When sports crowds get loud, game outcomes get altered
When Louisiana State scored a touchdown in the final two minutes for a dramatic 7-6 victory over Auburn on Oct. 8, 1988, the noise and vibration in Tiger Stadium were so intense that an earthquake registered on the seismograph in LSU’s geology department.
Monday night’s crowd of 51,459 at the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, wouldn’t match the decibel levels of 92,000 frenzied fans at LSU, a stadium famed Alabama coach Bear Bryant once likened to “being inside a drum.”
But it was loud enough to cause a pair of costly St. Louis bullpen phone mix-ups in a 4-2 World Series Game 5 loss to the Rangers and provide yet another reminder of how excessive crowd noise can affect games.
The miscommunication between Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa and his bullpen coach that resulted in a less-than-favorable Marc Rzepczynski-Mike Napoli matchup in the eighth inning wasn’t the first noise-related World Series snafu.
In Game 7 of the 1940 Series, Detroit was leading Cincinnati, 1-0, when Reds first baseman Frank McCormick led off the sixth with a double and Jimmy Ripple hit a ball over right fielder Bruce Campbell’s head.
Campbell got to the ball quickly and threw to Tigers shortstop Dick Bartell, who assumed McCormick had scored easily. But McCormick actually had held to see whether the ball would be caught and was rounding third when Bartell got the ball.
“I kept yelling, ‘Home, home, home!’” Tigers second baseman Charlie Gehringer said years later. “McCormick is no speed demon. I thought, ‘Gee whiz, with Bartell’s arm, he’s a dead pigeon.’ But he never threw the ball. Even after he looked and still had a chance, he didn’t throw.”
The Reds went on to a Series-clinching 2-1 win. Bartell wrote in his autobiography that he assumed McCormick had scored and that, because of the deafening crowd noise, he was unable to hear his teammates’ shouts for him to throw home.
Crowd noise also may have contributed to one of the most controversial calls in World Series history, the one umpire Don Denkinger blew at first base in Game 6 in 1985.
St. Louis had a 3-2 series lead over Kansas City and a 1-0 lead when Jorge Orta led off the ninth inning for the Royals with a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to pitcher Todd Worrell covering first.
Denkinger called Orta safe, though replays showed he was out. The Royals won the game, 2-1, and the Series.
Umpires usually watch the base and listen for the ball hitting the glove, but Denkinger couldn’t use this standard technique.
“I was in good position, but Worrell is tall, the throw was high, and I couldn’t watch his glove and his feet at the same time,” Denkinger told Sports Illustrated. “It was a soft toss, and there was so much crowd noise, I couldn’t hear the ball hit the glove.”
A failure to communicate amid the din of Yankee Stadium led to a costly Angels miscue in Game 1 of the 2009 American League Championship Series.
With one run in, a runner on second and two out in the first, Hideki Matsui hit a popup to the left side of the infield. Third baseman Chone Figgins and shortstop Erick Aybar converged, each looking at his fellow infielder thinking the other would catch it, and the ball dropped for a run-scoring single.
“I yelled ‘Aybar!’ early, because I thought he was going to catch it,” Figgins said. “It got too loud.” Said Aybar: “I didn’t hear anything.”
Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz probably felt La Russa’s pain Monday. Or heard it.
As top-ranked Notre Dame prepared to play No. 2-ranked Michigan in front of a crowd of 105,000 in Ann Arbor in 1989, Holtz worried about his quarterback trying to call signals.
“We went up there two years ago, we were down deep in their territory, and the crowd was screaming and we couldn’t hear,” Holtz, now an ESPN commentator, said the week before the game. “So, they penalized us for delay of game.
“Then they came down here [to South Bend] in 1988, and we got charged with a timeout because they couldn’t hear their cadence. Now, I didn’t realize our 60,000 people made that much noise, compared to their 105,000.”
Though the Southeastern Conference banned artificial noisemakers in 1974, cowbell-wielding Mississippi State fans have tormented opponents for years.
In 2010, the SEC decided to allow noisemakers with strict rules not to clang during live action. Mississippi State violated the rules twice, incurring $30,000 in fines.
In one of those cowbell-violation games, Georgia racked up nine penalties for 63 yards in a 24-12 loss last year.
So, before this year’s game against Mississippi State, Georgia Coach Mark Richt, at his weekly news conference, gave his fans a tutorial on when to cheer the loudest.
“When their quarterback gets into his cadence, he looks for the ball, it doesn’t come, then he looks to the sideline — that’s when we need fans to go to berserk,” Richt said. “We want them to have trouble hearing each other, we want the offensive line to jump offsides. So fans, that’s the time to go crazy.”
Richt’s plea helped. Georgia won, 24-10, and Mississippi State was flagged for eight penalties.
To combat an Autzen Stadium-record crowd of 60,055 at Oregon this month, Arizona State devised a plan to signal offensive snaps. Instead of listening for the quarterback’s voice, players looked for the movement of center Garth Gerhart’s head.
The Sun Devils lost, 41-27, but they did not have one false-start penalty in the game.
Improvisation was a little tougher in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, which featured a sound track of vuvuzelas, the noisemaking plastic trumpets that blared nonstop at every venue.
Not only did they annoy television viewers, they got in the way of strategy on the pitch.
“It’s impossible to communicate,” Argentina star Lionel Messi said. “It is like being deaf.”
Times staff writers Chris Dufresne, Ben Bolch and Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.
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