1985 World Series Game-Used Baseball, from the Personal Collection of Umpire Don Denkinger

1985 World Series Game-Used Baseball, from the Personal Collection of Umpire Don Denkinger

In this edition of Front & Center (better name TBD), I want to highlight a baseball that seems to get overlooked a lot when I give tours.  As many items at GroveWood, it was game-used, which as I’ve mentioned many times before, is my favorite type of item to go after for the collection.  Just something about an item that was there, in a specific cool moment in baseball history, to be able to have and hold…I dunno, there’s just something magical about it to me.


One added factor about this item, though, is that it also came from the personal collection of a man famous for (and blamed, depending on which team’s fan you’re talking to) a blown call that many attribute to one team’s victory of a particular World Series.  And as we as sports fans have seen time and time again, the difference of being Champions and second place are HUGE (see Buffalo Bills), and also contain a trickle-down effect that dictates so many present and future consequences/decisions.  And if you’re a diehard fan of a franchise with the second most championships in MLB history, you EXPECT to win when your team makes it to the Fall Classic.  Cause that’s just how it is…

In 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals won 101 games in the regular season, and were heavily favored to add their tenth WS title against the fellow-Missourians Kansas City Royals, whom were playing in their first WS in their tenth year of existence.  The Cards won the first two games in Kansas City, but the Royals won the third game behind that year’s AL Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen and a 2-run HR from 2B Frank White.  St. Louis came back to take Game 4, and then KC fought back to avoid elimination and won Game 5. 

And Game 6 is where our subject baseball comes in.  With the Series moving back to KC, Game 6 was very much a pitcher’s duel, as no runs were scored until the eighth inning, with the Cards taking a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth.  Three outs away from adding another championship trophy on the shelf. 

First batter for the Royals was pinch-hitter Jorge Orta, who at this point was more of a platoon-type player near the end of his 16-year career.  Facing STL rookie reliever Todd Worrell, Orta sent a chopping bouncer to the right of 1B Jack Clark, who fielded then looked to toss the ball to Worrell as he ran to step on first base.  However, Clark’s toss was a bit behind Worrell as he sprinted to the bag, which allowed the running Orta to come between umpire Don Denkinger and Denkinger’s view of Worrell’s reached-out glove.  Denkinger called Orta safe, although with most other angles of the play, it was obvious Worrell caught the ball and beat Orta to the bag.  But since this was 23 years prior to replays being available to review by officials, the call stood.  Cardinals Mgr. Whitey Herzog, along with several Cards players who had a much better view of the play, went nuts in protest of the call. 

Denkinger would later claim that he was waiting to hear the ball land in Worrell's glove while watching the bag for Orta's foot. But due to the crowd noise in Royals Stadium, he ruled Orta safe because he never heard Worrell catch the ball. "I was in good position, but Worrell is tall, the throw was high, and I couldn't watch his glove and his feet at the same time," Denkinger told Sports Illustrated. "It was a soft toss, and there was so much crowd noise, I couldn't hear the ball hit the glove."

And at that instance, as has happened so many times in sports, the momentum of the game shifted.  And if you’re not familiar with this story, as you can probably guess, the Royals staged a comeback to score two runs in that inning and steal the victory from STL.  The Royal players celebrated the rally at home plate with their fans going bonkers.  The kind of game that has every fan in attendance talking about it non-stop the next day at work…still in disbelief, yet overcome with hope and excitement.

What’s interesting in famous “scape-goat” series like this one, is that no one seems to remember that THERE’S STILL ANOTHER GAME TO PLAY to decide the fate of each team.  The same thing happened the following year’s WS, after Bill Buckner’s ground ball between-the-legs gaffe in Game 6, or Steve Bartman’s interference in 2003’s NLCS.  Nope.  It’s the scape-goat play that directly caused the series loss is the common memory.

And so, following this script, the Royals obliterated the Cards in Game 7 with fourteen hits that resulted in eleven runs.  STL didn’t even score a run, behind Saberhagen’s shutout, which led to his WS MVP award.  With Game 7 in KC, Royals Stadium was electric, celebrating their first championship.  And as expected, Cardinal fans were stunned, which quickly turned to anger toward Denkinger, believing they should’ve never had to play a Game 7 in the first place.

In the immediate aftermath of the Series, Denkinger received many hateful letters and even death threats, to the point where he felt necessary to contact MLB Security which led to getting the FBI involved.  The media would eventually label Denkinger’s miscue as “The Call”, as it’s considered by baseball historians and publications as one of the biggest umpire blunders in baseball history.

It would take nineteen years before St. Louis won another WS, yet even until that point (and for some, still), many longtime Cardinal fans blamed Denkinger for the ’85 WS loss.  Denkinger retired after the ’98 season, and in later years, frequently acknowledged his blown call and even poked fun of himself.

This ball displayed at GroveWood, which played a small part of that eventful ’85 World Series, is uniquely from Denkinger’s own personal collection that he had retained as a keepsake for himself.  Unfortunately, I do not know which game of the Series this ball was used.  But if I was a bettin’ man--it wasn’t from Game 6.

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