The World Series has been a stage for some of Major League Baseball's greatest plays as well as its most ignominious moments. From dropped balls to a blown umpire call, here are 10 of the Fall Classic’s most noteworthy blunders.
1. New York Giants' Fred Snodgrass, Game 8, 1912 World Series
With the New York Giants ahead by one run in the bottom of the 10th inning of the decisive Game 8 (Game 2 ended in a tie), Boston Red Sox pinch-hitter Clyde Engle led off with a lazy pop fly to left-center in Boston’s new stadium, Fenway Park. Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass positioned himself to make the routine play. The ball, however, bounced out of his glove, and a weak throw allowed Engle to reach second base.
While his mother reportedly fainted when news of the flub crossed the telegraph wires, Snodgrass retired the next batter, Harry Hooper, with a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch on the run. After a walk, Tris Speaker singled home Engle, and two batters later, Boston won the series with a long sacrifice fly.
Overlooking his play on Hooper, the press pinned the loss on Snodgrass, who offered no excuses. “I was frozen to the marrow when I muffed the fly,” he said. “It just dropped out of the glove and that was all there was to it.”
2. New York Giants' Hank Gowdy, Game 7, 1924 World Series
The New York Giants were up by two runs and four outs from a title when Washington Senators player-manager Bucky Harris slapped a bases-loaded grounder that struck a rock and soared over the head of New York’s 18-year-old third baseman, Freddie Lindstrom, to tie the score.
With the score knotted in the bottom of the 12th inning, Washington’s Muddy Ruel skied a foul ball near home plate. Giants catcher Hank Gowdy tossed his mask to the ground—but not far enough away. Gowdy nearly tripped as his foot caught in the mask and the ball fell to the ground. “I thought my foot was being held in a bear trap,” he recalled.
Given new life, Ruel doubled and scored Washington’s winning run when yet another grounder vaulted over Lindstrom’s shoulder. “The ball hit a pebble—maybe the same darned pebble that Harris’ ball had hit,” Lindstrom recalled decades later.
3. New York Yankees' Babe Ruth, Game 7, 1926 World Series
After powering the New York Yankees to a Game 4 victory with three home runs, Babe Ruth slammed a solo home run in Game 7 to give the home team a 1-0 lead. The scrappy St. Louis Cardinals, however, took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. After Ruth drew a two-out walk, he dashed for second base as Grover Cleveland Alexander delivered a pitch to Bob Meusel, who had doubled and tripled off the Cardinals' veteran in Game 6. Not known for his speed, Ruth was called out on the throw from Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell to second baseman Rogers Hornsby.
The play remains the only time a Fall Classic ended with a player caught stealing. The Bambino said afterward that he decided to steal on his own because he thought it unlikely the Yankees could get consecutive hits off Alexander.
4. Brooklyn Dodgers' Mickey Owen, Game 4, 1941 World Series
Although he struggled at the plate in 1941, Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen earned his first All-Star appearance thanks to stellar defense, which included a National League record for consecutive errorless chances by a catcher. With the Dodgers one strike from knotting the World Series at two games apiece, Owen instructed relief pitcher Hugh Casey to throw a curveball to New York Yankees right fielder Tommy Henrich. The severely breaking pitch fooled not just Henrich—who swung and missed—but Owen as well.
As the pitch bounced off the heel of Owen’s glove toward the backstop, Henrich sprinted safely to first base. The Yankees took advantage of Owen’s first passed ball of the season and scored four runs on their way to a 7-4 victory.
The following day, the Ebbets Field crowd gave the Dodgers catcher a big ovation, but the Yankees won their fifth title in six years. When Owen returned to his Missouri farm for the off-season, he sold his goat herd, although he said it was “not because they reminded me of my part in the series.”
5. Los Angeles Dodgers' Willie Davis, Game 2, 1966 World Series
In the fifth inning of a scoreless game on a sun-splashed Los Angeles afternoon, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Paul Blair lifted a routine fly ball into center field. Blinded by the sun, Dodgers center fielder Willie Davis flubbed the catch. When the next Baltimore batter lifted a shallow fly to center, Davis again dropped the ball and compounded the mistake with a wild throw to third base, giving him an ignominious World Series record with three errors in an inning.
Davis later questioned the error rulings on his drops. “You can’t catch what you can’t see,” he told the media.
The blunders helped Baltimore score three runs in the inning and capture Game 2 behind a shutout performance by 20-year-old Jim Palmer. Back home, the Orioles swept the series with two more shutouts.
6. Umpire Don Denkinger, Game 6, 1985 World Series
Clinging to a 1-0 lead, the St. Louis Cardinals needed just three outs to secure their second title in four years. Kansas City Royals pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a dribbler that Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark fielded and flipped to pitcher Todd Worrell. Although the Cardinals’ relief pitcher clearly stepped on first base before the runner, umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe.
After arguing to no avail, the flustered Cardinals allowed a runner to advance on a passed ball, and Clark failed to catch a foul pop-up before Royals pinch-hitter Dane Iorg singled home two runs to win the game.
“As far as I’m concerned, we had the damned World Series won tonight,” said irate Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, whose team had been 91-0 when leading after eight innings that season. St. Louis never recovered from Denkinger’s call and lost the World Series the following night in an 11-0 blowout.
7. Boston Red Sox, Game 6, 1986 World Series
Boston first baseman Bill Buckner's error in Game 6 was one of the biggest gaffes in MLB history. But the World Series' biggest collapse was a team effort.
With two outs, the bases empty and a two-run lead over the New York Mets in the bottom of the 10th inning, Boston stood on the precipice of its first title since 1918. Having controversially lifted ace Roger Clemens after the seventh inning, Red Sox manager John McNamara allowed overworked reliever Calvin Schiraldi to pitch his third straight inning and didn’t replace the hobbled Buckner with a better defensive first baseman.
After Schiraldi surrendered three straight singles that scored one run, reliever Bob Stanley uncorked a wild pitch that plated the tying run in advance of Mookie Wilson’s roller that split Buckner’s legs to win the game. Riding the momentum of the Game 6 rally, the Mets captured Game 7 and the championship.
8. Atlanta Braves' Lonnie Smith, Game 7, 1991 World Series
With Minnesota’s Jack Morris and Atlanta’s John Smoltz locked in an epic pitcher’s duel, Braves designated hitter Lonnie Smith singled to start the top of the eighth inning of a scoreless Game 7. Terry Pendleton followed with a drive to the left-center field gap that seemed nearly certain to score the speedy Smith, who had been running on a delayed steal. The Twins’ middle infielders, however, pretended the ball was a grounder, and a confused Smith paused for several seconds at second base before seeing the ball in the outfield. He continued to third but no farther. A weak ground-out and a double play ended the Atlanta threat, and Minnesota won, 1-0, on a 10th-inning sacrifice fly as Morris went the distance for the shutout.
9. Cleveland Indians' Tony Fernandez, Game 7, 1997 World Series
Veteran second baseman Tony Fernandez’s third-inning single gave visiting Cleveland a 2-0 lead over the Florida Marlins and raised hopes for the long-suffering team’s first title since 1948. But Indians closer Jose Mesa couldn’t hold the lead in the ninth inning.
With one out and Bobby Bonilla on first base in the bottom of the 11th inning of a tied game, Marlins second baseman Craig Counsell hit a grounder to Fernandez, a four-time Gold Glove winner. The ground ball should have resulted in one—if not two—outs. The ball, however, rolled underneath Fernandez’s glove into the outfield. Bonilla continued to third on the error. Three batters later, Marlins shortstop Edgar Renteria’s liner nipped the pitcher’s glove and continued into center field for a single to win the series.
“What you do in the past does not matter. It’s what you do in your last play that matters,” Fernandez said afterward. “Tonight I was not good in my last play.”
10. New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera, Game 7, 2001 World Series
After a magical postseason run that rallied their city in the weeks following the September 11 attacks, the New York Yankees led the Arizona Diamondbacks by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7. On the verge of the team’s fourth straight title, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera surrendered a lead-off single and threw wildly into center field when the next batter attempted a sacrifice bunt. Before that, Rivera had only committed one regular-season error in his career.
Two batters later, Tony Womack doubled to tie the score. After a hit batsman, Luis Gonzalez lifted a soft liner over a drawn-in infield to score Arizona’s series-winning run. It was the first blown save for Rivera in the World Series.