even things up with a 5-3 win in Game 2, but after that it was all New York: 5-2, 8-4, and 6-4. Yes, if the Orioles had won Games 1 and 2 they might have put the Yanks in some sort of psychological hole. But Garcia's call was hardly decisive, either in Game 1 or the series in general.)

    Game 4, 1999 ALCS

    Yankees vs. Red Sox in a postseason series for the first time (but certainly not the last). The Yanks took the first two games, both of them one-run affairs, at the Stadium, but were destroyed at Fenway in Game 3, 13-1 (particularly sweet for Sox fans, as Roger Clemens was knocked out in the third inning). In Game 4, the Red Sox trailed 3-2 in the eighth when second baseman Jose Offerman was called out on a tag play -- a phantom tag, actually -- by Chuck Knoblauch. This particularly rankled Red Sox fans because it was the second time in the series that an obviously blown call hurt Boston. Still, though ... when umpire Tim Tschida blew this one, the Red Sox were losing by a run, and wound up losing by seven (the Yankees scored six runs in the ninth). What's more, (1) the Red Sox set an LCS record with 10 errors, and (2) the Red Sox managed to win only one game. So again, Tschida's bad call, obvious as it was, almost certainly didn't cost Red Sox fans anything but a bit of extra angst.

    Game 2, 2005 ALCS

    Just a few points about this latest rhubarb...

    • Typically, if the ball is anywhere near the dirt, the catcher will go ahead and tag the batter just to eliminate any doubt.

    • Kelvim Escobar's third pitch to Joe Crede was a Hit Me! splitter, just about the worst 0-and-2 pitch you'll ever see.

    • And if the game had gone to extra innings, the White Sox would have been significantly better off because the Angels had used three of their best relievers while the White Sox hadn't used any relievers at all.

    All of which is to say that the Angels wouldn't necessarily have won, even if the umpire had made the tough call correctly and even if the catcher had done what catchers usually do. And as bad as things might seem for the Angels this morning, the odds are greatly against that single moment making the difference in this series.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes for Insider two or three times per week during the season. To offer criticism, praise or anything in between, send an e-mail to [email protected]. [/b][/quote]

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    Typically, if the ball is anywhere near the dirt, the catcher will go ahead and tag the batter just to eliminate any doubt.

    Though Kah and Benji told us they NEVER do that.
    Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist