10/09/2003 1:18 AM ET
Walker hits controversial homer
Fans disagree with umps on Walker's home run
Todd Walker's HR: 56K | 300K
By Jim Street / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- What you see isn't always what you think you saw.
That was the conclusion reached by several fans sitting in section 27 at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night when Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker hit a baseball directly at them. The ball either hit the right-field foul pole for a home run or caromed off a teenager's bare hand on the foul side of the pole and dropped straight down.
The overwhelming majority insisted that the ball hit the kid's hand, and therefore was a foul ball.
Angel Hernandez, the right field umpire, immediately called the ball foul. First base umpire Terry Craft agreed. But Tim McClelland, the home plate umpire and crew chief, overruled his colleagues and determined that the ball hit the yellow pole and was a home run.
The home run gave the Red Sox a three-run lead and Boston went on to beat the Yankees, 5-2, in Game 1 of the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.
"It definitely was foul by several inches," said Bob Horvath, sitting in the third row, two rows higher then the kid, who stuck around for a few minutes to talk about it and then departed to points unknown. "He put his hand out, on the foul side of the pole, and the ball hit his hand, not the pole."
The Yankee fans in the area were pleased with the first call, but not at all thrilled with the reversal.
"That's what amazed us," said Russ Prodsay, sitting in the seat next to Horvath, roughly 10 feet away from where the kid was sitting. "The right field ump called it foul and he had the best view of the play. Isn't that why they have him out there?"
Walker, who tied a club postseason record with his fourth home run during this magic carpet ride, was on his way back to the plate when he suddenly turned around and ran around the bases.
"My eyes are not that good," said Walker. "I knew it was close, but I didn't see the ball ricochet off the pole. The umpire down the right-field line called it foul and I just stood there. McClelland obviously has better eyes than anybody on the field, including myself.
"I think we are very fortunate that we had an umpire like McClelland who saw the play because I think that was a big run."
McClelland later admitted that he did not follow proper procedure in making the call, because he made the call before conferring with the other umpires, but that he was certain his decision was correct.
"Procedurally, I didn't handle it 100 percent right," McClelland told the New York Post. "But I'm sure it hit the pole.
"It's a difficult call because of the angle and because he [Hernandez] was looking up. After we talked, we all thought the ball hit the pole."
Yankees manager Joe Torre went onto the field and calmly questioned McClelland about the call.
"When Tim McClelland tells me that three other umpires saw it the same way he did, I have to walk away because I'm overruled at that point in time," Torre said. "It was one of those things. It was close to the pole."
It was so close that it was difficult to tell what hit what.
The Red Sox players were certain that the umpires finally made the correct call.
"I saw it hit off the foul pole," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "It was a tough call, but they made the right call. That's why they have six umpires out there. It was a great job by McClelland at home plate."
Those sitting way up there in right field begged to differ.
"The plate umpire was the farthest away from the play and he's the one who called it a home run," said Horvath. "That was unbelievable."
None of the fans in the area knew exactly where the kid -- 18-year-old Josh -- went.
"The kid must have gotten tired of all the media asking him questions," Horvath said. "He and his dad, who was sitting over there (section 25) left together."
The play brought back memories of the "questionable" home run Derek Jeter hit against the Baltimore Orioles during the 1996 American League Championship Series. Jeter hit a ball to the wall in right field and just as Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco leapt in hopes of making the grab, young Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and made a fine catch.
Right field umpire Richie Garcia, who is now an umpire supervisor for Major League Baseball, ruled that it was a home run and the Yankees went on to win the game, the Championship Series and their first World Series in 18 years.
"We had one of those (questionable home runs) this year in Baltimore," Torre said. "We had the umpire at third base go down the left-field line and call Aaron Boone's home run foul and the home plate overruled it.
"It's one of those things where I go out and would like to say it's unfair, but we benefited from it earlier this year."
So, like a good sport, he didn't put up much of a beef.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League baseball or its clubs.