|Don A. Denkinger|
August 28, 1936|
Cedar Falls, Iowa
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Donald Anton Denkinger (//; born August 28, 1936) is a former Major League Baseball umpire who worked in the American League from 1969 to 1998. Denkinger wore uniform number 11, when the AL adopted uniform numbers in 1980. He is best remembered for an incorrect call he made at first base in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.
Denkinger attended Wartburg College where he was on the wrestling team. He became interested in umpiring while serving in the Army from 1957 to 1959. He began umpiring in the minor leagues in 1960, joined the AL staff in April, 1969, and became an AL crew chief in 1977. In 1975, Denkinger was one of the first American League umpires to switch from the outside chest protector to the inside chest protector, which was used in the National League for decades before finally being adopted in the AL in the late 1970s. All umpires who entered the AL starting in 1977 had to use the inside protector; AL umpires on staff prior to 1977 were grandfathered and could continue to use the outside protector. Denkinger's last game using the outside protector was Game 4 of the 1974 World Series.
He umpired in four World Series: 1974, 1980, 1985 and 1991, serving as crew chief the latter two years. Denkinger also umpired in the All-Star Game in 1971, 1976 and 1987, calling balls and strikes for the last game. He officiated in six American League Championship Series (1972, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1988, 1992), serving as crew chief in 1975, 1988 and 1992, and in the 1981 and 1995 AL Division Series. He was the home plate umpire for the one-game playoff that decided the AL's Eastern Division champion in 1978; the New York Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox.
He is one of seven umpires who have worked in two perfect games; he was the second-base umpire for Len Barker's perfect game on May 15, 1981, and the first-base umpire for Kenny Rogers' perfect game on July 28, 1994. He was also the home plate umpire for Nolan Ryan's sixth no-hitter on June 11, 1990.
Despite his long and illustrious career, Denkinger is probably best remembered by baseball fans for a blown call he made at first base in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, played on October 26. The St. Louis Cardinals led the Kansas City Royals by 3 games to 2. The Cardinals had taken a 1–0 lead in the 8th inning on a single by little-used backup catcher Brian Harper after pitchers Danny Cox (of the Cardinals) and Charlie Leibrandt (of the Royals) had battled back and forth all game long. Todd Worrell came into the game for the Cardinals in the 9th inning, first facing Jorge Orta, the leadoff batter for the Royals. Orta hit a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to Worrell covering first base.
Denkinger was the umpire at first base and called Orta safe, even though television replays and photographs clearly showed that he was out by half a step. The Cardinals argued briefly, but Denkinger refused to reverse it. The Royals went on to win Game 6 by the score of 2–1.
Orta, leading off, swings and hits it to the right side, and the pitcher has to cover he is...SAFE! SAFE! SAFE! And we'll have an argument! Sparky, I think he was out!
Little squibber to the right side, Worrell races over to cover the throw... doesn't get him! Worrell back to the bag and an argument here and here comes Herzog amongst the other quartet.
Looks like he's out!—ABC Sports color commentator Jim Palmer pointing out Don Denkinger's mistake.
Oh, I don't think there is any doubt about it.—Al Michaels, responding to Palmer, following several clear TV replays which confirm that Denkinger's call is incorrect.
He had the base and he had the ball, man, what else is there? That's the rule isn't it?
Immediately after the call, the Cardinals still had a one-run lead with a runner on first and no outs. The next batter, Steve Balboni, popped up into foul territory, but first baseman Jack Clark and catcher Darrell Porter both failed to make the catch. Balboni then singled an 0–2 pitch into left field. The next batter, Jim Sundberg, attempted a sacrifice bunt, but Worrell threw to third base to force out Orta, the runner Denkinger called safe, and this was the only out recorded by the Cardinals in the inning. Two pitches later, Porter had a passed ball that allowed the runners to move up a base. After Hal McRae was walked, Dane Iorg singled, scoring two runs for the Royals' win.
As crew chief of the 1985 World Series umpiring unit, Denkinger was scheduled to work behind home plate in Game 7, a fact that further upset the Cardinals and manager Whitey Herzog. Some observers suggested that the presence of Denkinger behind the plate affected the Cardinals' gameplay, as ace pitcher John Tudor got off to a terrible start, giving up five earned runs and four walks in only 2 1⁄3 innings. Tudor was so disgusted by his performance, that he subsequently punched an electrical fan with his pitching hand. Todd Worrell (while being interviewed on ESPN Classic's The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... about Don Denkinger's involvement in the 1985 World Series) would later compare the idea of Don Denkinger working behind home plate to putting a stick of dynamite back there and lighting it.
The Cardinals made their frustrations clear throughout the game. ABC television cameras caught Herzog screaming and belittling Denkinger from the Cardinals' dugout throughout the contest. Pitcher Joaquín Andújar exploded twice over Denkinger's calls at the plate during the 5th inning, finally being ejected with Herzog after a heated argument over Denkinger's strike zone. Herzog even went so far as to directly tell Denkinger that had he gotten "the call" right in Game 6, the Cardinals would not have been subjected to a seventh game in the first place. (Denkinger then replied that if the Cardinals were batting better than .120 in the Series, there would have been no need for a Game 7 either.) In the immediate aftermath of his meltdown, Andújar smashed a toilet in the Cardinals' clubhouse. The Cardinals were completely demolished by the Royals as Kansas City would go on to win Game 7 in an 11–0 blowout, taking home their first and only World Series Trophy.
Life after The Call
In the immediate aftermath of the 1985 World Series debacle, Denkinger received many hateful letters (including death threats) from Cardinals fans. Two St. Louis disc jockeys went so far as to reveal Denkinger's telephone number and home address. Denkinger claimed that the letters continued on through 1987 (before Denkinger got into contact with Major League Baseball Security, who in turn contacted the FBI), when the Cardinals were ramping up for another World Series appearance (this time against the Minnesota Twins). The breaking point for Denkinger was when he received a particularly menacing letter (with no return address) in which the writer tells that if he sees Denkinger in person, he would "blow him away" with a .357 Magnum.
Ironically, the strongest part of his career likely followed the 1985 events; two years later, he was behind the plate for the All-Star Game, and he was again named crew chief for the 1988 ALCS, 1991 World Series, and 1992 ALCS. He is one of only four umpires to have been selected as crew chief for the ALCS three times.
More than 20 years after the fateful events in Kansas City in October 1985, Denkinger has regularly appeared at sports memorabilia shows (including ones in St. Louis) willing to autograph photos depicting "The Call." Denkinger even owns a painting featuring himself, Todd Worrell, and Jorge Orta involved in the play, claiming that he keeps it to remind himself that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. In September 2005, he was a guest speaker at a 20th anniversary dinner celebrating the Cardinals' 1985 team, benefiting the Whitey Herzog Youth Foundation.
- Gleeman, Aaron (2009). "Denkinger calls postseason umpiring 'kind of a disaster'". NBC Sports. Retrieved 9 March 2010.
- Page 2 Staff (2001). "The List: Worst calls in sports history". ESPN. Retrieved 9 March 2010.
- Royals win to force Series into 7th game
- Shouler, Kenneth (2007). "Fans Behaving Badly". Cigar Aficionado. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
- BaseballLibrary.com - profile and list of articles
- St. Louis Sports Online: "Hey! Somebody's Gotta Like the Guy..." – 1998 article on Denkinger's retirement, defending his career
- Retrosheet page