After last night's Packers-Seahawks disaster in Seattle, the entire sports world is talking about officiating. While last night's terribly blown call might not go down in league history at the end of the day, it will certainly be remembered for the rest of this season. That call got me thinking about some of the worst calls in MLB history, so I started brainstorming and came up with a list of these ten.
Note: there isn't a ton of discussion or video about pre-1980 calls online, so please excuse the lack of content from that time period.
Don Denkinger blows the 1985 World Series
The Cardinals led the Royals 1-0 in Game Six of the 1985 World Series, and were three outs away from the World Championship. Jorge Orta grounds to the right side, Jack Clark throws over to Todd Worrell covering first…and Orta is ruled safe, when replay shows him *blatantly* out. Like, not even close to being safe. The Royals would get the walk-off win, and obliterate the Cardinals in Game Seven to win the World Series.
Kent Hrbek pulls Ron Gant off of the bag
Another absolutely blatant call missed by the umpires. Game Two of the 1991 World Series. With the Braves trailing 2-1 in the third, Ron Gant singles to left field, moving Lonnie Smith up to third base and putting men on the corners for David Justice. But wait…Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani fires to first base as Gant is returning to the bag, and Minnesota first baseman Kent Hrbek pulls Gant off the bag and tags him for the final out of the inning. The play happened two feet in front of first base umpire Drew Coble, and he still blew the call. The Braves lost the game 3-2, and would eventually lose the World Series four games to three. Who knows what would have happened if Atlanta's third inning was allowed to continue?
Jeffrey Maier steals game one from the Orioles
Back when the Orioles were good (well, before this year), they were a playoff contender. In Game One of the 1996 ALCS, Baltimore led 4-3 in the eighth inning. A young Yankees rookie named Derek Jeter hit a fly ball to right that Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco settled under…only to never catch the ball, because a fan named Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and grabbed the ball. Right field umpire Richie Garcia ruled the play a homer despite Maier's blatant fan interference. Jeter's homer would tie the game at four, and the Yankees would eventually win 5-4 in 11 innings before winning the series, and inevitably, the World Series.
Eric Gregg's Texas-sized strike zone
I'm not going to speak ill of the dead, but Eric Gregg absolutely robbed the Braves in Game Five of the 1997 NLCS. While the Braves gave Livan Hernandez plenty of help by chasing balls out of the zone, Gregg was calling pitches strikes that were so far off the plate that they could have hit batters in the opposing box. In a game that finished 2-1, Gregg's egregious strike zone cost the Braves the game, and would cost them their season two days later. The Marlins would go on to beat the Indians in the World Series, and then destroy their team months later.
The dropped third strike
In the Game Two of the 2005 ALCS, Kelvim Escobar struck out AJ Pierzynski for the final out of the ninth inning of a 1-1 game to send the game to extra innings. Pierzynski ran down to first base, and home plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled that Angels catcher Josh Paul dropped the third strike, which a replay clearly showed he didn't. Pablo Ozuna would run for Pierzynski, and Joe Crede doubled him home to give the White Sox the win, setting off a run of eight straight wins to give Chicago the World Series victory.
Matt Holliday misses the plate
Game 163 in 2007 between the Rockies and Padres, with the winner heading to Philadelphia as the NL Wild Card, was a seesaw affair that saw the Padres take an 8-6 lead in the 13th inning. Colorado exploded against Padres closer Trevor Hoffman to tie the game, and with Matt Holliday on third, Jamey Carroll brought him home with a sac fly to give the Rockies the playoff berth…but Holliday arguably never touched home plate, which was blocked fantastically by San Diego catcher Michael Barrett. The Rockies would go on to win seven more games in a row to win the NL pennant, only to get swept out of the World Series by the Red Sox.
Angels get screwed out of a double play
This game was already falling apart for the Angels, but this call didn't help at all. Nick Swisher chopped a ball back to Angels pitcher Darren Oliver, who threw home to catcher Mike Napoli and putting Jorge Posada in a rundown. Robinson Cano went to third as Posada was in the rundown, and Napoli tagged both Cano and Posada with neither runner standing on the bag…but third base umpire Tim McClelland only called Posada out, and claimed that Cano was safe. Even Tim McCarver was ripping on McClelland. Oliver would get the next batter out to end the inning, and the Angels would go on to lose the game 10-1, and the series four games to two.
Jim Joyce ruins perfection
This is awful, a play that pretty much destroyed Galarraga's career. On a June night in Cleveland, Galarraga retired the first 26 batters in a row and was looking to finish the perfect game. He got a ground ball to the right side that Miguel Cabrera fielded and flipped to Galarraga at first, beating Jason Donald of the Indians in plenty of time…but he was called safe by first base umpire Jim Joyce. Donald couldn't believe it, Galarraga couldn't believe it, the fans couldn't believe it…it was a call that quite simply, cost Galarraga a place in history. To the credit of everyone involved, the situation was handled as well as it could have been.
Jerry Meals screws the Pirates
The Braves and Pirates played this marathon 19 inning game last July, and the way it ended left a sour taste in everyone's mouth. With Julio Lugo on third base, Braves reliever Scott Proctor hit a chopper to third baseman Pedro Alvarez. The throw arrived with plenty of time, and Pittsburgh catcher Michael McKenry tagged Lugo out before he even got close to the plate…but Lugo was called safe by home plate umpire Jerry Meals. The Pirates players, coaches, and broadcasters went completely nuclear (with manager Clint Hurdle's face resembling the color of an eggplant), and Pittsburgh's season fell apart after that game.
Todd Helton's neighborhood is huge
This happened this season, in a relatively meaningless May game between the Rockies and Dodgers. Colorado third baseman Chris Nelson made a great diving stop on a Jerry Hairston grounder and fired over to first base for the out…only Todd Helton's foot wasn't anywhere close to the bag. We're talking a good foot between Helton's foot and the bag. Good job, good effort Tim Welke.