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8 Most Controversial Calls in MLB Postseason History

| April 29, 2022 12:36 pm PDT
MLB playoff logo centered, cubs fan to left, umpire to right

Umpires do the best they can but at the end of the day, there are times where they make controversial calls. It’s not a huge deal during the regular season, but it can have a lasting impact during the postseason. It can make the difference between a team advancing or going home.

Let’s take a look at some of the most controversial calls in MLB postseason history.

8. Ron Gant Pulled Off the Bag (1991 World Series)

The 1991 World Series featured a battle between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins. Minnesota won Game 1 and held an early 2-1 lead in Game 2.

In the top of the third, the Braves had Lonnie Smith on first base when Ron Gant stepped to the plate. Gant singled into left field, with Smith looking to go from first to third.

Minnesota attempted to throw out Smith at third base, but the throw missed the third baseman and was backed up by the pitcher.

Gant initially tried to advance to second but he quickly retreated to first base. When first baseman Kent Hrbek caught the ball, he tagged Gant but Gant was already on the bag. Hrbek then pulled Gant off the bag.

Please Note

Despite the clear interference, the umpire called Gant out. Gant and manager Pat Corrales argued their case to no avail. Instead of first and third with two outs, the inning was over.

The Twins went on to win the game and erased a 3-2 series deficit to win the World Series.

Atlanta only lost Game 2 by one run. Without the bad call, they would’ve had two runners on in the third inning. Who knows what would’ve ultimately happened?

7. Infield Fly-Rule (2012 NL Wild Card Game)

The first wild card game in MLB history featured a matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. Atlanta had an early 2-0 lead, but the Cardinals came back to take a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth.

Atlanta had runners at first and second with one out. Facing a 3-2 count, Andrelton Simmons lifted a fly ball into shallow left field. Miscommunication between Pete Kozma and Matt Holliday allowed the ball to drop. The error loaded the bases for the Braves.

However, the umpire called an infield fly rule. They allowed the runners to move to second and third, but Simmons was called out. The problem was the ball was nowhere near the field.

The Atlanta fans were not happy, as they threw trash and debris on the field. That forced a 19-minute delay.

Atlanta was unable to score any runs in the inning and went on to lose the game.

This was a straight-up blown call. The objective of an infield fly rule is so infielders don’t intentionally drop a ball in an attempt to turn a double play. That’s not what happened here.

Not to mention, the ball wasn’t even close to the infield.

6. Carlton Fisk-Ed Armbrister Collision (1975 World Series)

The Cincinnati Reds were in the midst of a dynasty when they made the 1975 World Series. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox were looking to capture their first World Series since 1918.

Boston cruised to a Game 1 victory, while a two-run ninth inning gave Cincinnati the Game 2 victory.

In Game 3, the Reds jumped out to a 5-1 lead. The Red Sox made a late rally to send the game into extras. That’s where we saw some controversy.

Cincinnati led off the bottom of the 10th with a single. Ed Armbrister came to the plate intending to bunt the run over to second. The bunt didn’t go very far and catcher Carlton Fisk went to field it.

When Fisk made the throw to second base, he made contact with Armbrister. The contact forced an errant throw and put runners on second and third. Surely, there should’ve been an interference call.

None came.

The Reds went on to win the game and won the series in seven games.

Even without the contact, it would’ve been a tight throw. However, there’s a big difference between a runner on second with one out and runners on second and third with no outs.

5. Ball Hits Reggie Jackson (1978 World Series)

Just a few years after the Carlton Fisk non-interference call, the World Series found themselves at the center of another controversial call.

The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers faced off in the 1978 World Series. Los Angeles won the first two games before the Yankees climbed back into the series with a 5-1 victory in Game 3.

Los Angeles had a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth. Reggie Jackson got the Yankees on the board with an RBI single.

With runners on first and second, Lou Piniella lined a shot into the glove of shortstop Bill Russell. The ball dropped out of Russell’s glove but he still made it to second to get one out. He went to complete the double play but the ball hit Jackson.

The runner on second came all the way around to score.

I don’t think the controversy is that the ball hit Jackson. It’s that Jackson appeared to have moved his hip out in an attempt to block the throw.

New York went on to win Game 4 in extras. They won the final four games to win the World Series.

If that ball doesn’t hit Jackson, it’s possible the Dodgers win Game 4 and then we would’ve had a Game 7. Either way, Jackson remains one of the best players of his generation.

4. Jeffrey Maier Home Run Interference (1996 ALCS)

It doesn’t get much more obvious than this.

We had our controversy in the very first game of the 1996 ALCS. The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles went back-and-forth in Game 1. Excluding the fifth inning, there was exactly one run scored in each of the first eight innings.

Going into the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees faced a one-run deficit.

Derek Jeter came to the plate and lifted a high fly ball into right field. Jeter made great contact but it looked like the ball would stay in the ballpark. However, a fan, Jeffrey Maier, reached over the wall and brought the ball into the stands.

Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco angrily argued with the umpire, but he refused to listen. He ruled it a home run, which tied the game.

In the 11th inning, the Yankees hit a walk-off home run to win Game 1.

Baltimore won Game 2, but New York took the ensuing three games to win the series.

In hindsight, it’s easy to say this call didn’t make a difference in the series. However, you never know what happens if the Orioles jump out to a 2-0 lead.

Either way, the call was too bad not to include.

3. Steve Bartman Fan Interference (2003 NLCS)

There’s no doubt this is the most noteworthy controversy on this list. It was such a widely publicized event that ESPN made a 30 for 30 on it.

The Florida Marlins matched up with the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 NLCS. Going into Game 6, the Cubs had a 3-2 series lead. It looked like they were heading back to the World Series after they led by three in the eighth inning. That’s when the craziness began.

Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo came to the plate with a runner on second and one out. Castillo hit a ball that went down the left-field line. Left fielder Moises Alou went up to catch the ball, but it bounced off Steve Bartman’s hands and into the stands.

Chicago wanted fan interference but the umpire said the ball was in the stands, so it was fair game.

From there, the Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning. Florida won the game and went on to win the NLCS. They also pulled off one of the biggest World Series upsets.

Bartman takes a lot of heat but people forget that Alex Gonzalez had a chance to turn an inning-ending double play when he had an error. At that point, Chicago still had a 3-1 lead.

A few years later, Moises Alou had this to say.

“You know what the funny thing is?” he added a moment later. “I wouldn’t have caught it, anyway.”

He later clarified his comment, but he also said that it’s time to forgive Bartman.

Even with the controversy, fans can’t forget that the error and poor pitching led to the downfall.

2. Matt Holliday Missed Home Plate (2007 Playoff Tiebreaker)

Matt Holliday was a small part of the controversy in the 2012 wild card game. However, he was right in the middle of the action in this controversy.

It technically wasn’t a playoff game, but the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies played a tiebreaker game to determine the 2007 NL wild card team.

The game got off to a fast start with nine total runs scored in the first three innings. San Diego eventually scored the tying run in the eighth, sending the game into extra innings.

San Diego regained the lead with a two-run homer in the top of the 13th. Just when it looked like they were in the driver’s seat, the Rockies had two doubles and a triple to tie the game.

With Holliday on third, Jamey Carroll hit a line drive into right field. When right fielder Brian Giles caught the ball, Holliday sprinted to home plate.

The umpire ruled Holliday safe after the ball got away. When you look at the replay, it appears Holliday never touched home plate.

The funny thing is, the catcher never actually tagged Holliday. There was no review and the Rockies made the postseason.

1. Don Denkinger’s Blown Call (1985 World Series)

A lot of people will remember the 1985 World Series for the Kansas City Royals overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals. Without Don Denkinger’s blown call, there’s a chance that comeback never happens.

The Royals were on the brink of elimination in Game 6. They went into the bottom of the ninth facing a 1-0 deficit.

Jorge Orta led off with a ground ball to the first baseman. When he threw to the pitcher covering the bag, the umpire ruled Orta safe.

On replay, it was clear that the throw beat Orta to the bag.

Instead of one out and no runners on, the Royals had a runner on first with no outs.

After a failed sacrifice bunt and a passed ball, the Royals had runners on second and third with one out. Dang Iorg came to the plate and hit the ball into right field. Both runners came home, giving the Royals a 2-1 victory and forcing a Game 7.

Kansas City went on to crush St. Louis in Game 7 to win the World Series.

With the correct call, there’s no decision to sacrifice bunt, and the inning plays out differently. The call itself was terrible, but it also had a massive impact on the World Series.

Other Controversial Moments in the MLB Postseason

  • Eric Gregg’s Strike Zone (1997 NLCS)

  • Red Sox Obstruction (2013 World Series)

  • Phantom Tag (1999 ALCS)

Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS wasn’t as much one big controversial moment as the whole game. Umpire Eric Gregg had a massive strike zone that led to Florida Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez striking out 15 batters.

The 2013 World Series had a controversial obstruction call at the end of Game 3. Allen Craig rounded third to score the game-winning run when he tripped over Will Middlebrooks. The throw home beat Craig, but the umpire ruled him safe because of obstruction.

While a controversial call, it didn’t affect the outcome as the Boston Red Sox still won the World Series.

In the 1999 ALCS, the Boston Red Sox faced a one-run deficit in the eighth inning of Game 4. Chuck Knoblauch attempted to tag Jose Offerman and then threw the ball to first for a double play. The tag was nowhere near Offerman, but the umpire awarded the Yankees the out.

This one was too terrible not to mention. However, the Yankees scored six runs in the next inning and won the series 4-1. Therefore, I don’t think it had a big impact.

At the end of the day, umpires aren’t perfect. We just hope they can perform their best and not make a bad call that could impact the postseason.

On a positive note, you can win some money betting on the World Series. You can do so using the best World Series betting sites.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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