In the world of sports, it's always a combination of factors that lead to a team losing, but it's usually one play that stands out as the most important. In the infamous Steve Bartman game in 2003, all his troubles could have been avoided if Moises Alou didn't flip out on the field, or if the sure-handed Alex Gonzalez didn't botch one of the easiest double play balls of his career. But what do we remember? Not Gonzalez's play, but Bartman doing what any fan at a ballpark would do. When baseball historians look back on the first ever wild-card playoff game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, the errors by Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons won't be remembered. The infield fly call by left-field umpire Sam Holbrook will be. For fans of Atlanta, Holbrook will be our Bartman.
Within seconds of the latest postseason flop in the long line of playoff meltdowns, I had texts from fans of the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and of course, the Braves. From the worst call in history, to baseball doesn't want the Braves to win, the texts poured in about how bad the call was.
According to the official MLB rules, an infield fly is a "fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out."
Under this rule, it would appear that the correct call was made, but when you think about the purpose and point of the rule, Holbrook was 100 percent wrong. In a sport that has more unwritten rules than ones on paper, what happened at Turner Field was a travesty. It was a travesty for Fredi Gonzalez, who worked wonders with this team throughout the season to get them to this point. It was a travesty to the organization and its fans. After years of being absent, Atlanta fans swarmed Turner Field and gave the team legitimate home-field advantage for the first time since the 1990s.
Most importantly though, it was a travesty to Jones, who surely played his part in the loss with his early error, but deserved so much more. In what turned out to be his last career at-bat, Jones earned an infield single in the bottom of the ninth, keeping the Atlanta hopes alive before they fell short once again. For one of the three greatest switch-hitters in the history of the game, this was not how it was supposed to end. For a player that won a World Series in his first full season in the majors in 1995, this was supposed to be the season where he won his second ring. Instead, the Braves and their fans will be forced to deal with something that is far worse than their September 2011 collapse. They will have to deal with losing a game with a lot of the blame going to the umpires and what I will refer to from now on as "the call."
To think, the NFL thought they had it bad with their officials through the first three weeks of the 2012 season. At least those officials had an excuse for their bad calls. Holbrook has been an umpire for 11.5 years. He knows better and instead of letting the teams decide who was indeed better, he spoiled Bud Selig's latest bad idea and ended Jones' career.
For a look at other articles on the great career of Chipper Jones, click here.
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Hobson Lopes has been a life-long Atlanta Braves fan, thanks to TBS, and can be followed on Twitter @HobsonLopes.
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- Chipper Jones
- Atlanta Braves
- Steve Bartman