The Larry Barnett Call

[Get Exclusive Tips on our Patreon, Ad-Free

Larry Barnett is a former umpire of the American League (baseball). His career spanned for 30 years between 1969 and 1999. After retiring as a referee, he become the major leagues’ supervisor of umpires from 2000 to 2001. Barnett is famous for a single controversial call – or more like lack thereof – which happened in 1975 during the World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. The call is heavily debated till this day by the experts and fans alike.

Game 3 of the infamous 1975 World Series

The Reds and the Red Sox were at 1-1 going into the third match which took place at the Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The infamous call happened during the 10th inning of the game. Barnett was behind the home plate when Cincinnati hitter Ed Armbrister laid down what they call a sacrifice bunt. This happens when the player is intentionally bunting the ball before there could be two outs. In doing so, they can advance to another base. This opens up various tactical possibilities for the team opting to do the maneuver.

The batter is sacrificed in the vast majority of the cases but sometimes they can reach the base because of an error or as a result of the fielder’s choice. This happens when the fielder attempts to put out another baserunner. In this particular play during game 3 of the 1975 World Series, Armbrister collided with Carlton Fisk, an opposing player trying to field the ball. Because of that collision, Fisk muffed the throw, resulting in the winning run by Cincinnati.

The Backlash

The reason why this lack of call got so much publicity was its impact. If the opposing team wouldn’t have scored, the decision is likely forgotten. This was not what happened, as it turned out to be a decision that basically decided the game. The call came down to one person and one person only, Barnett, who – despite Boston’s pleas – failed to make this decision and call an interference.

This choice was instantly criticized on live television by NBC broadcaster Curt Gowdy. A former Red Sox announcer, Gowdy was so harsh in his criticism that the company had no other choice but to drop him from its baseball coverage. In addition to being biased on live television, he also failed to use the insight he got from the producers.

The NBC had a radio producer who happened to be a Triple-A fill-in umpire, and they have given Gowdy their interpretation of what happened. The announcer simply ignored that interpretation, continuing to criticize the umpire for failing to make the call. That criticism likely made matters worse, according to Barnett resulting in death threats against him. The game left a big impact but the MLB (Major League Baseball) has never admitted to any error.

In their interpretation the call was correct, in fact they regularly teach new umpires by showing them the footage of the game, urging them to make the same call if a similar situation happens. The relevant rule called Rule 7.09(l) says: “a catcher trying to field a batter ball that remains in the immediate vicinity of the plate cannot be protected because of the right of the batter-runner to begin his advance to first. Barring an international action on the part of either player, contact in this instance is incidental, and is not interference”.

The Legacy of the Call

The call remains a controversial one among the fans, often being mentioned amid the biggest botched calls in American sports history. Bostonians are overly critical towards Barnett, who even mentioned this during the 1986 World Series, saying: “You won’t find many people in Boston who believe it was the right call”. Interestingly, a similarly controversial play involving Barnett took place during the 1996 American League Championship Series in 1996.

The game later became known as the “Jeffrey Maier game”. An 11-year-old spectator reached over the wall, trying to catch Derek Jeter’s fly ball. With Barnett once again behind the plate, it was the right field umpire, Rich Garcia, who made the controversial call, signaling a home run. Garcia later admitted that it was likely a botched call.