Famous Sports Goats
A scapegoat is defined by Dictionary.com as “a person or group made to bear the blame for others” for an failure or bad situation. Shortened to just “goat”, in sports, in a nutshell, it signifies the player, or coach, who makes a very bad play or decision which causes their team to lose. It is the opposite of a hero. Lets face it, there are goats in nearly every game; the quarterback who cannot execute against the defense, a pitcher who gets shelled, a goalie who lets in easy goals.
There are goats and there are goats. There are the players who have failed monumentally in the biggest games of their lives, in front of huge audiences. Even though it may not be entirely their fault, they take the blame for the teams loss. I’ve listed below what I feel are the 10 Worst Goats in sports history. Their lives are defined by their blunder, not their achievements on the field, court or rink. It’s a shame, because they were all good players whose careers were overshadowed by an incident that lasted just a few seconds. In no particular order, here they are:
Fred “Bonehead” Merkle’s Boner
The 1908 National League pennant race between the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants was going down to the wire when the Cubs and Giants met at the Polo Grounds in New York on September 23, 1908. When the Giants starting first baseman, could not play that day, the gruff Giants coach, John McGraw, assigned rookie Fred Merkle to start his first Major League game.
In the bottom of the ninth, Merkle came up with the winning run on first and two out. He hit a sharp single to right and advanced the winning run to third. The next batter, Al Bidwell, laced a sharp single to center and the assumed winning run scored easily from third base. Hundreds of jubilant Giants fans came out of the grandstands and onto the field. Merkle was on his way to 2nd base. Seeing the crowds of people storming the field and assuming the game was over, he turned around and went straight to the dugout without touching 2nd base. Seeing that Merkle had not touched the bag, Cubs 2nd baseman, Johnny Evers, called for the ball. The Giants first base coach, amid the chaos on the field, took the ball and threw it into a crowd of fans. A Cubs player retrieved it and threw it to Evers, and Merkle was called out, erasing the winning run.
By the time the field was cleared of fans and the Cubs were set to bat in the top of the tenth inning, the umpires called the game because of darkness. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. The league office upheld the umpire’ s call. But the season ended 10 days later with the Giants and Cubs tied for first place. The league determined that the tie game needed to be replayed to crown a pennant winner. The Cubs won the replayed game 4-2 and went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in 5 games in the World Series. The Cubs haven’t won one since.
As for Merkle, he became the starting first baseman for the Giants the next season and spent a total of 10 years in the Majors. He was given the nickname “Bonehead” for his costly blunder. After his retirement he stayed away from baseball
Jackie Smith’s dropped pass in Super Bowl XIII
Tight End Jackie Smith spent 15 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. He amassed 40 touchdowns, 7918 yards and had 480 receptions. He played his last season, in 1978, with the Dallas Cowboys. He was used sparingly as a blocking end in short yardage situations. He did not catch a pass the entire season. But playing his last season in the NFL, he finally got to go to a Super Bowl.
Late in the third quarter the Cowboys trailed the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-14. On third down with the ball on the Steelers 10 yard line, Dallas QB, Roger Staubach dropped back to pass. Seeing Smith wide open in the end zone, Staubach threw the ball to him softly. The pass was low, but catchable. It bounced out of his hands and the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal. In the furious forth quarter, both teams scored two touchdowns, but the Steelers won by four points, 35-31.
Jackie Smith retired from football that off season. In 1994 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. It’s a shame his great career is overshadowed by one dropped pass.
Chris Webber calls a time out
In 1993, Michigan faced perennial powerhouse North Carolina in the NCAA Mens Basketball Championship Game. With only seconds remaining and UNC nursing a 2 point lead, Michigan star Chris Webber snared a rebound under his own basket and quickly drove down court to get his team in position to score the tying or winning basket. He was double teamed by two Tar Heels defenders and driven into the corner. Unable to maneuver or pass the ball safely to a teammate, he quickly called “time out”. Normally this is would be a smart thing to do. But not this time. Michigan had used up all of their time outs previously. A technical foul was called and UNC made the free throws to ice the game and take the National Title.
Chris Webber enjoyed a 15 year All Star career in the NBA. But former Michigan teammate Jalen Rose, said the “time out” incident “really screwed him up emotionally.” Webber has stayed away from the University of Michigan since then. Said Rose “he wants to act as if it never happened”
As for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, they were the grateful recipients of Webber’s “gift”. But it wasn’t the first time they were the beneficiary of a goat’s largesse in a National Championship Game……
Fred Brown’s pass
The rosters of the 1982 NCAA Men Basketball Championship game between Georgetown and North Carolina reads like a Who’s Who of future NBA stars. UNC had James Worthy, Sam Perkins and a young freshman guard named Michael Jordan. Georgetown had Patrick Ewing and Sleepy Floyd. In one of the closest, toughest title games on record, UNC found itself up by one point after Jordan hit a jump shot. With 17 seconds to go, Georgetown worked the ball up the court. In a moment of excitement, Georgetown guard Fred Brown accidentally passed the ball to James Worthy of UNC effectively giving the Tar Heels their 2nd National Championship.
Roy “Wrong Way” Riegals and the 1929 Rose Bowl
In the 1st quarter of the 1929 Rose Bowl against Georgia Tech, California lineman Roy Reigals picked up a Tech fumble. While attempting to advance it, he was turned around and ran 70 yards towards his own goal line!. A teammate caught him on his own one yard line and he was tackled by several Tech players. The next play resulted in a safety and 2 points for Georgia Tech.
At half time Reigels was inconsolable. His coach, Nibs Price, had to cajole and convince Reigals to take the field for the second half. He played a stellar 2nd half, but it was not enough as Georgia Tech won the game, 8-7.
Reigals did not let this get in the way of being named the California’s captain and being earning All American honors the next year.
Scott “Wide Right” Norwood and Super Bowl XXV
In January of 1991, the New York Giants played the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. The Giants led 20-19 with just a few seconds left on the clock, but the Bills had the ball in Giants territory with time for one more play. Into the game came Norwood to kick the Super Bowl winning field goal. But Norwood’s 47 yard attempt was no good giving the Giants their 2nd Super Bowl victory in 5 seasons.
Norwood was waived by Buffalo soon after and dropped out of sight for several years. He is currently a real estate agent in the Buffalo area.
Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams
Mitch Williams was a stellar relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993. Williams, who had blown a save in an earlier Series loss was on the mound in the ninth inning of game 6. Down 3-2 in the 1993 World Series to the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays,. Williams was trying to preserve a 6-5 lead for the Phillies and force game 7. With two out and two on, Wild Thing faced Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter. On a 2-2 count, Carter got a hold of a good pitch and sent it over the wall for a home run and the Blue Jays 2nd consecutive title.
Williams was pilloried by fans for his failure. He received several death threats and the Phillies traded him to the California Angels before the start of the next season. For his part, Williams never shrank from taking the blame. Said Williams “don’t expect me to curl up and die because a gave up a home run in the World Series….Life’s a bitch” Eventually Phillies fans warmed up to him. He currently does occasional color commentary for baseball broadcasts on Fox and owns a bowling alley outside of Philadelphia.
Fred Snodgrass and the 1912 World Series
Fred Snodgrass was an outfielder for the New York Giants in 1912. In the tenth inning of the eighth (an earlier game had ended in a tie) and deciding game of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Giants led the Sox 2 -1. Red Sox pinch hitter Clyde Engle lofted a lazy fly ball to center field. Snodgrass caught it and then and then dropped it. Engle ended up on second and a subsequent batter drove him in for the tying run. The winning run scored later in the inning when Snodgrass could not catch up to a long fly by Red Sox slugger Tris Speaker.
In the locker room after the game, Snodgrass explained to reporters over and over “ I just dropped it” But at least the goat had someone in the locker room that knew how he felt. Playing first base for the Giants that year was Fred “Bonehead” Merkle!
Snodgrass may have given the 1912 World Series to Boston, but for the last 35 years or so teams from New York have given the Red Sox a handful of goats to commiserate over.
Bucky Dent’s homer against Mike Torrez and the 1978 Red Sox in the AL East playoff game was only the start.
Grady Little and the 2003 ALCS
The seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series pitted two All Star pitchers against each other, Pedro Martinez for the Sox and Roger Clemens for the Yankees. Clemens was driven out of the game in the in the fourth inning when Boston took a 4 - 0 lead. But the Yankees attempted to claw back. Jason Giambi hit 2 solo homers but the Sox still held a 5 -2 lead by the 8th inning. Despite orders from ownership not to let Pedro Martinez throw more than 100 pitches or pitch beyond the seventh inning, Sox manager, Grady Little put his ace back on the field for the 8th inning. After giving up a double to Derek Jeter and a single to Bernie Williams, Little visited the mound. Many in the crowd and the millions on TV thought it was to pull an obviously tired Martinez and to give the ball to Boston’s good bullpen. But Martinez convinced Little he had something left, and he left him in the game. Martinez gave up consecutive doubles to Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada to tie the game. In the bottom of the 11th, Aaron Boone hit a solo homer to bring the AL Pennant back to New York.
Little knew he was going to be fired. In the locker room after the game, he confessed to Martinez “Petey, I might not be here anymore” Indeed , Little’s contract was not renewed in the off season and he was replaced by Terry Francona.
In what is considered one of the worst losses in Red Sox history, many fans blamed Little for the loss (despite the fact that Martinez lobbied to stay in the game and Tim Wakefield gave up the winning homer). The manager has said several times that he felt his Cy Young Award winning pitcher was the Red Sox best chance. He was wrong.
Little managed the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2006 and 2007. He is currently a high school varsity baseball coach in North Carolina.
Bill Buckner and the 1986 World Series
Bill Buckner is the first person I think of when I think of goat. His error at first base that allowed the New York Mets to win the sixth game and force a seventh game is an icon for failure. But he was not the only one. There were several Sox that took part in the unraveling. Earlier that inning the Sox had blown a 2 run lead. If they were able to keep it, the Sox would have their first championship since 1918. Failures by relief pitchers Calvin Schiaraldi, Bob Stanley, and catcher Rich Gedman had allowed the Mets to tie the game and put the winning run on 2nd base. And what about the decision by Sox manager, John McNamara, to leave the gimpy (ankles) Buckner in and not substitute late inning defensive replacement, Dave Stapleton for Bill? Add that to the fact that in the seventh game, the Red Sox blew an early 3 -0 lead to lose the game and Series to the Mets, it’s no wonder some people believed this team was cursed
The aftermath of the 1986 World Series was the lowest point in Red Sox history. Buckner was waived by the Red Sox in the middle of the next season. He had brief stints with the Kansas City Royals and California Angels. In 1990, he resigned with the Red Sox, played in a few games and retired for good. But after the error, every place he went, he was the subject of derision from the press and the fans. He moved to Idaho several years ago and has become involved in real estate. As time goes by, fans realize what a good ballplayer he was. In his 21 year career, Buckner hit .279, had 2715 hits and 174 homers.
Each one of these players made their mark on the game they played, yet each will be forever haunted by a gaffe they made when they were in the spotlight. Jackie Smith is in the Football Hall of Fame. Both Bill Buckner and Chris Webber are borderline Hall of Famers and the rest had good careers. Yet it’s their mistakes that follow them wherever they go. When Fred Snodgrass died in 1974, 64 years after his error, the New York Times obituary read; “Fred Snodgrass, 86,Dead, Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly”