Subscribe for 99¢
Don Denkinger

Umpire Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta of Kansas City Royals safe on this play in the sixth game of the 1985 world series. Kansas City went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals for the championship. (AP Photo/The Kansas City Star, Patrick Sullivan)

Editor's note: on Oct. 26, 1985 — umpire Don Denkinger made a call during Game 6 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals that lives in infamy. This column originally was published in the Post-Dispatch on Oct. 27, 1985.

KANSAS CITY - It is not known what Don Denkinger plans to do with his day today, before he goes to work tonight. The weather is supposed to be nice, so perhaps Denkinger can drive north from Kansas City to the little Clay County town of Liberty.

There's a place there he ought to see. The boyhood home of Jesse James. Jesse James used to rob trains for a living. He'd ride up with his gang, pull a gun and grab the loot. He became sort of a hero in these parts.

Denkinger ought to be able to relate to that. He robbed the Cardinals blind Saturday night. Now he's a hero in these parts, too.

Denkinger is an American League umpire who, through the vagaries of the new non-merit system — a system endorsed, incidentally, by the same umpires association that endorsed Richard Nixon as an arbitrator — was assigned to umpire the World Series. He was stationed at first base Saturday night, and it was his call there in the ninth inning that denied the Cardinals — perhaps just postponed — a World Series victory.

Instead, we'll go to Game 7 tonight. Bret Saberhagen, the Royals' best pitcher, will face John Tudor, the Cardinals' best. We'll have a classic finish to a World Series that has been less than classic.

The only trouble is that Denkinger will be calling balls and strikes. The hope here is that the players take the game out of the umpires' hands, for they surely wrecked the Cardinals in the ninth inning Saturday.

''The whole inning, '' said manager Whitey Herzog, ''was screwed up when he missed the call at first base.''

Watch the replay on your monitor:

Jorge Orta is leading off the ninth inning for the Royals, down 1-0 and down to their last gasp. Reliever Todd Worrell delivers and Orta bounces the ball to between Jack Clark at first and Tom Herr at second. Clark fields it, tosses to Worrell covering at first and Orta is clearly out by a half a step.

But no! Your replay lies! See the man in blue, our man Denkinger, signal safe! See the Cardinals argue. See Denkinger shake his head. The Royals are alive!

They came back, of course, to beat the Cardinals 2-1 in as good a finish to a ballgame as you'd ever want to see. Unless you root for the Cardinals. Or unless you like to see the games won or lost by the players and not the umpires.

The Cardinals contributed to their own demise after that. Jack Clark didn't catch Steve Balboni's pop foul -- and he should have -- and then Balboni singled. Worrell made a great play to get the lead runner on a sacrifice attempt, and then Darrell Porter -- who habitually reaches for outside pitches instead of moving to block them -- reached for one that got away. Passed ball, one out, two men in scoring position and Dane Iorg got to be a hero.

That was the only good thing about the inning from an eastern Missouri point of view. Dane Iorg, a former Cardinal and one of the nicer men ever to wear the birds on the bat, got to be a hero by driving in the two runs with a single to right.

In 1982, he was a World Series hero for the Cardinals. In 1985, he killed them. This was his job. Don Denkinger also killed them. This was not his job.

The Cardinal clubhouse was not a pretty place after this man-made disaster. It was as quiet as Jesse James' grave. The smell of barbecue wafted from the postgame defeat. It did not mix well with other smells.

Tom Herr sat on the floor of his locker staring into the middle distance. He did not wish to talk, which was uncharacteristic.

Willie McGee sat on the floor of his locker, ignoring his plate of barbecue. He slammed his hand against the locker wall, a gesture of frustration. This, too, was uncharacteristic.

In his office, Herzog sat staring blankly. Usually more voluble after defeat than victory, Herzog was uncharacteristically quiet Saturday night -- for a while.

He had just been cheated, and he didn't care who knew it.

Someone told him that at least he had the comfort of sending John Tudor out to salvage the series Sunday.

''Don't make a damn, '' he said flatly. ''We had the damned World Series won tonight.''

It was suggested that the replay showed that Clark's toss to Worrell had beaten Orta to the bag by at least a half a step.

''Beat him more than that, '' Herzog said. ''I went out and asked him what the hell was going on. If he'd told me that Todd had pulled his foot off the bag, I wouldn't have said anything. But he told me he beat it, and that was b.s.''

A guy said the Cardinals seemed to have seen their share of bad umpiring in the postseason. ''We do seem to be coming up one short on that stick, '' Herzog agreed.

''I'm not supposed to comment on the umpiring, '' he said. And then he took a pull from a bottle of Bud and commented anyway.

''But if you want my opinion, it's horse----.

''Man, it (umpiring) ain't all that hard. The three American League umpires I'm talking about, not ours (the National League umps). Our guys haven't given us a break, but they've called pretty good games.''

It was noted to Herzog -- as if anyone had to note it -- that the umpires' latest contract with major-league baseball gives each umpire the right to work in postseason play according to a rotation system that has nothing to do with how good he is. The system came under fire in the American League playoffs - the American League seems to be a veritable James Gang of bad umpires - and now it has reared its ugly head just when the Cardinals needed it least.

''Let me just say this,'' Herzog said. ''The two best teams in baseball are supposed to be in the World Series. They ought to have the best umpires from the two leagues, too. I think it's a disgrace.''

7 villains of Cardinals postseasons