Don Denkinger was regarded as one of the greatest umpires in Major League Baseball at the time. He worked in the American League from 1969 until 1998, where he made four World Series appearances and three All-Star appearances.
But when Denkinger died Friday in Waterloo, Iowa, at the age of 86, his memory was mostly remembered for that famously botched call on baseball’s greatest stage.
In 1985, Denkinger was the first base umpire in Game 6 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. The Cardinals are on the verge of winning the championship, leading the Royals by three games to two and leading 1-0 with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Jorge Orta, who led the Royals, bounded Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark. He threw the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell, who was covering the bag.
Denkinger made Orta one step safe, but Orta called it safe. There was no instant replay of him on television. The technology existed, but it wasn’t until 2008 that Major League Baseball began using it. Denkinger’s apparent miscall was therefore left unaddressed, leaving Cardinal manager Whitey infuriated by his Herzog, players and fans.
After what became known as the “Call”, the Royals culminated on a single by pinch hitter Dane Iorg to win the game 2–1 and take it to Game 7. Kansas City defeated the perhaps demoralized Cardinals, 11-0. , to win the World Series title the following night.
During the offseason, Denkinger received death threats. His home in Iowa was under police protection, and the FBI investigated some of the most disturbing notes he received.
Years later, in 2015, he told Sports Illustrated how he came to make the decision that would define his career. “I was in a good position, but Worrell was tall and his throws were high and I couldn’t see his glove and his feet at the same time. I didn’t hear it hit the glove.”
Donald Anton Denkinger was born on August 28, 1936 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He attended Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa and joined its wrestling team. He served in the Army from his 1957 to 1959 and began refereeing in the minor leagues in 1960. He was a referee in the World Series in 1974, 1980, 1985 and 1991.
He was at bat in the 1978 American League pennant tiebreaker between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Jack Morris of the Minnesota Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in 10 inning shutouts in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, and he also balled and struck in Nolan Ryan’s sixth no-hitter in 1990. called. The game was played on June 2, 1998 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. He retired after the season due to a sore right knee.
Denkinger’s daughter Dennis Hanson has died. His survivors also include his wife Gail Price and two other daughters.
He appeared at sports memorabilia shows, including one in St. Louis, and signed “The Call” pictures for fans. He kept his framed photograph of “The Call” in his home, and displayed a painting of it in his restaurant in Waterloo. Herzog made peace with Denkinger over the years, and Denkinger spoke at the 2005 Whitey Herzog Youth Foundation dinner.
“Nobody wants a game like I did in the World Series,” Denkinger told the Associated Press in 2014. And now it’s part of history. “
“I never get tired of talking about it,” he added. “I mean, it happened.
Denkinger recalled the pre-2014 World Series call between the Royals and the San Francisco Giants, which qualified Kansas City for the first time since 1985.
“That’s life, and it goes on,” MLB.com quoted him as saying. “Obviously, I’m constantly reminded of the mistakes I made. You know? I’ve been a umpire in the major leagues for over 30 years. I know I made a lot of mistakes. It was a match.”