The 5 Worst Umpire Mistakes in Baseball History

MLB: 5 Worst Umpire Mistakes in Baseball History
A.J. Pierzynski, formerly of the Chicago White Sox | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Over the last few seasons, Major League Baseball took steps to incorporate instant replay into the game in an effort to have a higher percentage of correct calls. It was a big step for a league that, historically, has been a bit behind the times on new technology. This was no different; the NFL has toyed with replays for about 15 years. But it doesn’t mean things are perfect. These are the five worst umpire mistakes of all time.

1. A.J. Pierzynski runs to first base

Back in 2005, the White Sox rolled through the playoffs to win their first World Series since 1917. They were a combined 11-1 in the postseason, with the only loss coming against the Anaheim Angels. But that series could’ve been completely different, had a call by the home-plate umpire not changed the complexion of the series in Game 2.

The game was about to go to the top of the 10th, still tied, with the Angels looking to take the first two games in Chicago. But A.J. Pierzynski ran to first base after clearly striking out on a pitch that was caught just above the ground. The Angels were coming off the field for what clearly should’ve been the end of the inning, but instead the runner was called safe at first base. The Sox pinch runner Pablo Ozuna promptly stole second base and scored the winning run on a double by Joe Crede.

2. Cardinals benefit from infield fly rule

The St. Louis Cardinals snuck into the playoffs as the second wild card back in 2012, heading down to Atlanta to face off against the Braves in a winner-take-all game. The Cards had a healthy 6-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, but the Braves weren’t going quietly.

Atlanta worked their way toward bringing the tying run to the plate with just one out, and Andrelton Simmons hit a popup to left field with outfielder Matt Holliday running in and shortstop Pete Kozma back-peddling to attempt to make a play. Holliday and Kozma got their signals crossed, and the ball dropped in between them to load the bases with just one out. Or so we thought.

The umpire down the left field line had called the infield fly rule, despite the ball being a good 15 or 20 feet into the outfield. Even worse? The replay showed that umpire Sam Holbrook, who made the call, didn’t put his arm up to signal for the infield fly rule until it was clear that neither Holliday or Kozma would be able to make the play.

3. Jeter homers against the Orioles

In Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, a bad call helped the Yanks steal a game. Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Derek Jeter cracked a deep fly ball to right field off Baltimore reliever Armando Benitez.

Outfielder Tony Tarasco backed up to the wall and put up his glove, only to see it disappear into the stands. The umpires ruled it a home run, which tied the game and sent it into extra innings, where the Yankees would emerge victorious. However, replay showed that a young fan clearly reached his glove out onto the field of play and stole the ball away from the Orioles outfielder, helping the Yankees take the first game of a series that they eventually won on their way to winning the World Series.

4. Jim Joyce blows the perfect game

At least this one didn’t have playoff implications, but it changed the course of baseball history for one player. Otherwise forgettable Tigers starting pitcher Armando Galarraga took a perfect game bid into the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians back on June 2, 2010. Galarraga got the first two Indians batters with ease, but a close play with Galarraga covering first base caused umpire Jim Joyce to call the runner safe, ending the perfect game and no-hit bid for Galarraga. The worst part about losing the chance at history? Upon replay, the runner was clearly out.

Joyce blew the call, and without replay protocols in place in 2010 the Tigers were left with no choice but to accept the heartbreaking ending. The silver lining is that Joyce tearfully made a public apology and genuinely felt terrible for how things shook out, prompting a solid display of sportsmanship in Galarraga accepting his attempt to make amends. Joyce went on to be voted by the players as the best umpire in baseball.

5. Cardinals lose Game 6 in 1985

The Cardinals and Royals met in the 1985 World Series, with St. Louis taking a 3-1 lead in the series against Kansas City. After the Royals won Game 5, St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in Game 6 and got it to the ninth inning with their closer, Todd Worrell.

Pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off with a weak grounder to first base, with Worrell covering the bag — called safe by umpire Don Denkinger. The problem? Orta was out. It’s arguable whether or not it would have mattered, in the end. Worrell only got one out — a sacrifice bunt — in the ninth inning before allowing two runs and losing the game. The Cardinals had another shot in Game 7, but the Royals won 11-0 and took the ’85 series. While it may not have been the most obvious blown call on the list, it’s certainly arguable that it had the greatest overall impact of any blown call in MLB history.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanDavisBP

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Baseball-Reference.