KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Of course former umpire Don Denkinger plans to watch the World Series. He always does. He’ll tune in to root for the umpires, check out familiar faces on the Giants and Royals, and see how Kansas City is looking these days.
Chances are he’ll see himself, too.
“Nobody wants to have the call that I did in the World Series,” Denkinger told The Associated Press this weekend from his winter home in Arizona. “But I did. And now it’s part of history.”
All these years later, Denkinger’s miss at first base remains the signature moment from the last time the Series was in town, in 1985. Not Bret Saberhagen throwing a clinching shutout or George Brett getting a bunch of hits.
Nope, Denkinger’s call stands from Game 6 — and sticks with the umpire who was a part of several memorable moments during a distinguished 30-year career.
“I’m not tired of talking about it. I mean, it happened,” he said. “I just know that if the same thing happened now, they’d get it right on replay, and it’d be over with.”
San Francisco and Kansas City open Tuesday night, and it’s a good guess a replay or two of his mistake will be shown sometime during the telecasts.
Denkinger didn’t have the cushion of an instant-replay review on that October night when the St. Louis Cardinals took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning at Royals Stadium, just three outs away from the championship.
Royals pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off with a slow bouncer to the right side. First baseman Jack Clark ranged wide to field the ball, and flipped a high throw to reliever Todd Worrell covering the bag.
Orta was still in the air on his final stride when the ball beat him by a half-step. Denkinger recounted he was standing too close to the play — by the time he saw Worrell catch the ball and looked down, Orta’s foot was on the base. Denkinger ruled him safe.
“I wish I would’ve gotten it right,” he said. “But I didn’t.”
The rest, as Denkinger said, is part of baseball lore.
The Cardinals argued to no avail, then made a couple of misplays that led to Kansas City scoring twice to win.
Denkinger was the plate umpire for Game 7, and the Royals romped 11-0, with pitcher Joaquin Andujar and manager Whitey Herzog getting ejected while fuming over the previous day’s events.
Denkinger received threatening notes in the offseason, and the FBI investigated. The next spring, he was back to umpiring and, to this day, is reminded of what went wrong.
“I’m guessing that if it had been Cardinals-Royals this year, I’d be getting a lot of calls,” he said.
In all, he worked the World Series four times. He was the plate umpire for the famed Game 7 duel in 1991 when Jack Morris pitched all 10 innings to lead Minnesota over Atlanta 1-0. Denkinger also had the plate for the Bucky Dent home run playoff game in 1978 between the Yankees and Red Sox.
Denkinger retired after 1998 and now splits the year between his native Iowa and Arizona. He’s been married more than 50 years and was in the hospital this week with wife, Gayle, when she needed a stent.
In recent seasons, Denkinger had spoken out that replay technology would benefit Major League Baseball.
Along with getting more calls right, replay has helped umpires avoid the stigma of being “Denkingered,” as some of them have said. Meaning nowadays, a wrong call gets corrected by an umpire in the replay booth, and the games go on without attaching an umpire’s name to the miss.
“I think replay has worked great,” he said. “I could’ve used it back then.”