This matchup between the Red Sox and the Cardinals has been as entertaining as advertised. It also has been something else: A showcase for weird and wild stuff, as Johnny Carson used to say to Ed McMahon. In other words, before the World Series ends Wednesday or Thursday in Boston, you can expect more goofiness.
Goofiness works in the World Series. In fact, among the many things that separates baseball from its peers is its ability to produce the totally unexpected out of nowhere with a championship on the line. Umpires often are in the middle of it all, which is why the signature moment of this World Series came during Game 3 in St. Louis, when the Cards won in the bottom of the ninth inning on an obstruction call.
An obstruction call? Nobody wins like that, but the Cardinals did -- to the delight of their fans and of those who enjoy knowing such moments in the World Series live forever. This time, with the Cards' Allen Craig crashing to the Busch Stadium ground after tumbling over leg-kicking Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks lying on his belly, Craig scrambled to his feet. Then he raced home, but he was tagged by Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia before reaching the plate.
Home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth was right there, and he wasted little time signaling that Craig was ... safe? That's because DeMuth saw third-base umpire Jim Joyce quickly and correctly signaling obstruction.
Said Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, watching from the home dugout: "[DeMuth] called him safe, and I thought, 'Wow, I think I've just witnessed the worst call in the history of the game at home plate,' only to find out there was obstruction."
With apologies to Wainwright, it wouldn't have been the worst call in the history of the game at home plate. That was during Game 1 of the 1970 World Series at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, where the Reds' Bernie Carbo was called out at home against the Orioles by home-plate umpire Ken Burkhart. There were a slew of huge problems with the call. First, O's catcher Elrod Hendricks tagged the sliding Carbo with his glove, and he had the ball in his other hand. The entire universe (except the section featuring Burkhart) saw as much, because Hendricks had his right arm raised high in the air with the ball. Worse for Burkhart, after the whole sequence began with a chopper near home plate, the umpire was knocked so far out of position that he ended up somewhere between the plate and the pitcher's mound with his back turned to the play. Burkhart eventually called Carbo out while looking over his right shoulder.
It gets worse. Carbo never touched home plate -- well, except when he stormed back to argue the call.
Despite the eternal pain resulting from that play for diehard Big Red Machine fans such as myself, the whole thing became World Series legend. It nearly ranks with Brooks Robinson spending that October pushing the Orioles to the 1970 championship while he evolved into an otherworldly force in the field, and at the plate.
Five years later, I attended my first World Series game, and I witnessed an obstruction call that wasn't called. It involved the Red Sox, too. I'm referring to the Ed Armbrister controversy in Game 3 of the 1975 World Series, and I watched with glee from the front row of a Riverfront Stadium seat in dead center field. In the bottom of the 10th, Armbrister attempted to bunt Reds teammate Cesar Geronimo to second, but he collided with Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk. Plate umpire Larry Barnett didn't call interference on the play, and it eventually led to Fisk throwing wildly in attempt to nail Geronimo. The error assisted the Reds toward victory while another World Series game danced with the bizarre.
Remember the shoe polish game?
If not, it sprinkled even more pixie dust on the Miracle Mets during the 1969 World Series. In Game 5, Cleon Jones claimed he was hit on the foot by a pitch from the Orioles' Dave McNally after the ball scooted across the dirt into the Mets' dugout. Moments later, Mets manager Gil Hodges sauntered to home-plate umpire Lou DiMuro with the ball (despite claims years later that it wasn't the real game ball), and after DiMuro determined that a black mark on the ball was shoe polish, he sent Jones to first base. The situation triggered a Mets rally, and they concluded their shocking World Series victory over the O's that afternoon.
Years later, after DiMuro had his shoe polish, Burkhart had his empty glove, and Burnett had his non-interference call, there was Don Denkinger's call involving Jorge Orta, who is still out, by the way. Even so, the first-base umpire said the Royals runner was safe at first during Game 6 of that 1985 World Series, but TV replays show that Orta was out by a mile. The Cards were not amused.
There also was Drew Coble and the shove in Game 2 of the 1991 World Series. After the Braves' Ron Gant attempted to race back to first base on a pickoff attempt, he was called out by Coble, and this was despite TV replays showing that Gant was pushed away from the bag with a semi-wrestling move by the Twins' Kent Hrbek.
Whatever the case, none of those umpire-centered controversies mattered in the long run. They rarely do. The '91 Braves still had time during the next few days to show they were better than the Twins, but they didn't. Just like the '85 Cardinals could have won the next night in Game 7 to make the Denkinger call irrelevant, but they lost. Not only that, the Reds were just better than the Red Sox during that '75 World Series, and nobody was going to whip those '70 Orioles with a possessed Robinson. Plus, shoe polish or not, the Mets were destined to complete their magical run in '69.
So let the goofiness continue with this World Series. Enjoy it. Cherish it, but don't overestimate its significance.