Last Tuesday, while Americans went to the polls to elect 435 members of Congress and one-third of the Senate, an Associated Press story quietly came over the Sports Wire. It seems that American League Umpire Don Denkinger announced his retirement. The 62 year old veteran umpire is hanging up his spikes due to bad knees.
St. Louis baseball fans certainly know Don Denkinger. In October, 1985 and years to follow, Denkinger became Public Enemy #1. In the Gateway City, his name is right up there with local villains such as Bill Bidwill, Mike Keenan, and Paul Tagliabue.
Local sports fans have long memories. Even the media got into the act. One talking head got a few yuks while playing the "Hallelujah Chorus" when he announced the Umpire's retirement on the nightly newscast.
Despite this TV reporter's feeble attempt at humor, Don Denkinger was a very good umpire who will be best remembered by one call he got wrong.
Denkinger's umpiring career spanned over forty years. He arrived in the Big Leagues on opening day,1969 in Kansas City. His final game was June 2 of this year, again in Kansas City. How ironic. It was in KC where Denkinger earned his fifteen minutes of fame.
Game Six of the 1985 World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals were three outs away from their second World Series Championship of the decade. Rookie Todd Worrell enters the game to close out the Royals. Until that point, St. Louis relief pitching did not blow a lead in the ninth inning.
Jorge Orta taps a slow roller to the right side. Jack Clark picks it up-tosses to Worrell covering and umpire Denkinger calls the play: "Safe". Safe?
A heated argument followed. The replay was clear. The call was wrong. Unfortunately, instant replays do not count in baseball and the Redbirds lost their composure. The Royals came from behind to win Game 6. KC closed out the Birds in Game 7 the next night in embarrassing fashion, 11-0.
To this day, Gateway City sports fans have not forgiven the Umpire.
To this day, some narrow minded baseball fans still insist that it was Don Denkinger that cost the Cardinals the Show Me Series of 1985.
To this day, some enterprising photographer is still receiving royalties over posters of the blown call. To this day, some sad hobby-less soul is still sending Denkinger a daily post card, reminding him of the error he made thirteen years ago. To this day, the Umpire is still receiving hate mail from disgruntled Cardinal baseball fans.
Gee, I thought we were in a forgiving nation!!!
Before we go back to the future, let's look at the facts
First and foremost, umpire Don Denkinger DID NOT lose the 1985 World Series for the Cardinals. The team did enough to lose the Series themselves.
The Redbirds had a three games to one series lead with Game 5 at Busch Stadium. All they had to do was play .333 baseball and the Championship was theirs. Not just that, the Cards started a twenty game winner in Game 6 and a twenty game winner in Game 7.
As a team, the Cardinals hit a dismal.188 in the 1985 World Series. Ron Gant and Pat Kelly did better than that in 1998 and local fans want those two tarred and feathered.
Let's go back to that famous 9th inning in 1985. Later that frame, there was a foul pop fly down the first base line. Catcher Darrell Porter and 1B Jack Clark played a great rendition of "I've got it-You Take It", as the ball dropped to the Royals Stadium turf.
As the inning continued, C Porter was looking for a fast ball, but Worrell threw a curve. The result: a wild pitch; advancing the tying and winning runs ninety feet.
The Cardinals did not need Don Denkinger or Dr. Kervorkian's assistance in this suicide.
Now let's talk about the umpire. We know about his infamous blown call.
In 1978, there was a one game playoff to decide the American League Eastern Division Championship in Boston. Bucky Dent's late inning home run sent the New York Yankees into the World Series. That game is still considered one of baseball's most memorable moments. Calling the balls and strikes that afternoon at Fenway: Don Denkinger.
In 1991, the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins battled relentlessly in a memorable World Series. Game 7 was played at the Metrodome. It was a classic pitching duel between John Smoltz and Jack Morris; each hurling shutout baseball after nine innings.
In the tenth inning, Greg Gagne scored giving the Twins a 1-0 victory in Game 7 and a four games to three series win. At home plate to confirm that Gagne touched to plate was the home plate umpire and series crew chief: Don Denkinger.
Even in his book, "The White Rat", former Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog acknowledged that Denkinger is a fine umpire who simply got a call wrong in 1985.
When you mention the name Bill Buckner, many fans will think of a ground ball going threw his legs at First Base in a World Series game; not a career .289 hitter who played in twenty-two Major League seasons.
Outside of St. Louis, when you mention the name Jackie Smith, many fans will think of a dropped touchdown pass in a Super Bowl; not an NFL Hall of Fame Tight End.
Despite long and eventful careers, Don Denkinger, like Buckner and Smith, will be best remembered for one ominous moment in time. No matter how much fans complain, whine, analyze or finger point-the results will remain unchanged.
And you didn't think sports mirrored politics!!!
Mike Huss is the host of SportsTalk on WGNU AM-920...from 8-9 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.