The worst calls in sports
The Detroit Tigers can take comfort in one aspect of umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call at first base that cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game with two out in the ninth inning – at least it only affected individual greatness, not the outcome of the game and the potential postseason money that goes with it.
Who knows, the call may have cost the pitcher some would-be endorsement deals. And maybe Galarraga loses a chance to do the Letterman show, an honor bestowed upon Oakland’s Dallas Braden after his May 9 perfecto over the Tampa Bay Rays. But for the Tigers, it was an early June game that they won anyway.
Other victims of bad calls can’t claim to be as lucky. The St. Louis Cardinals lost the 1985 World Series – costing each player a winner’s share – after umpire Don Denkinger incorrectly called the Kansas City Royals’ Jorge Orta safe at first base in the ninth inning of Game 6, opening the floodgates for a game-winning rally. The Royals’ win tied the series 3-3, and set them up for an 11-0 blowout in the decisive seventh game. Even though it’s illogical to pinpoint the outcome of a seven-game series on one play – the Cards could surely blame themselves for plenty of mistakes – the blown call by the ump is what resonates in fans’ memories.
|In Pictures: The worst calls in sports|
Denkinger wasn’t considered a bad umpire, he just missed that call. But since that time, Major League Baseball has tweaked its criteria for choosing postseason umpires. A rotating system that prevented umps from working the Series two straight years has been replaced by more of a merit-based system based on umpire evaluations.
“Now you would be allowed to work back-to-back World Series if you’re chosen,” says MLB spokesman Michael Teevan.
Back in 1990, welterweight boxer Meldrick Taylor was ahead on the judges’ cards in a title fight against Julio Cesar Chavez during the final round. When Chavez knocked Taylor down near the end of the fight, referee Richard Steele stopped the bout with two seconds remaining out of concern for Taylor’s health. Steele’s intentions may have been noble, but with two seconds left and the opponent standing several feet away after a knockdown, there’s essentially no chance of a fighter taking another serious blow. Taylor’s welterweight crown and winner’s purse were gone, flushed away by Steele.
Other notable bad calls: The New York Islanders taking a clinching Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals with the help of linesman Leon Stickle missing an obvious offsides call that would have taken away a goal, and baseball umpire Drew Coble calling Braves runner Ron Gant out at first base in Game 2 of the 1991 World Series when it appeared he was pushed off the bag by Twins’ first baseman Kent Hrbek. Atlanta would lose the game by a run and the series in seven games.
Football has had its share of high stakes, controversial, playoff calls, too. Oakland Raiders fans are no doubt still steaming over the team’s famous “tuck rule” loss at New England in 2002, when officials ruled an incomplete pass and not a fumble when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lost the ball on a key possession. New England wound up kicking a tying field goal and winning in overtime. But to a Patriots fan, who saw his team go on to a Super Bowl title that year, the game was merely payback for New England’s loss to Oakland back in the 1976 playoffs.
In that 24-21 heartbreaker, the Pats got the shaft from referee Ben Dreith, who capped a tough day of bad calls with a roughing penalty against lineman Richard Hamilton on Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler on a third-and-18 play to keep a late drive going. Replays showed very little contact on the play. Moments later, Stabler scored on a one-yard run with 10 seconds remaining, giving Oakland the win.
The Raiders went on to take the Super Bowl over the Minnesota Vikings, a championship New Englanders thought was theirs if not for Dreith. Twenty-six years later, the refereeing gods returned the favor. Given the enormous growth of the NFL and the Super Bowl during that span, call it advantage Patriots. Sometimes it all works out in the end.
•Jim Joyce (Imperfect game): Slideshow
•Don Denkinger (Royals-Cardinals World Series): Slideshow
•R. William Jones, FIBA Secretary General (United States-Russia gold-medal basketball game): Slideshow
•Leon Stickle (Islanders-Flyers Stanley Cup): Slideshow
•Terry Gregson, Bill McCreary (Sabres-Stars Stanley Cup): Slideshow
• See more calls