One of my earliest baseball memories is the opening footage from the highlight film of the 1973 World Series between the Mets and A’s. In super slow motion, Bud Harrelson of the Mets races down the inside of the third base line, passing Oakland’s catcher Ray Fosse who is a few feet up the line in foul territory grabbing the on-coming throw. Though it’s impossible to tell 100%, every indication is that Fosse never made a tag as Harrelson squeezed past and crossed the plate. Home plate umpire Augie Donatelli is lying flat on his stomach and raises his fist to make the ‘out’ call. The footage moves back to regular speed and finds Harrelson and manager Yogi Berra rushing to home plate as a wild argument ensues, and on deck hitter Willie Mays drops to his knees pleading with Donatelli. Miraculously no one is ejected.
The play happened with 1 out and the score tied 6-6 in the top of the 10th inning of Game 2 with the A’s leading the series 1 game to none. Felix Millan had just flied to Joe Rudi in shallow left field and Harrelson tagged out and attempted to score the go ahead run. Donatelli, expecting Harrelson to slide, wound up out of position behind the play and had a poor angle to tell if Harrelson is actually tagged as he passes Fosse en route to the plate. He most likely was never touched, and Mays, Harrelson, Berra, and Millan all went nuts.
Somewhat ironically, Harrelson went on the score New York’s go ahead run in the 12th as the Mets rallied for a wild 10-7 win. So while the high-profile call was incorrect, it had no bearing on the outcome of the Series that Oakland went on to win in 7 games.
Controversial plays at the plate were something of a tradition in World Series games during the 1970s.
In the 1975 Fall Classic, prior to becoming the Game 6 hero, Boston catcher Carlton Fisk was on the wrong end of a controversial call near home plate. In the 10th inning of Game 3 with a runner on first, Cincinnati’s Ed Armbrister attempted a sac bunt that bounced off the plate. Fisk reached up for the ball and temporarily collided with Armbrister who was just making his way out of the batter’s box toward first base. Fisk came free only to throw wildly to second base. Boston manager Darrell Johnson argued with home plate umpire Larry Barnett that interference should have been called. Once order was restored, Joe Morgan singled to win the game, giving Cincinnati a 2-1 series lead – they took the Series in 7.
So the ’73 call was ‘probably’ incorrect, but New York won the game anyway. The ’75 call led to a game-winning run, but may or may not have been incorrect – it can be reasonably argued that Armbrister had a right to the baseline, and/or that the collision did not cause the errant throw anyway, as Fisk still separated from Armbrister and was able to plant his feet before throwing the ball away.
But in 1970 the outcome of a World Series game was tilted on a call that was clearly incorrect.
In the 6th inning of a 3-3 tie in Game 1 of the 1970 World Series between Baltimore and Cincinnati, the Red’s Ty Cline chopped a ball in front of home plate with Bernie Carbo on third base. Oriole’s catcher Elrod Hendricks scrambled after the ball, home plate umpire Ken Burkhart followed, and somehow wound up tangled between Hendricks and Carbo as he made his way to the plate. Hendricks reached to tag the sliding Carbo and Burkhart was knocked down with his back to the play. Before Carbo reached the plate Hendricks tagged him with his mitt but still had the ball in his bare hand. Burkhart looked back to see Hendricks holding the baseball and called Carbo out. The O’s eventually broke the tie and won 4-3. They took the Series 4 games to 1.
Years before instant replay video review rules, home plate umpires often found themselves on the hot seat during the Fall Classics of the 1970s.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His new book, 1970s All-Star Baseball: A History of the Decade’s All-Star Games was just released on Amazon:
His bestselling 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: