Hello, Blitzers, and welcome to a very special edition of, “Shots with MZE.” We saw two great NFL conference championship games fuelled in large part by atrocious officiating. The AFC tilt saw a roughing the passer penalty called on the Chiefs for, horror of horrors, touching Tom Brady on the shoulder! (I know Gisele is a jealous wife but this is a bit extreme). That penalty was nothing compared to what went down in the Big Easy. By now you've probably all seen the replay of Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman running through Saints WR TommyLee Lewis the way bad Thai food runs through your colon. The pass interference penalty should have set the Saints up to put the game away with a field goal, sending them to the Super Bowl. Thing is, no call was made. The Rams got the ball back, tied the game in regulation, and after Drew Brees threw an overtime interception, Greg Zuerlein finished off the comeback with a 57-yard field goal. “Who Dat” nation began screaming, “What the Hell was Dat?”
An uproar for NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, to invoke Rule 17, Section 2, Article 3, to have the game resumed from the point of the missed penalty. Saints faithful can file lawsuits and erect as many billboards as they want, but know that even though the rule exists - it has never been used before - in the history of the NFL. Still it got me to thinking about another sport where protesting has actually worked a few times in the past. I present to you three examples in Major League Baseball where a protest was made and upheld.
St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies
August 1, 1971
The Cardinals entered this day eight games out of first place in the N.L. East with the Phillies being all but done at 21.0 games out (ah the simple days of baseball divisions when each league had just two). The game was played at the Veterans Stadium, the Phillies brand new home at the time. Through nine innings the score was tied at three. In the top half of the 12th the Cardinals had runners on the corners with none out when the rains led to a one hour, 49 minute delay. Conditions were a mess but play continued. The Cardinals pushed three runs across before play was stopped again. They were 31 minutes into the delay when the rain removal machine broke down and the field could not be made playable. Under the rules the entire top half of the inning should have been wiped out and replayed. The Cardinals would have none of it and protested.
The protest was upheld and the game resumed on September 7th. The last-place Phillies mustered up some pride and in the bottom of the 12th scored three runs of their own to keep the game going. Why? You’re in last place. Just take your three outs and go drink some beers. Thankfully the game would last just one more inning as the Cardinals scored three more times in the 13th to finally outlast the Phillies, 9-6.
Houston Astros v New York Mets
August 21, 1979
Talk about insanity for no apparent reason. The Mets were cruising 5-0 in their home game against the Astros. Houston was clinging to a 2 ½ game lead in the N.L. West while the Mets were holding up the N.L. East from the bottom, 20 games out of first place. On this night, the two teams looked like they’d switched places. The Mets pushed across a single run in the second inning with a pair in each of the 4th and 5th innings. Meanwhile starting pitcher, Pete Falcone, was cruising. He’d allowed four hits in 8 2/3 innings. He induced Jeffrey Leonard to pop out to center field. Game over, right? Wrong. Mets shortstop, Frank Taveras, had called for a time out prior to the pitch. Now for some reason it took a while to determine this so the Mets had already left the field and had to be called back. This time Leonard singled to center field…with only eight Mets on defense. Ed Kranepool, Mets first baseman, hadn’t made it to the field on time.
Mets manager, Joe Torre, argued that the game couldn’t resume with eight men on the field. The umpires agreed with Torre and Leonard was brought back to the plate for a third time. Now it was Astros manager, Bill Virdon’s, chance to talk. He wanted all pitches thrown to Leonard while Kranepool was off the field wiped out with the count going back to 0-0. The umpires would have none of it. Virdon protested and after, Leonard flied out to left field ending the game…not! Virdon’s protest was upheld by National League President, Chubb Feeney, and Leonard was given back his single. The game would resume the following night with two outs and Leonard on first. Jose Cruz was the first batter after the protest and would ground out to second base finally ending the game. Poor Pete Falcone. His own two teammates cost him a complete game shutout in an otherwise miserable year.
Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
July 24, 1983
The Royals/Yankees rivalry in the 70s and 80s was a big deal. The two teams were regular combatants in the playoffs. On this July day the Yankees found themselves only two games out of first place in the American League East while the Royals were two out in the American League West. The Yankees carried a 4-3 lead into the top half of the 9th inning. Billy Martin elected to let Dale Murray try finishing off the win. He recorded the first two outs before allowing a single to shortstop, U.L. Washington. With future Hall of Famer, George Brett, due up next, Martin went to his own future Hall of Famer, Rich “Goose” Gossage, to close out the win. Gossage delivered a fastball that Brett hammered over the right field wall at Yankee Stadium and the Royals had a 5-4 lead…temporarily. Yankees third baseman held an ace up his sleeve. He had noticed that the pine tar on Brett’s bat had crept a little too far up the barrel of his bat.
The umpires gathered with home plate umpire, Tim McClelland, placing the bat against home plate to measure the pine tar. There was no question that it was well above league rules. McClelland pointed to the Royals bench and signaled out. Yankees Third Baseman, Greg Nettles, proud of himself, pounded a fist into his glove as the Yankees had seemingly stole a 4-3 win. In one of the most memorable scenes in my lifetime, Brett went bat shit crazy and came flying off the Royals bench, spewing tobacco spit like venom (see: low resolution pic above). The Royals immediately protested the result and the league relented. The game would resume on August 18th with the Royals back ahead, 5-4. Billy Martin held his own private protest. He played the left-handed Don Mattingly at second base (for those who don’t follow baseball this isn’t just highly unusual, it’s unheard of), and pitcher, Ron Guidry, in center field. Martin then had George Frazier, who in the resumed game had replaced Gossage on the mound, appeal that Brett missed first and second base. Someone in the league offices must have gotten wind of this plan as a notarized letter was handed to Martin stating that Brett and U.L. Washington had touched all bases back on July 24th. The Yankees would go down without a threat in the bottom of the 9th and the Royals would finally get their pine-tar aided win.
So, even though the prospect of a reversal in New Orleans looks bleak, there is precedent of protests working in other pro sports leagues. So don't lose faith, Who Dat Nation. You never know.
There you have our first ever “Shots with MZE” crossover post. What do you think? Should we see more protests in the NFL? I’m sure Roger Goodell would just love that.
Until next time, put your name on your red Solo cup so nobody takes it, don’t let anyone interfere with your ability to grab a cold one, and if you must protest do it to make Tom Brady’s retirement after this season mandatory.
Please read the blogs of my colleagues while you’re here. They do amazing work.
Yours in football,
Mike Zimmers Ears is a Minnesota Vikings fan and regular contributor on Blitzed. He also hosts his own Vikings podcast Sound the Gjallahorn.