Former MLB umpire Don Denkinger dies at age 86

May 14, 2023

Sad news emerged from the world of professional sports on Friday when it was announced that longtime Major League Baseball umpire Don Denkinger died at the age of 86, as Fox News reports.

Denkinger's death at a Waterloo, Iowa hospice facility was confirmed by Denise Hanson, one of his three daughters, according to USA Today.

“The Call”

Though Denkinger had a long and successful career in the MLB that lasted three decades, he is likely to be most remembered for a controversial on-field ruling he made in the 1985 World Series, that was ultimately referred to simply as “The Call,” as the New York Post explains.

At the time, the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals were fighting for the championship, with the latter holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a 1-0 advantage in the ninth inning of the sixth game.

That is when Royals batter Jorge Orta sent a high hit toward Todd Worrell at first base, and though Jack Clark of the Cardinals threw the ball to the bag in the nick of time to tag Orta out, Denkinger called him safe.

The Royals went on to take Game Six and then Game Seven, giving them the world championship in the end, and the outcome was something for which Denkinger had to answer for the rest of his career.

Defining moment

Instant replay rules simply were not a thing back in 1985, and there is little doubt that if they had been, the enduring controversy surrounding Denkinger's call could have been avoided via an immediate correction.

The fallout from the pivotal – yet erroneous – call was significant, with Denkinger receiving angry letters and messages at his home, not to mention a death threat from a man later identified as a business owner in the St. Louis area, as the Post noted.

Then-MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth publicly declared Denkinger to be “one of the top five umpires in the entire league” and seemingly sought fan forgiveness on his behalf by acknowledging that “he may have missed one.”

Despite the ire that spewed forth from legions of frustrated baseball fans, Denkinger remained a consummate professional, always keeping the incident in proper perspective.

“We're only human”

Speaking to Sports Illustrated after the botched call, Denkinger said, “No one wants to be embarrassed like that.”

“My job is predicated on being right all the time, and I like to be right all the time. But we're only human, and now it's history,” the umpire continued. “I can't change anything. Even admitting I was wrong doesn't change anything.”

Despite his regret over the call, Denkinger proceeded to serve the league for well over another decade, even being a good enough sport to add his autograph to photos of the fateful World Series play.

“They'll probably have a whole lot more to say when I die,” Denkinger once said about the controversy, humorously – and wisely – adding, “[t]hat's one thing I don't have to worry about.”

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