What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

The 10 Worst Baseball Umpiring Calls In My Lifetime

With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, it time to review another beautiful aspect of baseball…bad umpires. While there are so many examples of bad umpires and the bad calls, here are the ten that stand out in my lifetime.

10) Jim Joyce Blows Armando Galarraga’s Perfect Game

Let’s be honest…the only reason this call is on the list is because this happened to be the last out in a bid for a perfect game. Umpires blow calls at first base all the time; there’s more just like this one coming further down this list.  Had Jim Joyce blown this call in the third inning rather than the final frame, it would merely have sunk into the ocean. But that isn’t what happened.

With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Armando Galarraga was one out away from history.  Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald tapped a slow-roller that pulled first baseman Miguel Cabrera off the bag and forced Galarraga himself to cover the bag at first. Cabrera fielded the ball cleanly, threw to Galarraga,  and got Donald by at least a clear step.

But Jim Joyce didn’t see it that way.  Inexplicably, he called Donald safe, ending Galarraga’s bid on the 27th out.  Not only did Joyce screw Galarraga out of the 21st perfect game in Major League history, but that performance with a correct call would have also set the records for the fewest pitches thrown in a perfect game since 1908 and the shortest perfect game since Sandy Koufax in 1965.

9)  A.J. Pierzynski’s Non-Strikeout Strikeout

There’s several themes on this list, and one of them is all about timing. This gaffe also takes place in the ninth inning; this time in Game Two of the 2005 American League Championship Series. Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was batting against Los Angeles Angels’ pitcher Kelvim Escobar.

With the score tied at 1 with two outs, Pierzynski offered at a pitch low out of the zone for what should have been strike three. But umpire Doug Eddings never signaled Pierzynski out and made no audible call.  At first, Pierzynski took a couple of steps towards the dugout, but when he didn’t hear himself being called out, he  ran to first base before a majority of the Angels even knew what had happened.  Eddings did not use any no-catch signals at all during the game, and it was his assertion the third strike bounced out of catcher Josh Paul’s glove.

The problem was replay showed the third strike was not dropped, therefore Pierzynski should have been called out to end the inning.  Upon his reaching first, Pierzynski was pulled for a pinch runner who ultimately came around to score the winning run.  Since then,  umpirers have been mandated to make a specific “no-catch” signal and/or a “no catch” verbalization after a dropped third strike.

8 ) Kent Hrbek Gets Two Points For A Take Down

Of all the calls on this list, this was the toughest to include. For purposes of full disclosure, I’m a lifelong fan of the Twins, I loved Kent Hrbek, and this call went my way.  But umpire Drew Coble still blew it.

Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Ron Gant singled to left field in the third inning of Game Two of the 1991 World Series, and he took an exceptionally wide turn around the bag; a turn so wide he drew a surprise throw behind him.  Gant got back to first safely, but he seemed to be off-balance. returned safely back to the bag, albeit slightly off-balanced.  As the Twins home-town hero and first baseman, let’s just say Kent Hrbek was “conservatively” dimensioned at 6′ 4″, 250 pounds. Without getting into the alleged accuracy of those measurements, it went without saying that Hrbek was at least four weight classes above Gant.  When Hrbek applied a “tag”  which more resembled a high leg lift followed by a subtle, yet effective body slam, he was able to do it with such ease that one could at least claim Gant’s momentum had pulled him off the base. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Drew Coble all agreed that was the case.

Several years after this incident, I happened to be living in the Twin Cites and as fate would have it, I bumped into the-then retired Hrbek in a suburban big-box retail outlet. After a handshake and some small talk, I had to ask…

J-Dub: “Mr. Hrbek, may I ask you a question?”

Hrbek: “Go for it.”

J-Dub: “Did you pull Ron Gant off the bag?”

Hrbek:  “Coble didn’t think so.” (grins)

7) Tim McClelland’s Phantom Run

The 2007 season needed an extra game to see who would be the Wild Card team representing the National League; after 162 games the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres needed game #163 to settle it.  Not only do we need an extra game, that game needed extra innings.

The Rockies trailed the Padres 8-6 in the bottom of the 13th inning, with two runners on base and no outs.  Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday smoked a bases-clearing triple to tie the game.  Now with Holliday on third and still nobody out, the Padres intentionally walked the dangerous Todd Helton to bring the significantly-not-so-dangerous Jamey Carroll to the plate.  Carroll hits what normally would have been a harmless soft liner to right field, which was caught by the Padres’ outfielder Brian Giles.

However, in this case, the ball looked to be deep enough for Holliday to attempt to score the game winning run.  Holliday tagged up and took off for the plate. Giles threw a one-hop strike to the plate, catcher Michael Barrett caught the ball and blocked the plate. Holliday slid head first in order to avoid the tag, but Barrett puts the ball on him, all while Holliday NEVER touched the plate.  All replays show Holliday NEVER touched the plate. But home plate umpire Tim McClelland (whose name will appear again on this list), made the safe call which handed the Rockies a victory and a trip to the postseason.

6) Larry Barnett’s Interference “Non-Call” in the 1975 World Series

If the Red Sox were still waiting for a World Series win, this moment would be right next to “Buckner” on the list of proof that “Curse” existed.  To this day, there are scads of Red Sox fans wholeheartedly believe  non-call on player interference cost the team the 1975 World Series.

Game Three proved to be crucial, and its’ outcome was decided on a play in front of the plate. Cincinnati’s Cesar Geronimo began the top of the tenth inning with a single. This was followed by a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Ed Armbrister which chopped high into the air off the hard dirt in front of home plate.

When Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk attempted to field the ball, Armbrister intentionally bulldozed him, causing Fisk  to throw wildly to second base. Naturally, the Red Sox immediately claimed interference on the part of Armbrister;  that Armbrister should have been called out by home plate umpire Larry Barnett.  They also argued that Geronimo should have to return to first base. This in-game appeal was rejected, and Fisk was charged with an error on the play.

As is all too often the case in matters like this, immediately after this play, Joe Morgan hit a single which allowed Geronimo to score, giving the Reds a 6-5 victory. As proof that Red Sox fans never forget,  Barnett was booed in every subsequent appearance at Fenway Park until his retirement in 1999.

5) Chuck Knoblauch’s Tag That Wasn’t A Tag

In yet another example the Red Sox fans and the hysteria they had about curses before 2004, this call during Game Four of the 1999 American League Championship Series was enough to make them snowstorm the field with garbage  in protest.  This is also another example of timing being a crucial element of controversy.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Red Sox’ John Valentin hit a routine roller to Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauchthe second baseman. The Red Sox already had Jose Offerman on first base, so naturally he has no choice but to break for second.  Knoblauch fielded the ball, made an attempt to tag the runner, then threw the ball to first. The key is “made an attempt to tag the runner;” in actuality Knoblauch missed the tag literally by two feet.  But  second base umpire Tim Tschida immediately called Offerman out, making this an inning-ending double play. Once again, all the replays showed Offerman and Knoblauch were barely in the same area code, let alone close enough for a tag.

4) Don Denkinger Gift Wraps a World Series for the Royals

This call is often mistakenly referred to as the worst of all time. Don’t get me wrong, Denkinger blew this call by a mile, but it really is a) just another blown call at first base, which as we’ve already discussed happen all the time b) it was in the ninth inning, which magnifies the perceived severity and c) the really egregious stuff happened the next night in Game 7.

Again, as we’ve mentioned, it is the ninth inning of Game Six of the 1985 World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals lead the Kansas City Royals 3 games to 2. The Cards are on the verge of triumph; they are only three outs away from victory as they lead the game 1-0 headed into the bottom of the ninth. Jorge Orta, the Royals’ lead-off batter of the inning hit a routine little bounder along the first base line to first baseman Jack Clark, who cleanly fielded the ball and threw it to pitcher Todd Worrell, who was covering the bag. He was clearly out and St. Louis should have been celebrating their second World Series win of the 1980’s.  Except for the fact first base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe.

As you would expect, a heated and lengthy argument between the Cardinals’ manager and players and Denkinger breaks out, after which Denkinger continually refused to admit he was wrong until a meeting later convened by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. However, that meeting came too late for what happen in the bottom of the ninth as a result of this call.  The Royals got runners in scoring position with a passed ball by the Cardinals’ catcher, Darrell Porter.  Then, after intentionally walking the bases loaded, Royals’ pinch hitter Dane Iorg hit a game-winning, two-run single.

As per the standard system of rotating umpiring duties, Denkinger having been the first base umpire in Game 6 would call the balls and strikes in Game 7.  Early on it was clear he was letting the bad blood with the Cardinals from the night before effect his strike zone. Cardinal pitcher got squeezed from the first pitch forward.  Cards’ ace pitcher John Tudor gave up five earned runs and four walks in only two and one-third innings, largely because he was pitching to a strike zone about the size of a deck of playing cards right over the heart of the plate. Television cameras caught the Cardinals’ manager Whitey Herzog screaming at Denkinger from the Cardinals’ dugout. It didn’t get any better for Joaquín Andújar, who exploded twice over Denkinger’s calls at the plate during the fifth inning.  Eventually, Herzog and Andújar were ejected after a heated argument with Denkinger regarding the strike zone.  Not surprisingly, the Cardinals lost Game Seven 11-0.

3) Tim McClelland Has No Idea of the Rules

Usually, one expects a veteran umpire to do two things; blow an occasional call because errors of the eye are to be expected, and know the rules of the game. That is  unless the umpire in question is Tim McClelland. One of the great demonstrations of McClelland’s ignorance of the basics of the rules of baseball showed up in Game 4 of the 2009 American League Championship Series.

In the top of the fifth inning, New York Yankees outfielder hit a comebacker to Los Angeles Angels’ pitcher Darren Oliver. At the time, there were runners  at second and third, so Oliver threw the ball to home plate which caught the Yanks’ lead base runner Jorge Posada in a rundown.  As Posada was caught in this pickle, the Yankees’ runner on second did what he’s supposed to do; Robinson Cano advanced to third on the play.

The trouble started when the Angels’ catcher Mike Napoli caught up with Posada near third base. As Napoli approached Posada, he noticed that Cano was inexplicably not standing on the third base bag. Napoli tagged Cano and then turned back and tagged Posada, who was also not standing on the bag. It is one of the basic of baseball to know that if you aren’t touching a base, and you get tagged with the ball, you are out. Even the most casual baseball fan would know this base running gaffe should have rendered both Yankees’ runners out.

But umpire Tim McClelland didn’t see it that way. For some reason McClelland, who as the third base umpire happened to be standing directly in front of the play, only ruled Posada out. Worse yet, the call was so blatantly wrong that it should have been overruled by the home plate or second base umpire who had clear views of the play.

2) The Jeffrey Maier Incident

This one is really one of the iconic moment in the history of baseball. How many names can you think of which belong to non-players who changed the outcome of a playoff game? Welcome to the legend of 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffery Maier. This bad call has all the hallmarks…for starters, it involves the Yankees.  It also is the first chapter in Derek Jeter’s post-season legend.

Flash the clock back to Game One of the 1996 American League Championship Series. It’s the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yankees are losing 4-3 and the future Yankee captain steps up to the plate.  Jeter nails a  long fly ball to deep right field.  As  Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Tony Tarasco retreated to make the catch against the wall, Maier clearly reached over the wall into the field of play and  and deflected the ball into the stands.

The rule says if a spectator reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and touches a live ball, then spectator interference should be called.  This was a clear case where Tarasco was going to make the catch, it was clearly a case of fan interference, and clearly Jeter should have been called out.   Again, replays inarguably showed Maier reaching far below the top of the wall to retrieve what was Jeter’s fly ball out. But right field umpire Rich Garcia inexplicably called it a home run, tying the game at 4.  The game ended as a Yankees’ victory when Bernie Williams hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning.

1) Tim McClelland’s “Pine Tar” Debacle Proves Once Again He Doesn’t Know The Rules

My favorite thing about this picture: The ump who has George Brett in a choke hold.

If there were a Mt. Rushmore of bad umpires, Tim McClelland would be both Roosevelts and Abe Lincoln’s beard.  After all, this is his third appearance on this list, and this instance is so incredibly bizarre it almost defies explanation.

July 24, 1983: The infamous “Pine Tar” game.  The setting: The Royals are visiting Yankee stadium; the Royals are losing 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning.  The Royals have two outs and a runner on first base. Future Hall-of-Famer George Brett steps up to the plate to face another future Cooperstown inductee in Rich “Goose” Gossage, and Tim McClelland is the home plate umpire.  Brett turns on a Gossage fastball, rocketing it into the right field seats and giving the Royals what should have been a 5-4 lead.

That was until Yankees’ manager Billy Martin confronted McClelland, citing an obscure rule stating that any foreign substance on a bat could not extend further than 18 inches from the knob.  At this point, McClelland demanded Brett’s bat be inspected. The umpires have a short conference, after which McClelland strode toward the Royals’ dugout, pointed at Brett and called him out for having too much pine tar on his bat. That made for the third out, thus ending the game at 4-3 in favor of the Yankees.

Everybody’s seen what happened next. Brett exploded out of the dugout in a full-on death charge straight for McClelland, and likely would have killed him with his bare hands had he not been physically restrained. This call was so wrong that American League President Lee MacPhail upheld a formal protest which was filed by the Royals. McClelland was officially ruled incorrect for ejecting Brett and nullifying his home run, and MacPhail ordered the game be replayed, beginning after the Brett home run. When the game resumed, the just result occurred, the  Royals won 5-4.

But what gets lost in the iconic vision of Brett’s complete meltdown is the sheer incompetence of McClelland. Not only did he let a manager goad him into a call which was blatantly wrong, if he were going to make a call about the bat, the time to do it was when Brett first stepped into the batter’s box with the allegedly offending bat. To make matters worse, there is no stipulation in the rules about a player being called out for breaking the “pine tar” rule; rather the remedy prescribed by the rule book is the  removal of that particular bat from the game.  This means McClelland hit the bad umpiring trifecta; he didn’t know the rule, he made a wrong call on the rule, and he inflicted the wrong solution.  The “pine tar” incident was easily the worst example of bad umpiring I’ve ever seen.

– Dubsism is a proud member of the Sports Blog Movement

About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

7 comments on “The 10 Worst Baseball Umpiring Calls In My Lifetime

  1. Marc
    February 17, 2012

    I was 11 years old living in Atlanta in 1991 and if I could have punched Kent Hrbeck I would have. Good call putting him on this list


  2. ChrisHumpherys (@SportsChump)
    February 17, 2012

    Wow, man. Another great list.

    I remember every single one of these (blown) calls distinctly, after each of which we were all left wondering what it really takes to become a major league umpire.


  3. Sam's Sports Brief
    February 17, 2012

    The Jim Joyce call kills me to Thursday. I love seeing no-hitters and perfect games pitched, and to see this was devastating.


  4. bigyaz
    February 18, 2012

    “…Armbrister intentionally bulldozed him, causing Fisk to throw wildly to second base.”

    I’ve been a Red Sox fan for 50 years, and even I would challenge this description. It was neither intentional (he was running to first) nor a bulldozing (since Fisk was still able to make the throw).

    I DO think it was interference, which does NOT have to be intentional.


  5. sportsglutton
    February 20, 2012

    As a Cardinals fan 1985 is a haunting reminder of what could have been a glorious decade for the Redbirds.


  6. sportsattitudes
    February 21, 2012

    I think seeing these mistakes as they happen leaves a much deeper impression obviously than viewing them on a highlights package. If memory serves me correctly, I saw six of these “live.” Indeed, those tend to move towards my top of the worst list from an emotional standpoint. But if you strip away that “heat of the moment” feeling (as you did) and analyze all the angles it is hard to argue any are wildly out of position. I mean, the 1985 WS call Denkinger produced is easily my most “out of my seat” moment and I agree many would say because of the game and timing it is #1. But as you said…just another blown call at first base from a “purely physical” standpoint.


  7. chappy81
    February 21, 2012

    Wow, McLellan really blew a lot of calls. I guess I didn’t realize how many until now!

    I truly enjoyed remembering that one against the Angels in the playoffs…


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