Base Runners Often Collide With Controversy
BOSTON — MANY of baseball's most publicized controversies have occurred on the base paths. With runners and fielders getting in each other's way, and with thrown balls part of the equation, there will always be claims of interference, obstruction, running out of the base line, and more.
These are among the toughest calls for umpires to make any time. And of course they are magnified in the spotlight of big games - as three famous World Series incidents attest.
In Game 4 in 1969, the New York Mets had runners on first and second with no outs in the 10th inning. Baltimore pitcher Pete Richert fielded a bunt by J.C. Martin and threw to first, but the ball hit Martin's wrist and caromed away, allowing the winning run to score. Oriole manager Earl Weaver went ballistic, arguing that Martin had run wide of the legal three-foot limit - as photos eventually indicated he had. The umpires ruled otherwise, however, giving the Mets their third victory. They won the clinch er the next day.
The 1975 Series produced a similar controversy - also in a critical 10th-inning situation. With a runner on first and nobody out, Cincinnati's Ed Armbrister bunted. Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk grabbed the ball to throw toward second, but Armbrister, who appeared to hesitate and straighten up at the crucial moment, was in the way. Fisk's throw was wild, putting runners on second and third. Plate umpire Larry Barnett denied heated claims by the Red Sox that Armbrister had interfered, and the play stood. T he Reds went on to win the game and eventually the Series.
Then there was the famous "swivel hip" debate involving Reggie Jackson in 1978. Jackson was on first base with Thurmon Munson on second, one out, and the New York Yankees trailing 3-1 in the sixth inning of Game 4. Los Angeles shortstop Bill Russell knocked down a low line drive, stepped on second base to put Jackson out, then threw to first for a potential inning-ending double play.
But Jackson had frozen in his tracks, and the ball hit him and bounced away as Munson scored. While nothing in the rules says a runner has to keep moving, the Dodgers claimed Jackson hadn't just stopped, but had turned and swiveled his hip into the path of the ball - which would have been illegal.
Again, replays seemed to indicate that this was the case, but the umpires didn't see it that way at the time and the run stood - helping a Yankee comeback that resulted in a 10-inning victory en route to winning the entire Series.