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In Game six of the 1985 World Series, Don Denkinger made an erroneous call at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning. It would serve to be the most memorable part of that World Series that was played between the Royals and Cardinals. This was a play that would cost the Cardinals the series and help the Royals rally and win the game, 2-1 (which would also force a seventh game). The series was called, at the time “I-70 Showdown Series” or “Show Me Series”, due to both cities being in Missouri and connected by I-70
How it started
In late October, the Cardinals were enjoying a one game lead, up three games to two, against the Royals, entering game six. The Cardinals were up by one run (the only run that had been scored the entire game) entering the ninth inning. Jorge Rota lead off the bottom of the ninth with a high hopper, to the right side of the infield. Jack Clark, Cardinals first baseman, fields the ball and throws it to Todd Worrell, on in relief, covering first. A close play, but replay would reveal Orta being out. Don Denkinger saw that Worrell did not touch first base, making Orta safe.
Denkinger did not have enough time to see both when Worrell caught the ball and when Orta’s foot touched first. Had he been farther back, he may have seen the whole play. With modern technology, the play could have been reviewed and there could have been conclusive proof that Orta was out.
What some tend to forget, is that a baseball game, this one included, is made up of many plays that will decide the outcome. Not just one. The next hitter the Royals sent up was Steve Balboni who stepped to the plate and pop up into foul territory. Jack Clark should have caught the ball near the Royals dugout, but misjudged it and it landed behind him. This made the at-bat continue, and Balboni would single, putting runners on first and second.
Worrell would throw out Orta, the lead runner, at third, after a failed sacrifice bunt made by Jim Sundberg. Out number one, and at this time, Orta, the runner who should have been called out, was finally out. Worrell threw a pitch that got by his catcher, putting the two runners (Balboni and Sunberg) into scoring position.
Hal McRae walked, to load the bases. Dane Iorg, pinch hitting, hit a single to right field. Balboni scored. Andy Van Slyke, playing right field, threw the ball home to try and get Sunberg out, who was running from second. Sundberg slid into home head first, and beat the tag by a small margin. Royals win the game. The single from Iorg, was one of only two at-bats that he would receive in the entire series.
Denkinger was the umpire for game seven. The Royals jumped out to a big lead, and Cardinals relief pitcher Joaquin Andujar ran up to Denkinger to question his strike zone. Whitey Herzog, Cardinals manager, got in on the action and decided to yell at him too. He said that if he had not blown the call in the previous game, there would be no need for a seventh game. Denkinger replied that if the Cardinals were hitting better than .120, they would not be playing game seven. The Cardinals would finish the series .185. Denkinger ejected Herzog out of the game.
The Royals won the game, 11-0, in a rout; winning their very first World Series. They would not even go to another World Series for thirty years.
He received a death threat for his mistake. Denkinger says that he got a letter saying someone was going to point a .357 Magnum at him and blow him away. Denkinger, who kept umpiring until he would decide to retire in 1998, said that he told Major League Baseball security. There was no stamp on the letter, so no one is sure who it came from.
The FBI found that in the post card, the word restaurant was misspelled (Denkinger owned one in Waterloo); they also found more mail that had the word misspelled, in the very same way. The mail from the man had an address from out of St. Louis. Authorities sent a message to the guy saying that they would prosecute him if he ever contacted Denkinger again.