Uttering the name “Don Denkinger” in the state of Missouri will always elicit cheers. However, depending on which side of the state you are standing, some of those cheers may be of the Bronx-variety.
This week, MLB Network releases a new documentary on the life and career of George Brett who is known for three things… in this order… pine tar, hemorrhoids, and Don Denkinger.
Here’s the irony. Brett’s pine tar homer was ruled legal. Brett still batted .375 in the 1980 World Series (the one where he had to leave in Game 2 due to hemorrhoids). And, finally, Brett wasn’t on the field during the Denkinger call in 1985 World Series Game 6. The ninth inning started with pinch hitter Jorge Orta in the fifth spot in the order.
But as the passage of time grows longer, now approaching 40 years, legends fuzzy facts. And the legend of George Brett, which includes dozens of memories such as the homer off of Gossage in the playoffs, the run at .400, the batting titles, the clutch hitting, and his stalwart defense, all simply roll into the sum of their parts.
Unfortunately, Don Denkinger has been a casualty of time and, with his passing in May of this year, is unlikely to ever move out from under the shadow of “the call.” George Brett, however, is coming to his rescue.
“The Call” shouldn’t need to be explained to any true Blue Royals fan (or Cardinals fan, for that matter) but let’s recap. In the top of the ninth of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, the Royals were trailing 1-0. The Cardinals only needed one win in Kansas City to take the series leading 3-2. In the top of the ninth, Todd Worrell took over on the mound for Whitey Herzog’s Cards. Jorge Orta pinch hit for Darryl Motley. Orta hit a chopper on an 0-2 count that barely got to the edge of the infield. First baseman Jack Clark charged the bleeder, forcing Worrell to field first. Clark spun 180 degrees and flung the ball to Clark side-armed and off-target. Worrell had to both reach to catch the ball, AND drag his toe across first base ahead of Orta. He did so, but awkwardly. Denkinger, the first base umpire, moved into foul territory, consistent with his training, but anticipated the call and called SAFE way too early. Almost earlier that the play itself. Worrell clearly touched first, but Denkinger had already called safe. In the era before replay, the call would stand.
So the Royals won the World Series, right? Well, not exactly. You see, that was just the first play of the inning. The Cardinals were just three outs away from winning the series. As Brett explains in the documentary, the Cardinals would completely melt down and perform a comedy of errors during the remainder of the inning including a dropped popup, a passed ball by Darrell Porter moving runners to second and third, and a missed tag by Darrell Porter scoring the winning run after the two-RBI single by pinch hitter Dane Iorg. Final score 2-1. Royals tie the series 3-3.
Brett goes on to explain that the Cardinals STILL only needed to beat the Royals in Game 7, a game that the Royals would win 11-0 which included ejections of both Herzog and Joaquin Andujar after starter John Tudor was touched up for five runs in the first three innings. An 11-0 rout.
But you’ll only hear Don Denkinger’s name as “the guy who lost the World Series for the Cardinals” and not a man who umpired 3,824 games in his career including two perfect games, a no-hitter and, arguably, the greatest World Series game of all time, the 10-inning 1-0 victory of the Minnesota Twins over the Atlanta Braves in 1991. Denkinger was the home plate umpire and made one of the greatest safe calls of all time in that game.
But leave it to George Brett to summarize all this and, in some fashion, absolve Denkinger of his sins, as he closes the segment with “You didn’t show up for Game 7 and you lost 11-nothing. Suck on it.”
Suck on it, indeed, St. Louis, and rest easy, Mr. Denkinger. You will forever be cheered in this home.
(Find Chris Kamler on the social media app of your choice)