I vividly remember cursing Eric Gregg’s name repeatedly while watching that event live. Those strikes were as ridiculous then as they are now, and represent some of the worst umpiring I’ve ever witnessed.
Maybe that was the reason the Marlins beat the Braves. Maybe that was *a* reason the Marlins beat the Braves.
Of course it’s *a* reason the Marlins beat the Braves. Another reason is that the Marlins lineup was full of major league hitters. If the Marlins lineup was comprised of myself, Jeff and other fangraphs commenters, the Braves would have certainly won.
I’m not even going to read this because of the title. Maddux was getting calls all night too. Get over it Braves fans. Its been 15 years. 1997 World Series Champions. And by the way, its not like you guys dont get calls. (though that infield fly rule was pretty bad)
do you suppose the lamp played a role in skewing Gregg’s strike zone? It is off to the side where all the balls in question were called strikes, I wouldn’t be shocked if the light distracted Gregg and made it more difficult for him to make those outside pitch calls
Cannot believe those calls! I remembered them as being bad, but those gifs are even worse than I thought.
Completely irresponsible umpiring, and it should have called into question his basic integrity. He should have been penalized, as Cuzzi should have been in 2009. If baseball had never tolerated this sort of thing, umpires would have taken the necessary steps to avoid egregious calls. Instead we have umps wedging their personalities into games (Joe West might be the worst, currently). I generally don’t espouse a zero-tolerance approach, but it works for things like this, as it largely did for gambling in baseball.
Cuzzi should have been fired, frankly. There is no way that call was missed on accident. It’s impossible for a high school umpire, let alone one in the Major Leagues:
I really would like to rewatch this game in it’s entirety, to see if Maddux really was getting similar calls. I honestly can’t remember, and being 15 at the time, probably wasn’t super rational about the whole thing though. To me the enduring image of that game is Fred McGriff striking out looking to end the game, on a pitch that at the time appeared to be about 2 feet off the plate. I THINK that’s the last 2 gifs shown above, but can’t be sure.
There is one thing I can see above that I didn’t recall from way back then. Charles Johnson does an AWESOME job of framing pitches, even on pitches that appear to be way off the mark. Great work by him on every pitch shown above.
I think that even given the Livan/lefty strike caveats, the zone was still pretty bad given that I’ve watched many hundreds of baseball games, and generally any one of those pitches would be a strong candidate for worst call of the game. In this game, they seemed to have been more or less the norm. We might not have pitchFX, we might not know what Maddux’s zone looked like, but we can say that Gregg’s zone for Hernandez was epically, catestrophically bad.
[I say all this as a Yankee fan who generally likes to revel in the ineptness of the Braves, but I don’t think you can put this game on the Atlanta players when the strike zone is that egregious.]
Also worth noting: 2 years later, after the Umpire “strike” occurred (not technically a strike, but a “mass resignation”), most of the umpires were eventually given their jobs back. Eric Gregg was not among those umpires that returned to work.
Such a refreshing statement, since Greg Maddux wasn’t mentioned in the article at all. Bravo sir, for accurately commenting on something you decided not to read.
Comment by El Vigilante — January 17, 2013 @ 4:38 pm
I know all about the camera angle problem, but I don’t know how reliable that TV thing is – Kzone? But if it’s even remotely accurate, some of those pitches were almost as far outside the strike zone as the strike zone is wide. Call it 14-15 inches outside of a 17 inch wide plate? I remember this game very well (and I wasn’t just 15, either). I remember that the calls were really astonishing, but I did not remember them being as far outside as those GIFs show.
A big second to the point about Charles Johnson. He frames them beautifully, hardly moving. It seems to me that his work might be the real story here.
Comment by Roger Turner — January 17, 2013 @ 4:57 pm
I agree. Jeff placed too much emphasis on the caveats; what’s remarkable about this game is how mind-bogglingly wide the strike zone was even after adjusting for Livan and the lefty zone. It’s worth remembering that the off-center camera angle makes the strikes look BETTER than they actually were. The first .gif, in particular, I found absolutely jaw-dropping.
If we had a complete recording of the broadcast of this game, I’d be curious to see how consistent Gregg’s strike zone was. For instance, did he also call several balls on pitches inside the strike zone? Or did he just have an absurdly wide, but well-defined, zone? What did it look like versus righties? How did his zone for Maddux compare? It’s so cool that we can answer these questions so easily in the PITCHf/x era, but it makes it kind of frustrating to look at an old game like this one and only be able to speculate.
You’re really, really overstating the effect of framing. The worst of those are at least 12 inches off the plate. The effect of framing on pitches like that should be non-existent. You can make it appear to be 8 inches off the plate, maybe, and that’s still a ball in the game of baseball, which has a rule book.
Incidentally, I don’t see it as relevant whatsoever how much Maddux exploited the strike zone that game. Pitches off the plate are not supposed to be strikes.
Of course, we tolerate near misses here and there. We shouldn’t tolerate it in a linear way, however, where we bring framing into it. A pitch 12 inches off the plate called a strike is not a call that’s 6 times as bad as one called 2 inches off the plate. It’s a call that is 100 times as bad, and it should therefore be so rare that it never occurs.
Yes, Gregg was targeted by MLB to not be invited back along with a few others who proved their incompetence. MLB used the mass resignation as a way to eliminate the crappy umpires and replace them with guys who could actually do the job.
The story I heard is that Gregg was actually hung over and was suffering in the oppressive south Florida heat. A trick from the 50’s and 60’s is for catchers to use this to their advantage to frame the pitches they want called strikes. According to the story, Johnson milked it for all it was worth and Gregg was his patsy.
I’ve watched thousands of MLB games at this point and it is still the worst-called game I’ve ever seen. Considering it was a playoff game, MLB should have immediately suspended Gregg and started an investigation. Maddux was getting some calls too, but Livan was practically a rookie getting the largest strike zone in the history of the sport.
Comment by Phantom Stranger — January 17, 2013 @ 6:03 pm
You are a funny man, sir. I was like what in the world is he talking about, without going back and looking at the gifs.
The last pitch of the game was so far outside Johnson was throwing the ball back when Gregg call strike three to end the game. When the catcher doesn’t even believe it was a strike you know the zone is awful.
This is the game that should have gotten Eric Gregg fired. Fortunately, mlb made up for it a couple years later. There has never been near enough scrutiny or consequences for bad umpires. Gregg took it upon himself to alter the game, an extremely important postseason game, and he should have been terminated immediately after that game.
Its stuff like this that makes me realize that it is all about the money. There’s no way that Gregg called that strikezone remotely close to fair…yet was able to continue to call games for the rest of his short life. Its obvious that there was heavy money on the Marlins and Gregg received a piece of it. And the fact that there was no criminal investigation on something this blatantly obvious is the icing on the cake. The Marlins shouldve been disqualified from the playoffs and Gregg put in prison for this abortion of a game.
Comment by vivalajeter — January 17, 2013 @ 10:54 pm
Comment by Chris Rose — January 17, 2013 @ 11:20 pm
I love the way Hernandez reacts after the last called strike, as though he accomplished something great.
“What a great pitch, Livan! You earned that!”
Few things must be as frustrating as watching a pitcher celebrate a bad pitch, knowing you, the batter, were penalized for doing your job correctly. By the way, I’m a Yankee fan, and this situation still upsets me (always will).
That large number 16 in the corner was the real problem.
Comment by Eric Gregg — January 18, 2013 @ 1:13 am
Those videos are great. I have long been in favor of as computerized an umpiring system as possible. Whether the pitch crosses the plate or not is more objective a judgment than whether it is vertically a strike. So let’s have some laser- or shadow-based system that automatically negates any erronerous strike call that does not cross the plate.
I think that, by 1997, telecasts were doing top-down replays of contested pitches and checked swings. I recall seeing some outrageous ones from that game. If you could get your hands on the full inning I think you’d have some better GIFs.
Comment by Hanging Chad Ogea — January 18, 2013 @ 6:45 am
It’s been 15 years … can’t remember where I heard it.
Here is Eric Gregg talking about how his serious alcohol problem contributed to his serious weight problem.
I know what the problem is. I used to tell them, `Hey, I’ve only had one sandwich all day.’ And they’d say, `Yeah, but you had seven or eight beers.’
You simply can’t have four or five beers after a ballgame. You can’t go out with the guys to dinner and drink wine.
Some guys can do it, big guys can’t. I learned that much. Alcohol slows your metabolism down. It won’t let you burn up the calories.
No more tossing a couple of beers in the (duffel) bag for the trip home. No more beer in the fridge at home.
It’s the road that’s tough. You get a little lonely. You’re tired. There’s the pressures of the job.
But now, every time I’m tempted, I’m gonna think about what I had to do to get my job back.
Comment by CircleChange11 — January 18, 2013 @ 11:03 am
Agreed, it was *a* reason among many. The first statement (that it was *the* reason) is false. There are simply too many factors at play to reduce everything to one cause. (i.e., just as you said, if the FanGraphs readership were the Marlins’ lineup, or even the Marlins’ pitching staff for that matter and were given the Livan/Gregg strike zone to work with, we would have lost 58-2.)
“Its obvious that there was heavy money on the Marlins and Gregg received a piece of it.”
Agreed. Also the moon landing was faked!!
Let’s scale back the groundless accusations unless we have some shred of evidence to support them, mmmk?
Comment by Aluminum foil helmets brigade — January 18, 2013 @ 11:36 am
To him, he won the most important game of his career. Whether or not the pitches were actually legit strikes doesn’t change the emotional high Livan was riding when that call was made. I see no reason to ride Livan for that when the real problem was clearly the idiot umpire.
One thing that wasn’t mentioned is that during this era, it was quite common for the strike zone to be “wider” and “flatter”. This went on for a while years until MLB told umps they needed to start calling high strikes again,I believe in 2001. For several years in the 90’s anything over the belt was a ball, and to make up for it, the zone crept several inches off the plate.
Now, was this game a pretty bad example of even the “accepted” strike zone of the era? Yes, I think so.
But you can’t compare it to the zone we’ve had since QuesTec either.
Like I have always said, that performance was “Naked Gun Bad”.
Particularly the outside curveballs. Those aren;t even close.
I can understand a RHP getting some leeway on a running 2-seamer versus a LHB when the ump is sitting up on the inside corner. But geez, many of those pitches were horrible.
As for Gregg saying that none of the batters were throwing their helmets, etc as if no one was dismayed with his zone … check out their expressions as they look back at him. Jones and McGriff are classic. They couldn’t reach some of those pitches even if they were swinging a rake.
All that was missing from some of those pitches was Gregg doing the moonwalk and doing a 360 landing into a perfect split. Steeeee—riiii—iiii—iii—iii—-iiiike.
Comment by CircleChange11 — January 18, 2013 @ 2:31 pm
Seriously, check out the “frame job” my Johnson on McGriff, Lofton, and McGriff again …. it’s terrible. Unsmoothly pulling the ball back toward the center of his body 6-8 inches. Again, not all that smoothly either. One pitch he didn’t even bother framing, yet was still called a strike.
Some of these would actually be LOL funny if the game wasn’t such a high profile and important game.
IIRC, correctly shortly after this during an umpire “strike” many of the umpires (perhaps all) submitted resignations … and MLB gladly accepted Eric Gregg’s and when the “strike” was over, they continued to honor Gregg’s resignation (if I recall all that correctly).
Comment by CircleChange11 — January 18, 2013 @ 2:37 pm
Yes. Although it was in 1999 that Alderson mandated that umpires start calling the rulebook strikezone. This ultimately culminated in the idiot Richie Phillips’ call for the umpires to resign “en-masse” on September 2 1999.
We can tie some of the increase in HR during the “steroid era” to the changes in the strikezone, as wider flatter zones benefit mediocre pitchers preferentially.
This was my thought too. There was some classic pitch framing happening here. His head never moved and the catch was a very quick slide back towards the plate.
We don’t know if Maddux was getting the same strike zone and neither do we know what sort of pitch framing the Braves catcher was providing. That is, Maddux might have been putting the pitches out there too, but if the Atlanta catcher was moving around too much, Gregg wasn’t going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
This does not absolve Gregg from getting those calls wrong though, but the difference in framing might explain the difference in strike calls between the two pitchers.
I was at game 5 sitting directly behind home plate. I couldnt see but a piece of the batter much less the catcher. I would see the ball appear to the right and left of Eric Gregg and he would call them strikes.
Quit trying to defend Rerun. He was one of the worst umpires to ever work an MLB game. If Richie Phillips had not threatened Chub Feeney, Bill White and Leonard Coleman all those years, Rerun would never have sniffed the postseason. But since Phillips claimed every umpire was “the greatest on earth”, Rerun got to work.
Rerun should have been fired during the 1979 strike. That would have sent a message. But no, they let Rerun continue to fuck up. REALLY FUCK UP.
You can’t be serious. The Braves had 4 left handed batters in the lineup, 6 if you include the switch hitters against the righty Hernandez. The Marlins had right handed hitters and three switch hitters. The strike zone went against lefty hitters of which the Braves had way more. Face facts, the strike zone was one that no hitter could get a decent hit off a bat. It was a terribly called game period. Stop with the excuses.
Tim McCarver was doing color commentary on this game, which I watched as a 37 year old. HE was appalled, and for years afterward, whenever he saw a wild pitch that the catcher managed to snare, he would declare: “If Eric Gregg is watching this game, then he’s saying ‘That’s a strike!'”. McCarver REALLY hated Gregg’s performance in that game. I imagine he’s stopped now that Gregg is dead.
Comment by usertron2020 — March 6, 2014 @ 12:49 pm
Bad managing from Cox, should have sent righties to get HBP
It was one bad pitch choice that turned the series around. You could just as easily say that Leyritz was hopped up on steroids that year, but neither of those are the direct cause of the Yankees winning the series.
I watched baseball that season. A lot. None of Maddux or Glavine’s outside pitches (which were granted for a maximum of 6 inches outside because they had established their ability to hit those zones when they wanted to) looked anything like Hernandez’s foot outside pitches which were miraculously called in his first year playing and made his strikeouts +4 over his career best.I’m over it. That was a terribly called game though (I watched it and was disgusted.)
I think the video pretty much shows how bad this strike zone was. It was legendary. But at least it happened against the Braves and the pitching staff that benefitted from more balls being strikes than anybody.
And really, even if Maddux was getting the same calls–which he wasn’t, at least to that level–does it really matter? That game was a farce and can’t even be taken seriously. It’s not a game of baseball when pitches that cannot be hit are being called strikes.
I also think some good evidence comes from Charles Johnson in the Livan and Orlando Hernandez 30 for 30. Johnson acknowledged the wide strike zone, specifically ran to the mound to tell Livan to throw the ball outside, and seemed legitimately incredulous about the strike zone now more than 15 years later.
The strike zone proved terrible and far wider than the one that the Braves’ pitchers generally received (which was basically the same as everyone else’s, especially that of other good pitchers, only the finesse-based Atlanta hurlers exploited it more).
The difference in the game was that the Braves’ first six hitters were all left-handed (seemingly a good idea against the right-handed Hernandez), whereas only three of Florida’s nine hitters were left-handed. That’s what made the difference, highlighting the randomness of the postseason.