Disputed calls part of postseasons past
Many October plays have become part of baseball lore
Hall of Fame umpire Nestor Chylak once said: "They expect an umpire to be perfect on Opening Day and to improve as the season goes on."
Right or wrong, disputed calls have been a fact of life, and depending on how this year's American League Championship Series ends, Angels fans could be the latest to spend forever talking about another very big one.
Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski reached base in Wednesday's Game 2 on a disputed "dropped" third strike that appeared from television replays to have been caught by Angels catcher Josh Paul. It looms large, and will be a prevailing topic in this series, because pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna subsequently scored on Joe Crede's two-out double to give the White Sox a 2-1 victory that tied the series at a game apiece.
Longtime baseball fans now have another disputed call to talk about, and it probably will only further intensify the support for instant replay -- something that found its way onto the agenda at last November's Winter Meetings. Disputed calls are part of the unique lore of Octobers past, with vivid moments that still stir passion in those who wound up on the wrong end.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the "Don Denkinger Call" in the I-70 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. Any Cardinals fan Wednesday night who had one eye on each of these LCS games no doubt thought back to 1985. The Cardinals had a 3-2 series lead as that Fall Classic shifted back to Kansas City for Game 6. Left-hander Ken Dayley came out of the bullpen to pitch a scoreless eighth and then took the mound to try to hold a Cardinals lead in the bottom of the ninth.
Royals manager Dick Howser sent up a right-handed-hitting pinch-hitter, Darryl Motley, to lead off the inning. St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog immediately countered, replacing Dayley with hard-throwing righty Todd Worrell. Howser countered with Jorge Orta, a left-handed batter, to hit for Motley. Orta grounded to first baseman Jack Clark, whose throw to Worrell covering the bag appeared to be in time. But Denkinger called Orta safe, enraging Herzog and the Redbirds. TV replays indicated Denkinger had blown the call, but Orta remained perched on first base.
Steve Balboni singled Orta to second, and after Onix Concepcion ran for Balboni, Jim Sundberg bunted into a forceout at third. Hal McRae then went to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Buddy Biancalana and, after Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter committed a passed ball that advanced runners to second and third, he was given an intentional walk. Dane Iorg batted for Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry and stroked a single to right, scoring Concepcion and Sundberg. That tied the World Series, and the Royals won it in seven.
In Game 3 of the 1992 World Series between Atlanta and Toronto, men were on first and second with no outs when David Justice hit a rocket to the 400-foot sign in center. Devon White scaled the wall for a stunning catch, and then he wheeled to fire the ball back to the infield.
Listen to Vin Scully's call: "Justice swings and a drive to center. Going back is Devon White. To the wall ... leaps in the air. And makes a circus catch. (Terry) Pendleton has passed the runner at first. So he's automatically out. Now, on a throw to (second), they have Deion Sanders hung up. He dives -- but he just got back, just avoiding a triple play."
Second-base umpire Bob Davidson ruled that Sanders dove back into second just ahead of the tag by third baseman Kelly Gruber, so it was ruled a double play. The next day, after seeing the replay, Davidson admitted he missed the call. Today, that play is remembered as great, but it should have been legendary -- the first World Series triple play since Bill Wambsganss in 1920.
Then there was Cincinnati's Ed Armbrister in the 1975 World Series against Boston, part of the subplot in a classic known for Carlton Fisk's Game 6 homer. The teams split those first two games, and Game 3 was tied at 5 entering the 10th after a big Boston comeback.
Cesar Geronimo opened the bottom of the inning with a single and Armbrister, pinch-hitting, attempted to sacrifice. His bunt bounced just a few feet in front of the plate and catcher Fisk sprinted out to field it. With Armbrister in his way, Fisk had trouble getting to the ball, and then threw wildly to second base. The ball sailed into center, allowing Geronimo to reach third and Armbrister to get to second.
The Red Sox vehemently protested for an interference call from home-plate umpire Larry Barnett, but nothing changed. Pete Rose was walked intentionally, filling the bases with no outs. After pinch-hitter Merv Rettenmund struck out, Joe Morgan drove a fly ball over the head of drawn-in center fielder Fred Lynn, and Cincinnati had a 6-5 victory and 2-1 series lead on its way to the eventual world championship.
TV was now making it easier for the viewing public to watch something again and again.
Like people did in 1996. Most Yankees fans know the name of Jeffrey Maier.
In Game 1 of that year's Yankees-Orioles ALCS, Baltimore had a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Maier reached over the fence separating the right-field stands and the field of play, and caught a deep fly hit by Derek Jeter. The ball appeared to be heading into the glove of Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco, but Maier intercepted the ball and pulled it into the stands. While baseball fans are permitted to catch and keep balls hit into the crowd, any such fielding of balls still within the field of play is not allowed, and ruled fan interference. By sticking his glove over the wall and catching the ball, Maier appeared to be committing such interference.
But right field umpire Rich Garcia immediately ruled it a homer, under the protest of Tarasco and Orioles manager Davey Johnson. The game was thus tied at 4, went into extra innings and ended when Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams hit a walk-off homer in the 11th.
The Orioles protested the Maier interference play immediately after the game, but their protest was denied by Commissioner Bud Selig because judgment calls cannot be protested. After later viewing a video replay, Garcia admitted that fan interference should have been called. The Yankees went on to win the ALCS, 4-1, before winning the World Series against Atlanta. As a result of the play, Yankee Stadium now has a bar along the right-field wall to prevent fans from reaching over it.
There is no such bar added to the brick wall along the left-field foul ground at Wrigley Field, but everyone who watched Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series there will remember the name of Steve Bartman.
He is the fan who stuck out his glove to catch a foul ball that Cubs left fielder Moises Alou was about to grab in the top of the eighth inning against Florida. Mark Prior was working on a three-hitter, and the Cubs were leading, 3-0, and were only five outs away from advancing to their first World Series since 1945. Although Bartman cannot be blamed for what transpired next -- eight Marlins runs on their way right through the Cubs and onto the World Series title.
There is no question how the momentum changed. Video replays showed that while Alou would have had an opportunity to make the catch if Bartman had not reached for the ball, the ball was clearly in the seating area, thus fan interference could not be called. Bartman had to be led away from the park under escort for his own safety. Umps got the call right, but Alou's immediate reaction left an indelible imprint.
In the first game of the 1955 World Series between the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, Frank Kellert was at bat for Brooklyn in the eighth inning when Jackie Robinson stole home. Yankees catcher Yogi Berra believed he made the tag, and afterward, he jumped up and down in violent protest after Robinson was called safe.
Films later showed that Robinson indeed was out by a whisker; a commonly viewed photograph made it appear that the runner was safe. But it was also apparent both in photo and in film that Berra received Whitey Ford's pitch before Kellert could swing at it, which would have been catcher interference if called (it wasn't). Either way, it was ruled a run and the New York media had a field day with it. And maybe it was a harbinger for Dem Bums. They would go on to finally break the jinx and win their first world championship following years of frustration against the Bronx Bombers.
Those same Bombers were involved in a controversial playoff call just this month. Just ask Robinson Cano. In the fifth inning of Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Angels, the Yankees were trailing, 5-2. There were two out and men on first and second. Ervin Santana struck out Cano, but the ball got way from catcher Bengie Molina, who threw to first baseman Darin Erstad. The throw squirted into right field, but home plate ump Joe West -- the same West who ruled that Cano's foot came off the bag at second during a seemingly routine fielding play earlier in the series -- called Cano out for running out of the baseline.
Many Red Sox fans remember when Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch made what they considered a "phantom tag" on Jose Offerman during the 1999 ALCS. TV replays showed that Knoblauch appeared to unsuccessfully whiff at Offerman, who was running toward second on a grounder, and then got the out at first for the double play. It would have brought up Nomar Garciaparra with a man in scoring position had Offerman been called safe, but it ended the inning and the Yanks won that series and then the Fall Classic.
Another disputed AL call came during the 1991 World Series. Atlanta's Ron Gant ripped a single in the third inning, and after rounding first he retreated back to the bag. Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani threw the ball to first where Gant had appeared to make it in plenty of time. Then first baseman Kent Hrbek, seemingly trying to apply a tag, actually lifted Gant off the base. Umpire Drew Coble called Gant out. The Twins won by a run, and they ultimately beat the Braves in seven.
The most controversial play in Major League history that had playoff consequences was in 1908 -- even involving affidavits from players. The game itself was actually played toward the end of the regular season, but "Merkle's Boner" would cost the New York Giants a chance to make the playoffs because after protest it had to be replayed right after season's end.
The confusion started when Fred Merkle, the Giants' runner on first, failed to touch second after an apparent game-winning base hit. Instead, he turned back toward the dugout, as was customary at the time, when he saw the runner cross the plate. As the happy Polo Grounds crowd filed across the field toward the center-field gate, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers got the ball and stepped on second, claiming a forceout that negated the winning run. With the fans already crowding the field, the game could not be played to a decision, and had to be replayed. The Cubs won the replayed game, and then won what would prove to be their most recent world championship.
No, there was no TV in 1908. Not even radio. And certainly not instant replay. Just a lot of arguing and chatter, which is what will happen now that the White Sox have just evened the 2005 ALCS at a game apiece.
Nestor Chylak wasn't perfect during his quarter century of calling Major League games, nor have been the umpires before and after him. So without instant replay, there is the certainty of the occasional disputed call in baseball's postseason.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.