The 10 worst calls and non-calls in sports history

Home-plate umpire Jim Joyce talks with Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland during the seventh inning...

Home-plate umpire Jim Joyce talks with Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland during the seventh inning of the American League MLB baseball game between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians in Detroit, Michigan June 3, 2010. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

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There are always close calls in pro sports. Some are not as close though. Here are some of the more lacklustre moments in officiating history.

Thierry Henry’s handball

During a UEFA World Cup qualifying playoff in 2010, the Republic of Ireland squared off against France. With the score tied at 1-1, France’s Florent Malouda took a free kick from just outside the centre circle in Irish territory. The ball bounded in front of goalie Shay Given, and hit Thierry Henry’s hand – twice. The New York Red Bull then played a cross to William Gallas, who headed it into the net.

The game’s officials did not see the handball, even though Given immediately bolted from his goal to chase them down once he saw Henry make contact with the ball.

The match ended 2-1 for France, and the Irish failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Brett Hull’s no goal

It was Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. The Dallas Stars led the series 3-2 over the Buffalo Sabres. The teams were deadlocked at one goal apiece heading into the third overtime period.

Brett Hull was right on goaltender Dominik Hasek’s doorstep when he buried a rebound off of Jere Lehtinen’s shot. The NHL rules at the time were that no goal would count if a player was in the crease. For a brief moment, Hull’s skate crossed the line.

Hull’s game winner was also the Stanley Cup winner.

Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game

Detroit’s Armando Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game on June 2, 2010 when first base umpire Jim Joyce flubbed a call.

Cleveland Indians’ rookie Jason Donald hit a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera threw the ball to the covering Galarraga, who was successful in putting out Donald. However, Joyce did not see it that way.

The then 54-year-old umpire had been rated the best in the Bigs by players in an ESPN poll. A dewy eyed Joyce would later apologize for the error, and made amends with Galarraga.

Don Denkinger’s World Series snafu

On Oct. 25, 1985, an event involving Kansas City’s Jorge Orta, St. Louis’ Todd Worrell and umpire Don Denkinger would change the complexion of the World Series.

The Cardinals led the series 3-2 and in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6, with the score 1-1, the Royals’ Jorge Orta hit a routine ground ball to Cardinals’ first baseman Jack Clark. Pitcher Todd Worrell, running to cover an empty first base, was thrown the ball and clearly beat Orta. Umpire Denkinger was the crew chief and would not overturn his call even with Whitey Herzog in his ear.

Orta was the first batter of the inning, and a single by the next batter, Steve Balboni, would move Orta to second. Orta would be thrown out on a sac bunt by Jim Sundberg, but a blooper by Dane Iorg into right field scored pinch runner Onix Concepcion – put in for Balboni. The Royals won Game 6, and would blow the Cards out at home 11-0 in Game 7 to claim their first and only MLB title.

U.S. loses gold on the third inbound

In the dying seconds of the gold medal match between the Americans and the Soviets, U.S. guard Doug Collins was fouled hard by Zurab Sakandelidze.

On the ensuing free throws, Russian coach Vladimir Kondrashin said he called a timeout and opted to take it in between Collins’ attempts at the line. That led to confusion. Through it all, Collins was able to sink both of his free throws to put the U.S. up 50-49.

But further confusion on the court, including the resetting of the clock to 50 seconds, led to three different inbounds being awarded to the Soviets. On the third inbound, Soviet shooting guard Sergey Belov battled back American defenders Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes to put in the game-winning deuce. The Americans have yet to claim their silver medals due to their protest of the game.

Wayne Gretzky’s missed high stick

Talk to any Leafs fan and they will tell you they were victimized by referee Kerry Fraser’s blindness. During overtime in Game 6 of the Campbell Conference finals Wayne Gretzky high-sticked Leafs captain Doug Gilmour. The score was 4-4 and Fraser did not give the expected 5-minute major to Gretzky.

The Great One would eventually score the game winner. In Game 7, Gretzky would score a hat-trick, sending the Los Angeles Kings to their first ever Stanley Cup final.

The ‘Hand of God’ goal

June 22, 1986. The World Cup semifinals between Argentina and England witnessed two of the most memorable goals in FIFA history. The first one, however, is more notorious, even with its divine moniker.

The "Hand of God" goal came when Maradona used his left hand to punch the ball past British keeper Peter Shilton. Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser never called the infraction.

Sugar Bear not so sweet in 1976 AFC final

“Sugar Bear” Ray Hamilton wasn’t so sweet when a phantom roughing-the-passer call was made on him while attempting to tackle Oakland Raiders playcaller Ken Stabler in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Unsportsmanlike conduct was later called on Hamilton during his protest, which led to the ball being placed on the Patriots’ 1-yard line. Stabler would then rush the ball in for a game-winning touchdown. The final score was 24-21. The Raiders would also win Super Bowl XI over Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14.

The George Brett pine tar incident

Team rivalries are always heated, but when a controversial call enters the picture, that rivalry becomes a full-out war.

The Kansas City Royals travelled to Yankee Stadium to take on the New York Yankees, July 24, 1983. In the top of the ninth inning, George Brett hit a two-run home run to put the Royals up 5-4. Yankees manager Billy Martin complained to the umpires about the amount of pine tar on his bat.

After some discussion the umpires ruled that the amount of pine tar exceeded what was allowed in MLB rules, nullifying his home run. Brett was also called out, and since he was the third out of the inning the Yankees automatically won, being the home team.

American League president Lee MacPhail upheld a Royals protest, and the game would be replayed Aug. 18, 1983. The Royals won 5-4.

Michael Jordan’s push off

Depending on whether one is a Bulls fan or Jazz fan, MJ’s famous last-second steal off John Stockton and subsequent two points to give Chicago its sixth NBA title in eight years was either brilliant or bull.

The reason was an alleged push-off Jordan made on defender Bryon Russell to drain a deuce.


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