Worst Umpire Calls in Baseball History
According to one study, 89 Major League Baseball umpires combined to butcher 34,294 ball-strikes calls in the 2018 season. That’s roughly 1.6 per inning. Or 34.3 million per century. That doesn’t include all the other blunders that raise stress levels in the average game, mind you.
So before the baseball brains tinker any more with the replay review system, how about they try this first — better umpires? That’s right, more skilled people who actually know the rulebook and can make the toughest of calls in the biggest of games.
Because quite frankly, too many of us have had enough of the cockeyed, dunderheaded screwups like these, the worst of the worst calls in baseball history.
25. Angel Hernandez and Crew Turn a Home Run Into a Ground-Rule Double
Date: May 8, 2013
Scene: Citizens Bank Park, regular season
Situation: Indians 4, Athletics 3, top of the ninth inning, bases empty, two outs
Final score: Cleveland Indians 4, Oakland Athletics 3
Bottom line: It’s bad enough to screw up an obvious call, infinitely worse to botch the same one twice.
Angel Hernandez and his co-conspirators pulled off the unthinkable when they ruled Adam Rosales’ apparent game-tying homer hadn’t cleared the 19-foot wall in left field by a couple or three feet.
After a lengthy review of television replays, the crew insisted they "didn’t have enough evidence to reverse (the) call." They were the only ones.
24. Tim Welke Blows Obvious Call at First Base
Date: May 2, 2012
Scene: Coors Field, regular season
Situation: Colorado Rockies 3, Los Angeles Dodgers 1, top of the sixth inning, runner on first, two outs
Final score: Rockies 8, Dodgers 5
Bottom line: Rockies third baseman Chris Nelson made a diving stop on Jerry Hairston’s ground ball in the hole, but his throw pulled first baseman Todd Helton off the bag.
No, we mean waaaaay off the bag. No, we mean a distance roughly from Denver to Cripple Creek.
Tim Welke guessed otherwise and a stunned Helton returned to the dugout with a Cheshire smile on his face.
23. The Misadventures of Angel Hernandez
Date: Oct. 8, 2018
Scene: Yankee Stadium, ALDS Game 3
Situation: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, bottom of the second, bottom of the third, bottom of the fourth
Final score: Red Sox 16, Yankees 1
Series result: Red Sox in four
Bottom line: Meet the first ump to have not one, not two but three calls overturned in one postseason game, now known as the "Angel Hernandez Hat Trick."
First, he called the Yankees' Didi Gregorius safe at first base. (Gregorius was out.) Next, he called the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres out at first base. (Torres was safe.) Then, he called Gregorius out at first base. (Gregorius was safe.)
Said analyst Pedro Martinez on the TBS postgame show, "Major League Baseball needs to do something about Ángel Hernández. ... He’s as bad as there is." No argument here.
22. Jim Joyce Ruins Armando Galarraga's Perfect Game
Date: June 2, 2010
Scene: Comerica Park, regular season
Situation: Detroit Tigers 3, Cleveland Indians 0, top of the ninth inning, bases empty, two outs
Final score: Tigers 3, Indians 0
Bottom line: Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game when Jason Donald hit a slow grounder wide of first base. Miguel Cabrera’s throw to Galarraga beat the runner by nearly a full step.
Incredibly, Joyce didn’t agree. Rarely have so many people held their heads at the same time in one location. "I took a perfect game away from that kid over there," a contrite Joyce confessed afterward.
Some good would come of this, though, as the blunder sparked more intense debate about the replay review system that would come three years later.
21. Bill Summers Misses Call at Home Plate to Open 1955 World Series
Date: Sept. 28, 1955
Scene: Yankee Stadium, World Series Game 1
Situation: New York Yankees 6, Brooklyn Dodgers 4, top of the eighth inning, runner on third, two outs
Final score: Yankees 6, Dodgers 5
Series result: Dodgers in seven
Bottom line: On an attempted steal of home, Jackie Robinson appeared to slide into the glove of Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in front of home plate — remember, this was before the days of multiple camera angles. The Dodgers' daredevil was called safe, anyway.
A photo of the epic moment appeared at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, and its gracious host didn’t miss an opportunity to declare “Yer out!” whenever he walked past it.
20. Bill Stewart Costs Bob Feller a Fall Classic Win
Date: Oct. 6, 1948
Scene: Braves Field, World Series Game 1
Situation: Cleveland Indians 0, Boston Braves 0, bottom of the eighth inning, runners on first and second, two outs
Final score: Braves 1, Indians 0
Series result: Indians in six
Bottom line: Indians starter Bob Feller picked pinch-runner Phil Masi off second base, only to have Bill Stewart rule that he beat the well-timed throw to shortstop-manager Lou Boudreau, who had cut in behind him.
Tommy Holmes followed with an opposite-field single that plated the only run of the game, and "Rapid Robert" was deprived of what would have been his only World Series victory.
One day later, Associated Press photos confirmed the gaffe.
19. Bill Miller's Big, Inconsistent Strike Zone
Date: Oct. 29, 2017
Scene: Minute Maid Park, World Series Game 5
Situation: Los Angeles Dodgers 4, Houston Astros 4, top of the fifth inning, runners on first and second, no outs
Final score: Astros 13, Dodgers 12
Series result: Astros in seven
Bottom line: Bill Miller had the most called third strikes (151) that season, but he outdid himself here. A dozen angry/confused/amused Dodgers batters struck out, seven with bats on their shoulders.
On one of the more egregious botched calls, Kike Hernandez turned away from a Collin McHugh curveball that might have clipped his left leg otherwise. Stee-rike three!
Then again, maybe we should thank the guy. The teams combined for 16 extra-base hits in the five-hour, 17-minute slugathon, and if not for some assistance, they might still be out there.
18. Tim McClelland Way Off Base in ALCS
Date: Oct. 20, 2009
Scene: Angel Stadium, ALCS Game 4
Situation: New York Yankees at Los Angeles Angels, top of the fourth and fifth innings
Final score: New York Yankees 10, Los Angeles Angels 1
Series result: Yankees in six
Bottom line: The first brain fart came when the Yankees' Nick Swisher was ruled to have left third base prematurely on a flyout.
That was nothing compared to what happened two innings later, when Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada strayed off third base at the same time.
Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged both out, but Terrible Tim McCelland allowed Cano to stay put for reasons that even he could not fully explain afterward.
Can you say "embarrassment," girls and boys?
17. Ron Kulpa Makes a Bad First Impression
Date: Oct. 22, 2011
Scene: Rangers Ballpark, World Series Game 3
Situation: St. Louis Cardinals 1, Texas Rangers 0, top of the fourth inning, runner on first, one out
Final score: Cardinals 16, Rangers 7
Series result: Cardinals in seven
Bottom line: In his first World Series assignment, Ron Kulpa erroneously ruled that St. Louis Cardinals runner Matt Holliday (more on him later) was on the bag when first baseman Mike Napoli applied the tag, a call that negated an apparent double play.
The Cardinals went on to score four runs in the inning en route to a 2-1 lead in the series.
To his credit, the ump fessed up to the mistake afterward. Mea kulpa, indeed.
16. Tim McClelland’s Creates the 'Pine Tar Blues'
Date: July 24, 1983
Scene: Yankee Stadium, regular season
Situation: New York Yankees 4, Kansas City Royals 3, top of the ninth inning, runner on first, two outs
Final score: Royals 5, Yankees 4
Bottom line: After George Brett slammed a monstrous two-run home run to right field to put his team ahead, Yankees skipper Billy Martin asked the plate umpire to inspect the bat for pine tar.
"If McClelland calls me out, I'm gonna kill him," Brett reportedly said in the Royals dugout. When McClelland misinterpreted the rule and did just that, a stark-raving-mad Brett charged toward the ump as if intent to, well, kill him.
Explained American League president Larry MacPhail, who overturned the call, "The intent of the rule had nothing to do with affecting a home run."
The Royals completed their victory when play resumed one month later.
15. Close But No Cigar for Bruce Froemming
Date: Oct. 7, 1977
Scene: Veterans Stadium, NLCS Game 3
Situation: Philadelphia Phillies 5, Los Angeles Dodgers 4, top of the ninth inning, runner on third, two outs
Final score: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5
Series result: Dodgers in four
Bottom line: Los Angeles Dodgers Davey Lopes hit a hard grounder that bounced off Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt's glove to shortstop Larry Bowa, who made a barehanded pickup, then threw to first for the out. Bruce Froemming would have none of it, though.
One batter later, Bill Russell singled home what proved to be the game-winner.
As a result, the Phillies faced elimination in Game 4 and had no choice but to start Steve Carlton on three days' rest. The Dodgers closed out the series the next day.
14. The Bucs Stop With Jerry Meals
Date: July 26, 2011
Scene: Turner Field, regular season
Situation: Pittsburgh Pirates 3, Atlanta Braves 3, bottom of the 19th inning, runners on second and third, one out
Final score: Braves 4, Pirates 3 (19 innings)
Bottom line: The Braves' Scott Proctor hit a ground ball to pulled-in third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who made a quick, accurate throw to home plate. Catcher Mike McHenry had time to peel an orange before he tagged Julio Lugo for the second out.
Check that — Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown will tell you what actually happened: "He called him safe! You’ve got to be kidding me, Jerry Meals! That is un-believable! The throw beat him by a mile!"
The Buccos weren’t the same after the six-hour, 39-minute theft. They lost 11 of their next 12 games to drop out of playoff contention.
13.Ken Burkhart Sparks World Series Controversy
Date: Oct. 10, 1970
Scene: Riverfront Stadium, World Series Game 1
Situation: Baltimore Orioles 3, Cincinnati Reds 3, bottom of the sixth inning, bases empty, one out
Final score: Orioles 4, Reds 3
Series result: Orioles in five
Bottom line: Reds hitter Ty Cline started the mess with a chopper in front of home plate. Not only did Ken Burkhart falsely anticipate that Orioles catcher Elrod Hendricks would throw to first base, but he stepped in the righty batter’s box to inadvertently block Bernie Carbo’s running path to the plate.
Wait, there’s more. The ump called Carbo out after Hendricks tagged the runner with his glove. Except that the ball was in his bare hand. Almost 50 years later, Carbo still hasn’t touched the plate, and the ball still hasn’t touched him.
The controversy set the tone for a short series that might have been more competitive otherwise.
12. Hey, Tim McClelland, You Missed a Good October Game
Date: Oct. 1, 2007, regular season
Scene: Coors Field, wild card tiebreaker game
Situation: San Diego Padres 8, Colorado Rockies 8, top of the 13th inning, runners on first and third, no outs
Final score: Rockies 9, Padres 8 (13 innings)
Bottom line: Colorado Rockies runner Matt Holliday (yeah, him again) attempted to score from third base on a Jamie Carroll fly ball, but Padres catcher Michael Barrett blocked the plate so well, Holliday was unable to extend his left arm to touch it. No matter.
Before the dust could settle, Tim McClelland called the runner safe, and the Rocks were headed to the postseason (and World Series, ultimately). Television replays confirmed otherwise.
11. Thanks for Nothing, Stan Landes
Date: Oct. 10, 1968
Scene: Busch Stadium, World Series Game 7
Situation: Detroit Tigers 0, St. Louis Cardinals 0, bottom of the sixth inning, runner on first, no outs.
Final score: Tigers 4, Cardinals 1
Series result: Tigers in seven
Bottom line: While the biggest controversy took place two games earlier, when Lou Brock decided not to slide into home plate and was called out, there was no conclusive evidence either way.
The far more overlooked sequence came when Stan Landes mistakenly called him out on a stolen-base attempt at second base. Otherwise, Brock quite possibly would have scored a Curt Flood single two batters later. And staff ace Bob Gibson would have taken a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning.
In that case, would you have bet against him?
10. Sam Holbrook's Infield Fly Rule Call in Center Field Enrages Braves
Date: Oct. 5, 2012
Scene: Turner Field, National League wild-card game
Situation: St. Louis Cardinals 6, Atlanta Braves 3, bottom of the eighth inning, runners on first and second, one out
Final score: Cardinals 6, Braves 3
Bottom line: The Braves' Andeltron Simmons hit a short fly ball that dropped between Matt Holliday (one more time) and Pete Kozma in short left-center field. But Sam Holbrook made a late infield fly rule signal, which meant that Simmons was automatically out and the runners had to return to their original bases.
Outraged fans threw cups and bottles onto the field in a 19-minute protest. Just a hunch, but this probably wasn’t what Braves star Chipper Jones had in mind for his final game.
9. Phil Cuzzi Makes No Excuses for Foul Call in Left Field
Date: Oct. 9, 2009
Scene: Yankee Stadium, ALDS Game 2
Situation: Minnesota Twins 3, New York Yankees 3, top of the 11th inning, bases empty, no outs
Final score: Yankees 4, Twins 3 (11 innings)
Series result: Yankees in three
Bottom line: Twins catcher Joe Mauer sliced a line drive that glanced off Yankees left fielder Melky Cabrera's glove in fair territory, then bounced out of play for a ground-rule double. Well, that’s what TV replays indicated would have happened if Phil Cuzzi hadn’t ruled a foul ball, anyway.
Mauer ended up singling. A pair of singles would have scored Mauer from second base later in the inning. Instead, he was stranded at third, and the Twins were deprived of the chance to tie a series that the Yankees swept two days later.
Cuzzi felt bad about blowing the call, but he didn't even get a LensCrafters endorsement deal out of this.
8. Tim Tschida Becomes Infamous in Boston After 'Phantom Tag' Call
Date: Oct. 17, 1999
Scene: Fenway Park, ALCS Game 4
Situation: New York Yankees 3, Boston Red Sox 2, bottom of the eighth inning, runner on first, one out
Final score: Yankees 9, Red Sox 2
Series result: Yankees in four
Bottom line: Red Sox batter John Valentin hit a checked-swinger grounder to Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, who made a futile attempt to tag Jose Offerman before he lobbed the ball to first base.
Somehow, Tim Tschida ruled the runner out on the front end of a double play. So incredulous was Fox commentator Tim McCarver that he surmised that Offerman might have strayed too far out of the baseline. Offerman? He could only mutter "wow" and shake his head in utter disbelief.
Instead of the tying run on second base and Nomar Garciaparra at the plate, the homies were left with none on and two outs. We’ll never know if they would have gone on to tie the series that night, but we do know the umpire was very, very wrong to kill the momentum.
7. Drew Coble’s Blown Call Tarnishes 1991 World Series
Date: Oct. 20, 1991
Scene: Metrodome, World Series Game 2
Situation: Detroit Tigers 2, Atlanta Braves 1, top of the third inning, runner on first, two outs
Final score: Twins 3, Braves 2
Series result: Twins in seven
Bottom line: Ron Gant lined a single to left field, then took a wide turn past first base. Bad idea. The ball was relayed to Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, who channeled his inner Hulk Hogan — the 200-pounder accidentally on purpose pulled Gant’s right leg off the bag while he held his glove (with ball) on it.
To the amazement of everyone, Drew Coble was snookered into the belief that the runner’s own momentum had taken him off the bag. In a tight series with no margin for error, this bogus call might have made a considerable difference.
Rest of the story: When Hrbek toyed with a pro wrestling career under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex after retirement, the play became known as the T-Rex Tag.
6. The Eric Gregg Mystery
Date: Oct. 12, 1997
Scene: Pro Player Stadium, NLCS Game 5
Situation: Florida Marlins 2, Atlanta Braves 1, top of the ninth inning, bases empty, no outs
Final score: Marlins 2, Braves 1
Series result: Marlins in six
Bottom line: Maybe Eric Gregg was late to a dinner date. Or maybe the Miami heat got to him. Or maybe he and Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez were distant relatives. Whatever the case, this debacle qualifies as "The Absolute Worst Performance by a Home Plate Umpire in the Replay Era."
Gregg and his equally wide strike zone allowed Hernandez to ring up 15 strikeouts, four more than in any game in his long, long career. The final call was so bad it was downright laughable — Fred McGriff took a curveball that was juuuuust a bit outside for strike three.
It was hard to feel too bad for the Braves, though, as master nibbler Greg Maddux was the victim of the sleight of hand. How’s that for delicious irony?
5. What If Rich Garcia Had Called Fan Interference?
Date: Oct. 9, 1996
Scene: Yankee Stadium, ALCS Game 1
Situation: Baltimore Orioles 4, New York Yankees 3, bottom of the eighth inning, bases empty, one out
Final score: Yankees 5, Orioles 4 (11 innings)
Series result: Yankees in five
Bottom line: This is better known as the "Jeffrey Maier Game." He was the 12-year-old Derek Jeter fan who dreamed to catch a game-used baseball at Yankee Stadium one day. Can’t blame him if he reached over the wall to haul in his hero’s long drive before helpless Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco could snag it.
Blame Rich Garcia, who lacked either the eyesight or the testosterone to make the obvious call — fan interference. The game-tying homer drastically changed the momentum in what should have been a close series.
Heck, the least the Yankees could have done was give the kid a World Series share.
4. Shag Crawford and Lou DiMuro, a Pair of 'Miracle' Workers
Date: Oct. 15, 1969
Scene: Shea Stadium, World Series Game 4
Situation: Orioles 1, Mets 1, bottom of the 10th inning, runners on first and second, no outs
Final score: Mets 2, Orioles 1 (10 innings)
Series result: Mets in five
Bottom line: According to Rule 6.05 (k), the batter shall be called out and any runner(s) returned to his original base if he runs outside the three-foot line (to the right) or inside the foul line (to the left) and interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base.
Apparently, Shag Crawford (at home plate) and Lou DiMuro (first base) didn’t receive the memo.
After Mets pinch-hitter J.C. Martin laid down a sacrifice bunt, pitcher Pete Richert’s throw to first struck him on the left wrist. Pinch-runner Rod Gaspar continued home when the ball rolled into short right field.
Even though Martin had taken a path in fair territory for about the last two-thirds of the way down the line, the umps agreed that he was close enough and allowed the play to stand.
Shag’s gag was a pivotal point in the series, as the Amazin’s took a 3-1 stranglehold on their first-ever World Series championship.
3. Larry Barnett Doesn't Call Runner Interference
Date: Oct. 14, 1975
Scene: Riverfront Stadium, World Series Game 3
Situation: Boston Red Sox 5, Cincinnati Reds 5, bottom of the 10th inning, runner on first, no outs
Final score: Cincinnati Reds 6, Boston Red Sox 5
Series result: Reds in seven
Bottom line: After the Red Sox had rallied from a 5-1 deficit to send the game into extra innings, career pinch-hitter/runner Ed Armbrister bunted a high bouncer in front of the plate. He glanced up at the ball, barely stepped out of the batter’s box then inexplicably froze in his tracks.
As a result, he impeded the path of Boston catcher Carlton Fisk to the ball, yet Larry Barnett didn’t flinch. Fisk did well to make a barehanded stab, but when his hurried throw to second base sailed into center field, the fireworks were about to commence.
While MLB officials agreed that Armbrister did not intend to obstruct the fielder, his decision not to run immediately to first base was highly suspect, to say the least.
Either way, the non-call was tumultuous. Joe Morgan singled to give the Reds a 2-1 series lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
2. Frank Pulli Changes Course of Baseball History
Date: Oct. 14, 1978
Scene: Yankee Stadium, World Series Game 4
Situation: Los Angeles Dodgers 3, New York Yankees 1, bottom of the sixth inning, runners on first and second, one out
Final score: Yankees 4, Dodgers 3 (10 innings)
Series result: Yankees in six
Bottom line: The Dodgers owned a 3-1 lead when Lou Piniella hit a line drive to Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell, who knocked the ball down, quickly picked it up, stepped on second base, then threw to first for what should have been a double play.
Trapped between first and second, Reggie Jackson made the best of a hopeless situation — he stuck out his right leg just enough for the ball to hit it and roll into foul territory while Thurman Munson crossed home plate.
Could the intent have been any more obvious? Not to Frank Pulli, anyway. Four innings later, the series was tied. The Yankees just can’t get a break, I tell ya.
1. There's No Joy in St. Louis — Don Denkinger Blew 'The Call'
Date: Oct. 26, 1985
Scene: Royals Stadium, World Series Game 6
Situation: St. Louis Cardinals 1, Kansas City Royals 0, bottom of the ninth inning, bases empty, no outs
Final score: Royals 2, Cardinals 1
Series result: Royals in seven
Bottom line: As the one that did more to decide a World Series than any other, this is the mother, grandmother and great grandmother of butchered calls.
The Cardinals were three outs away from their 10th World Series crown when Jorge Orta hit a two-bouncer to first baseman Jack Clark, whose flip to pitcher Todd Worrell beat the runner by nearly a full step to the bag. But nooooo. Somehow, someway, Don Denkinger called Orta safe despite a clear view of the play.
The Royals went on to win the game and the series. "I know I made a lot of mistakes," he tried to shrug the whole thing off later. "That one was just blown out of proportion."
Yo, Blue, you might want to ask Cardinals players and fans what they think of the human element now.