Starting with the 2008 season, Major League Baseball introduced and allowed instant replay to be used to review disputed home runs. Six years later, they expanded the use of instant replay. Baseball was the last of the major professional American sports to allow review of a play.
However, that decision was much too late for a handful of teams that suffered from controversial calls that took place in the decades before replay came along. If you’ve been a baseball fan for a long time, you’re probably aware of a few plays that likely would have been reversed if instant replay had been around at the time.
Here are a few of the more famous controversial plays (or simply, blown calls) that likely would have been reversed if they happened today. Here’s the fun part: After reading about them, you can go online and watch the plays yourself. The cameras were on and TV replay was there to capture it all. It gives you a chance to get worked up all over again about how your team was robbed.
Imperfection. Umpire Ruins a Perfect Game, June 2, 2010
The play. It doesn’t get any worse than this. Armando Gallaraga of the Tigers was pitching a perfect game against the Orioles at home and had only one out to go in the 9th inning. The batter hit a ball wide of first base, which Miguel Cabrera, playing first, moved over to get. Gallaraga ran to cover first and took the throw in time for the final out. At least that’s what it looked like.
The call. Everyone but the umpire, Jim Joyce, knew the runner was out. Gallaraga clearly touched the bag before the runner, but Joyce ruled the runner safe. Joyce later admitted that he’d blown the call. Even though instant replay was around, its use was limited to checking on disputed home runs.
The aftermath. Both Joyce and Gallaraga handled the affair with incredible class. Gallaraga didn’t even argue the call, but simply smiled. Joyce, however, was an emotional wreck and felt terrible for what had happened. He apologized to Gallaraga right after the game ended. The next day, the Tigers presented Gallaraga with a new Corvette, for the achievement and for the class he showed, more than anything else.
Seeing Red. Armbrister Blocks Fisk, October 14, 1975
The play. Every play is big when it takes place in the World Series, and a controversial one occurred in Game 3 between the Red Sox and the Reds. With the game tied in the 10th inning, Reds batter Ed Armbrister laid down a sacrifice bunt in front of the plate. Carlton Fisk reacted quickly and collided with Armbrister right in front of the plate. Fisk got to the ball, but his throw to second sailed into center. Instead of a force out, there were now men at first and third.
The call. Umpire Larry Barnett did not call catcher’s interference on the play and refused to change his call, despite heated objections by Boston Manager Darrell Johnson. The TV announcers agreed that interference should have been called.
The aftermath. Joe Morgan came up to the plate a few batters later and hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the go-ahead run. The “Big Red Machine” won the game 6-5 and would wind up winning the Series in seven games—one of the best World Series ever, but a nightmare for the Red Sox, who would wait more than 25 years for a Series win.
Stealing One for the Team. Young Fan Catches Jeter’s “Homer,” October 9, 1996
The play. The Yankees were down by a run in the 8th inning in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series when Derek Jeter drove a ball deep into right field. The Orioles right fielder was about to make a play on the ball near the fence when a fan, 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier, reached over the fence and caught the ball…in fair territory. (TV replay showed it clearly.)
The call. Right field umpire Rich Garcia ruled it a home run…immediately, despite the official rule that says, “If a spectator reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and touches a live ball, spectator interference is to be called.”
The aftermath. Orioles Manager Davey Johnson argued that the fan had interfered—but with no success, and Johnson was later tossed from the game. The Yankees went on to win the game in extra innings and took the ALCS. Maier became an instant New York celebrity and was paraded around the New York talk shows like a hero.
Blowing It, Royally. Don Denkinger Gives KC Life, October 26, 1985
The play. This has been referred to as the “costliest blown call” in baseball history. The Cardinals were ahead of the Royals 1-0 in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the ’85 World Series. They needed just three more outs to win it all. Kansas City batter Jorge Orta opened the bottom of the 9th with a grounder to the right side, which was fielded by the first baseman. The toss to the pitcher covering first, Todd Worrell, was in time…clearly.
The call. Umpire Don Denkinger, who had a perfect view of the play, incredibly called Orta safe. With the “extra” out to play with, the Royals scrambled for two runs in the inning for an exciting walk-off win before their home crowd.
The aftermath. Brett Saberhagen, Kansas City ace, pitched a five-hit shutout and the Royals won Game 7, 11-0, for their first-ever World Series Championship. Would they have gotten there without the blown call by Denkinger? Who knows. But if there had been instant replay, they certainly would not have been given that extra chance in the bottom of the 9th in Game 6.
Wrestling with a Call. Hrbek Pulls Gant off the Bag, October 20, 1991
The play. In the 3rd inning of Game 2 of the ’91 World Series, Ron Gant of the Braves singled to left field with a runner on first. The ball was fired to first on the relay in hopes of getting Gant, who had rounded the bag. Gant got his right foot back on the bag before Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek tagged him. But Hrbek got himself tangled up with the runner and—with his glove on Gant—lost his balance, pulling Gant (lifting him!) off the bag. It was all one fluid motion.
The call. Umpire Drew Coble quickly called Gant out, simply because he could see that Gant’s foot was off the bag and Hrbek was applying the tag. What he didn’t seem to care about was that Hrbek had swatted Gant like a gnat and virtually hugged him while lifting his foot/leg/body off the bag.
The aftermath. Though the controversial play was early in the game (which the Braves eventually lost, 3-2) and early in the Series (which the Braves lost in seven games), you just never know what impact one play (especially a controversial one) might have on a game and Series.
Finally, it’s important to note that even with instant replay as it is today, not everyone’s happy with the way it works or the decisions that come out of it. Maybe we all just need controversial plays now and then.