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The Most Infamous Calls Ever Blown by Referees, Umpires, and Other Blind Officials
Major League Baseball
Whether baseball's origins date back to the fourteenth-century English game of stoolball—where a batter stood before an upturned three-legged stool while another player pitched a ball to him—or is the younger brother of the old Russian game lapta—as is claimed by several old Soviet Union-era encyclopedias—or was invented in 1839 by future West Point graduate Abner Doubleday—even though he never actually made such a claim—today a trip to the ballpark is as decidedly American as mom, apple pie, and reality television.
For an idea on just how popular baseball is in America, look no further than Hollywood, the land of the coveted superfluous buck. Scores of baseball films have been turned out by Hollywood's entertainment conveyor belt of slop: from the Bad News Bears trilogy, only slightly less impressive than Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, to Ed, the exception that proves the rule that everyone loves a monkey, to Hardball starring Keanu Reeves (see Ed).
As a nation, the sport has so engrained itself into the fabric of our society that its language has become a significant piece of our own. We've all, at one time, been motivated to step up to the plate by someone playing hardball, even if they were coming out of left field. And whether or not you were swinging for the fences or just covering all your bases, this is the big leagues, and hopefully you didn't drop the ball.
But when it comes to an afternoon at the ballpark, no fan wants to get bogged down in an analysis of the etymological relationship between our national pastime and the more than 600,000 words that are found in the Oxford English Dictionary. For them, baseball is about peanuts, red hots, and 10-cent beer night—and of course, every fan's God-given right to curse the men in blue.
Any umpire's decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.
—Rule 9.02(a) Official Rules of Major League Baseball
Don Denkinger's Show-Me State Shame
October 26, 1985: World Series Game 6, Cardinals at Royals
The most widely circulated legend as to the origins of the appellation "Show-Me State" attributes the phrase to an 1899 speech given by Missouri congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver. While at a banquet in Philadelphia, Vandiver declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."
It is assumed that the "show me" moniker stuck after scores of puzzled but curious East Coast banquetgoers asked Vandiver if he could show them what a cocklebur was.
And ironically, after the Show-Me State World Series eighty-six years later, the word cocklebur (or one of its more adult variations) was used by St. Louis Cardinals fans to describe American League umpire Don Denkinger.
Following an improbable NLCS victory over the Dodgers, where Ozzie Smith won Game 5 with his first ever left-handed home run, and Jack Clark won the deciding Game 6 with a 3-run homer in the ninth—both coming off Tom Niedenfuer for you scoring at home—the Cardinals went into the 1985 World Series against the Royals as heavy favorites to win.
And after Kansas City dropped the series' first two games at home (no team in World Series history had ever rallied from such a fate to take the title), it was a foregone conclusion that St. Louis would be raising its tenth championship banner. In fact, it was a surprise to most that the Cardinals failed to close the door at Busch Stadium—dropping two of three games—and were forced to go back to Kansas City to finally pop their champagne.
But the moment for bubbly was finally at hand in Game 6, as the Cardinals entered the bottom of the ninth inning up 1-0 and a perfect 88-0 on the season when leading after eight innings. Rookie closer Todd Worrell, who struck out a World Series record-tying six consecutive Royals in Game 5, was on the mound to nail it down. And just three outs separated St. Louis from their second World Championship in four years, and the I-70 Series win.
Just three outs—and first base umpire Don Denkinger.
Pinch hitter Jorge Orta led off the inning with an innocent ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark, who then flipped the ball to the covering Worrell, who beat Orta to the bag by a full step—as seen by everyone in the stadium but the one and only man who really mattered, Don Denkinger.
His call was "safe," and despite a series of rapid-fire reenactments by Worrell, protests from Clark, and what looked to be a steady stream of obscenities from manager Whitey Herzog, Denkinger didn't budge.
The next batter, Steve Balboni, popped up along the first base dugout—only to be given new life when the still-fuming Clark misplayed the ball. Balboni then got a single, and a pinch runner, a bunt out, and a passed ball later, the Royals had runners at second and third and a chance to win with Dane Iorg at the plate.
Iorg, who hit .529 in the Cardinals' 1982 World Series win, came up clutch for K.C., lining a single to right field that chased home Onix Concepcion and Jim Sundberg for the 2-1 comeback victory.
The following day in Game 7, with Denkinger now behind home plate, the demoralized Cardinals disgraced their way to an 11-0 loss, handing Kansas City its first and only World Series crown.
It'd be easy to point to World Series MVP Bret Saberhagen's two complete games and 0.50 ERA as the reason for the Royals' win. Or the Cardinals' .185 series batting average and just two stolen bases, following a regular season where they led the National League in both categories at .264 and 314 respectively.The Worst Call Ever!
The Most Infamous Calls Ever Blown by Referees, Umpires, and Other Blind Officials. Copyright © by Kyle Garlett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Worst Call Ever!: The Most Infamous Calls Ever Blown by Referees, Umpires, and Other Blind Officials by Kyle Garlett, Patrick O'neal
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.