The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ``blunder’’ as to ``move blindly or stupidly; to flounder and stumble’’; a ``gross mistake; an error due to stupidity or carelessness’’
Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce fit that description perfectly last week in Detroit when he called Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald safe on a close play at first base, ruining for Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga what should have been the 21st perfect game in MLB history.
No reason to rehash what has already been widely reported ; or to argue whether baseball should introduce instant replay. I only to point out Joyce made a blunder of historic proportions; a mistake the 21 year veteran, (clearly rattled and embarrassed) courageously apologized for once he saw how badly he botched the call after the game in the dressing room.
However appalling the blunder, Joyce can at least take great comfort in knowing to ``err is human.’’ U.S. history, after all, is filled with unlimited examples of mistakes, slip-ups, and oversights all attributable to human error.
Here, then, is a selection of notable blunders in history:
· According to ``The Blunder Book’’ by M. Hirsh Goldberg, a Roman abbot, Dionysius Exiguus (Denis the Little) wrongly dated the birth of Jesus to 754 A.U.C., four years too late.
After realizing his error, the sixth century scholar scrambled to have it changed, but his pleas were either ignored or no one would listen.
The error would remain for 800 years until the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar under Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.
· Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry fires Elvis Presley after just one performance in 1954, telling the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: `You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.’’
· President William Henry Harrison, on a bitter cold day, delivered one of the longest inaugural address in history, lasting one hour and 45 minutes without wearing as much as a hat or coat.
Such a careless oversight proved fatal.
``Old Tippecanoe’’ caught a cold soon after his 8,445-word speech, which developed into pneumonia and led to his untimely death on April 4, 1841, exactly one month after taking office to become the first U.S. president in history to die in office.
· On November 17, 1968, at 7 p.m. (ET) with 65 seconds remaining during a classic battle between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, NBC cut to the two-hour made for television drama, ``Heidi’’.
When east coast viewers lost coverage of the game, the Jets were holding a slim 32-29 lead over their AFL rivals. As it turns out, the Raiders scored two touchdowns within nine seconds to stun the Jets, 43-32.
Fans on the east coast missed the incredible comeback, thanks to a NBC operations manager who had trouble reaching the engineers in New York (after receiving orders at 6: 53 p.m.) not to switch to ``Heidi’’ but to continue broadcasting the game until its conclusion.
Infuriated viewers flooded the NBC phone lines to complain, causing the switchboard to break down. NBC issued a statement the following day, saying it was a ``forgivable error committed by humans.’’
· As election results poured in for the 1948 presidential election, fifty polling organizations, including George Gallup and Elmo Roper, were predicting a Thomas Dewey victory.
The Republican leaning Chicago Daily Tribune, no fan of Mr. Truman went with the following headline on November 3rd in its home edition: ``Dewey Defeats Truman’’
This famous headline, which Truman held up the next morning, grinning from ear-to-ear, is considered one of the biggest blunders in U.S. newspaper history.
Gallup missed the count by 5.4 percent. The 1948 presidential election was a stunning upset for Truman in one of the closest elections since 1916, winning 303 electoral votes (24.1 million popular votes) to Dewey’s 189 electoral (22 million popular votes.)
· In 1964, Broadway musical star Ethel Merman married actor Ernest Borgnine only to divorce 38 days later.
`The Merm’’ told The New York Times: ``I made a mistake. Everyone makes, mistakes. That’s why they put rubber on pencils.’’
· Defensive end Jim Marshall had a distinguished 20-year career in the NFL, having played in 282 consecutive games, recovered 29 fumbles and placed ninth in the Minnesota Vikings history with 988 tackles, while appearing in two Pro Bowls and four Super Bowls.
Despite his many accolades, the member of the famed "Purple People Eaters’’ is probably best remembered for his famous blunder during an October 25, 1964 game at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, when he recovered a Billy Kilmer fumble and sprinted 66 yards (untouched) down the field; only he was matriculating in the wrong direction.
Marshall’s embarrassing blunder resulted in a San Francisco safety. Despite the famous blooper, the Vikings prevailed, 27-22.
· The first eight years of the ``Tonight Show’’ starring Johnny Carson were destroyed (or taped over, apparently a company practice at the time) because a junior executive thought they held ``little enduring value.’’
This is a bigger crime than the infamous lost 18 1/2 Minutes of the Nixon Watergate tapes.
· For reasons known only to himself, legendary actor and comedian, Jackie Gleason hatches an idea to host a game show on January 20, 1961, titled: ``You’re in the Picture’’ in which celebrity guests put their head into a oversized comic cut-out picture, while the host guesses what historical scene they’re supposed to be in.
It was a mammoth blunder by a comic genius known his Midas touch.
The ``Great One’’ would later apologize to his CBS audience, saying: ``I’ve seen bombs in my day, but this one made the H-bomb look like a two-inch salute.”
``You’re in the Picture’’ was cancelled after just one telecast.
· On June 5, 1998, Arizona Rep. Bob Stump announced the death of comedian Bob Hope in the US House of Representatives after Dick Armey of Texas hands him a breaking news report.
Mr. Hope was far from dead. In fact, he was at his California home enjoying breakfast when word reached him about his reported death.
The embarrassing blunder was caused when The Associated Press mistakenly posted an advance obituary of the comedian on its Website.
NOTE: Hope died at his home on July 27, 2003.
· On June 15, 1992: Vice President Dan Quayle visits Rivera Elementary School in Trenton, N.J. to oversee a spelling bee.
12 year-old William Figueroa steps to the blackboard in front of a flood of reporters and television cameras where he is asked to spell the word ``potato’’. The student spells it perfectly; only Mr.Quayle wrongly tells the student that he was missing an`` e’’ at the end of potato. Oops!
Figuero told The New York Times, "I knew he was wrong…he's the Vice President and I couldn't argue with him with all the people there."
· Talk about a historic mistake: According to a UPI story published in The New York Times, on August 25, 1980, the Cirro Wrecking Company of Skokie Ill., demolished a house at 6366 Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago by mistake.
The wrecking company actually had a permit to raze a house at 6384 Milwaukee Avenue, not 6366.
The house destroyed was designated a historical landmark by the Chicago City Council in 1979 and was believed to have been the second oldest house in the city, having originally been built on a five-acre farm in 1851 by Heinrich W. Rinker who emigrated from Germany in 1851