The Worst Decisions in Sports History
The daily grind of a sportsman is clouded by constant decision-making. Every routine choice can lead to the best of times or the worst of times for a franchise and its city. It truly is a tale of two cities.
To do or not to do?
That is the question facing competitors who are clawing for that extra edge or judges hoping to be perfect. Each faces a unique battle. Refereeing a game can be ruthless, trading a superstar can be heartbreaking, failing in the draft can be tarnishing.
These are the fears behind every decision.
While there's no limit to what kind of decisions can become permanently entrenched in sports infamy, we're excluding poor single draft-choice decisions because of their uncertainty.
In reality, we could dwell on the art of choosing future stars endlessly. Sorry folks, you won't be seeing the choice of Sam Bowie over God in 1984 on this list (the Trail Blazers had drafted Clyde "The Glide" Drexler the year before).
Let's see who truly made the worst decisions in sports history.
20. Babe Ruth Attempts Robbery
Image via yankeeanalysts.com
Babe Ruth was light years ahead of the game he popularized, until it caught up with him at the worst possible moment.
With the Yanks down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, two outs, the 1926 World Series on the line, Ruth came up to the plate. Luckily for the Cardinals, the bulbous slugger walked. But with Bob Meusel at the plate, Ruth decided to catch everyone off guard and steal second base.
Turned out the only one being caught was the slugger himself, who was thrown out for the third out after Meusel's swing and miss. Cardinals take the title.
19. Chris Webber Calls Timeout
No timeouts left? No problem for Michigan's Chris Webber back in 1993.
Before we even detail the lack of awareness, let's note that the star Wolverine traveled before even taking the ball up the court. Oh, the karma.
The '93 NCAA championship game saw UNC and Michigan scratch and claw for that last-second victory. But with the Tar Heels leading by two and 11 seconds on the clock, Webber made the biggest mistake of his basketball career, calling a timeout with none remaining.
Technical foul. Michigan eventually loses 77-71.
18. Disco Demolition Night
Shortly after popular Chi-town disc jockey Steve Dahl was released from a local radio station when they switched from rock to disco format, he was hired by a rival rock station and ready to make a mockery of the new disco fad. He, new broadcast partner Garry Meier and Mike Veeck (son of then-White Sox owner Bill Veeck) soon planned a unique baseball promotion.
Chicago fans were offered the chance to bring their unwanted disco LPs to the twi-night doubleheader on July 12, 1979 for an admission fee of 98 cents (station's channel was 97.9). These records would then be blown to smithereens in center field. But early excitement became pure chaos as fans flooded the field.
"The second that first guy shimmied down the outfield wall, I knew my life was over," said Veeck. Six people reported minor injuries and 36 were arrested, while young Veeck was blacklisted from the majors.
17. Grady Little Votes for Pedro
Image via soxspacenews.com
Fans seem to forget that former manager Grady Little won 188 games in his two seasons with the Red Sox, Boston nearly taking the pennant in 2003. They do remember his infamous decision during Game 7 of the '03 ALCS.
Leading 5-3 in the eighth inning with ace Pedro Martinez at a crossroads on the mound, five outs away from reaching the World Series, Little made perhaps the biggest mistake of his career.
After three straight hits (including a run from Derek Jeter), Little visited the mound with the intent of replacing his exhausted star hurler. But he decided to leave Martinez in.
The Yanks would tie the game and eventually win on an Aaron Boone home run in the 11th.
16. Jamie Salé's Skating Scandal
Image via sports.ca.msn.com
Judges are rarely perfect, but this '02 skating fiasco reeked of corruption.
It was at the Salt Lake City Olympics where Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier skated an immaculate free program, yet lost the gold to Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, who were not quite as flawless.
Pundits were shocked, commentators speechless. French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne eventually admitted to being pressured by the head of the French skating union, Didier Gailhaguet, to side with the Russians regardless of performance.
The Canadians were eventually given a share of the gold, and the French officials were suspended for three years.
15. Irwindale Gives Al Davis $10 Million
Image via washingtonpost.com
It was Al Davis' legendary savvy, or perhaps selfish rebelliousness, that helped him earn respect and millions of dollars.
In August of 1987, the Raiders owner was planning to relocate his franchise. The new landing site would be 1,100-person Irwindale, Calif., in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County. They agreed to build a $115 million stadium for the Black and Silver.
But like the crafty businessman he was, Davis wanted a pre-deal signing fee of $10 million, regardless of whether the deal went through or not. The deal naturally crumbled, and Davis took his Raiders to Oakland, $10 million richer.
14. The Kardumphries Marriage
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
For potent NBA forward Kris Humphries, one question remains: Was fame worth the price of respect?
He was once an unknown reserve sprinting up and down the professional hardwood. After his 72-day marriage to socialite Kim Kardashian, however, Humphries is recognized more as a reality-show pariah than he is a solid basketball player.
But in Humphries' case, perhaps any publicity is good publicity. He has to be pleased that Kanye West didn't have Jay-Z "drop him from the team."
13. The Great Train Robbery
Image via totalprosports.com
More like the freight train robbery, this '89 exchange of futures was of monstrous proportions and had franchise-altering results.
The largest player trade in NFL history (18 players and draft picks) featured bruising tailback Herschel Walker going to Minnesota and a boatload of future picks and several players going to Dallas.
However, two of the picks traded to the Cowboys were eventually used on Hall of Fame tailback Emmitt Smith and perennial Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson, who would both help shape the Cowboys dynasty of the '90s.
12. Moment of Silence at the London Olympics
Image via csmonitor.com
When the International Olympic Committee refused ubiquitous requests from leaders (including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and leaders of Canada, Australia, Israel and Germany) and families to honor the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics with a moment of silence, the world was shocked and confused.
Instead, the IOC decided to hold a moment of silence for the 52 people killed in the suicide bombings in the London transit system the day after the city won the Games in 2005 during the Opening Ceremony. As USA Today's Christine Brennan put it, "Talk about a slap in the face."
No incident takes precedence over the other, but the fact that the one involving actual Olympians wasn't considered leaves us with a bad taste.
11. Zinedine Zidane Uses His Head
The 2006 World Cup final began in brilliant fashion for the legendary French midfielder, as his penalty score seven minutes in made him only the fourth player in World Cup history to score in two different finals.
But things quickly spiraled for Zinedine Zidane.
In the 110th minute of the game, Zidane was sent off the pitch after headbutting the instigating Marco Materazzi because of "very serious" insults. Italy would eventually win the shootout 5-3, with France wondering what could have been.
10. Michael Jordan Becomes an Owner
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
He was the ideal basketball player, almost perfect on the hardwood with a rock in his hands. But when it comes to judging talent and building a winner, Michael Jordan has become the face of failure.
Long before his Bobcats transformed into a .106 club and statistically the worst team in the 65-year history of the NBA, Air Jordan was making mistakes. Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison, even rookie coach Mike Dunlap.
Rather than ride into the sunset on top, Jordan has embarked on a march of folly.
9. New York Mets Trade Nolan Ryan
Image via nytimes.com
Similar to the Curse of the Bambino, Nolan Ryan's December 10, 1971 departure is credited with denying the Mets a no-hitter for 40 years.
At the time of this horrendous trade, Ryan was a fireballing phenom with a 29-38 record and a 3.58 ERA in five Metropolitan seasons. Jim Fregosi was a six-time All-Star shortstop with a Gold Glove to his name. Ryan wanted out; the impatient Mets wanted to win now.
An exchange seemed perfect.
In the end, injuries and struggles would derail Fregosi's tenure at the New York hot corner, while Ryan would toss seven no-hitters and become a generational legend. Interestingly, Steve Phillips was not the brainchild behind this historic disaster; in fact, he was only eight years old.
8. Tiger Woods Becomes a Bachelor
Image via guardian.co.uk
With the sporting world's most epic plunge, Tiger Woods fell from beloved sports hero to disrespected mortal. The preternatural golfer who was as cool, calm and collected as they come on the green completely tarnished his marriage and reputation when he cheated on model-wife Elin Nordegren with a triple-digit number of women.
But we're done scrutinizing his numbers; it was Woods' fall from grace that truly headlined this catastrophe. He continues to fight his way back.
7. Miracle at the Meadowlands I and II
All those watching the November 19, 1978, battle between the Giants and Eagles expected a kneel-down with seconds remaining, New York leading 17-12 and Philly bereft of timeouts. But quarterback Joe Pisarcik was asked to hand the rock off to fullback Larry Csonka instead.
They botched the exchange, and Philly corner Herman "You play to win the game" Edwards picked the fumble up and sprinted 26 yards for the winning score. The Eagles defeated the Giants 19-17 in disastrous fashion.
The learning curve was minimal, as the Giants would face another Philly miracle in 2010. After leading by 21 points with fewer than eight minutes left in the fourth, Big Blue allowed the Birds to score four unanswered touchdowns, none more heartbreaking than the clock-expiring punt return by DeSean Jackson.
Asked to kick the ball out of bounds, rookie punter Matt Dodge did the only reasonable thing and kicked a line drive directly to Jackson, who became the first player in NFL history to achieve a walk-off punt-return touchdown. Dodge was soon released and still remains a free agent.
6. LeBron James' Decision
Fittingly dubbed "The Decision," LeBron James' 2010, 75-minute ESPN special had Cleveland, Chicago and New York fans tossing fragile pottery and burning No. 23 jerseys, and the rest of the world shaking their heads.
As the most physically talented baller currently gracing the hardwood, James could've joined the Bulls or even the Knicks and had both cities suckling at his receding hairline. Miami may have given him the best chance to win, as he so eloquently stated, but it was the easy way out.
When it's all said and done, we may ironically see "The King" back in a Cavaliers uniform. The question remains, can he still be considered a legend when he's finished?
Steve Carell's decision was far more scrutinized.
5. Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley
It was the ruling heard 'round the world. The indestructible Pac-Man was defeated by Timothy Bradley despite pure Pacquiao domination.
During their bout for the WBO Welterweight title, Pacquiao and Bradley exchanged ferocious combos, with the Filipino marauder laying the true crunches. In the end, a shocked Pacquiao and his loyal fans couldn't believe their ears. The judges gave Bradley the split-decision victory with scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 113-115, marking Pac-Man's first defeat since '05.
With controversy clouding the fight's result, five judges were asked to review the bout. They scored 118-110, 117-111, 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113 in Pacquiao's favor. A huge dent was carved into the boxing industry on that night.
4. The Heidi Game
Perhaps the most exciting regular-season game you never saw took place on November 17, 1968.
With a three-hour time slot for the Raiders-Jets game seeming adequate, NBC prepared to air the film Heidi (tale of a young girl in the Swiss Alps, yawn) at seven o'clock following the game. Due to injuries and penalty calls between the heated rivals, the game carried beyond the expected time.
Because of an influx of concerned viewers calling in to request that the game remain on, the switchboards burned out and changes couldn't be made. So, with one minute remaining, the switch was made, with the Jets leading 32-29 at the time.
Oakland would score two touchdowns in the final minute to win 43-32.
3. Having Roseanne Barr Sing the National Anthem
All blame for this heinous rendition of the national anthem needs to be placed on the Padres, not Roseanne Barr. What did they expect?
A "comedian" who made her living off being a vile disgrace—and who was eventually beloved for it—shouldn't be expected to suddenly act like an eloquent patriot. Right?
Her grab and spit was quite the belligerent icing on the cake.
2. Roy Jones Jr. vs. Park Si-Hun
The 1988 Seoul Olympics featured an epic storyline. American pugilist Roy Jones Jr. hadn't lost a single round on his road to the final; his dominance was snowballing (in a good way).
The greatness only continued, as Jones landed 86 punches against South Korea's Park Si-Hun (who poked only 32) in the final, victory seemingly on the horizon. But the judges felt differently, awarding Si-Hun the win, 3-2.
After the fight, Si-Hun allegedly apologized to Jones, and two of the three officials in the fight were banned for life, while admitting they failed. A new scoring system for Olympic boxing was soon instituted.
1. Selling Babe Ruth
Image via sportsillustrated.cnn.com
After winning three World Series titles with the Sawx, blossoming great Babe Ruth demanded a doubling of his salary. But owner Harry Frazee, stripped of cash at the time, decided to shop his iconic ballplayer instead.
On Dec. 26, the championship-less Yankees, basement dwellers at the time, agreed to give Boston $125,000 in cash, three annual payments of $25,000 and Frazee himself a loan of $300,000.
Boston wouldn't win another championship for 86 years, while the Pinstripes would secure 27 (four with Ruth). History was made forever.
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