Twenty-five years ago tonight, Kansas City, Mo., game six of the 1985 World Series between the Cardinals and the Royals. I was at home watching on television with my friends Kurt and Sue — my parents were out of town at the Lake of the Ozarks.
It was looking good for the Cards, leading the series three games to two, up by a run going into the bottom of the ninth inning. All they had to do was get through the inning and they’d be world champs for the second time in three years.
You know the story, though. Jorge Orta hit a grounder to first and got thrown out by a step … but the umpire inexplicably called him safe. The name of the umpire — Don Denkinger — has lived in infamy in St. Louis sports lore ever since. The Cardinals fell apart after that call — a pop foul that most first basemen should be able to reach, but Jack Clark couldn’t, Darrel Porter failing to block the plate, etc. — and the Cardinals lost the game.
At my house, like everyone else in St. Louis, we were stunned. Before long Kurt and Sue made their way home and I was left alone to drown my sorrows. For a while I even listened to sports-talk on the radio. Bob Gibson was on KMOX that night; I still remember, somebody called in and asked what he thought about the designated hitter rule. His typically curt response: “Well, I don’t like it. But then, I don’t like anything right now.”
Later in the night., my sorrows still far from drowned, I made my way back down to the television room to see what was on. In those days (and maybe still today, I have no idea), Channel 5 would rebroadcast the tape of their 10 p.m. news at 1 a.m., for those who missed the earlier broadcast. I happened to catch the beginning of the rebroadcast; the news anchors were all smiles as the show began, because across the state, the Cardinals were about to win it all. In typical local-news fashion, they gave it “team coverage”: first the sports anchor in the studio, then cut to a reporter standing outside the Kansas City stadium, and then cut to a report inside some St. Louis sports bar to get “fan reaction” … you know the drill.
It was kind of an odd show, besides the fact that I was watching this catastrophe play out on a three-hour delay. Here was Channel 5, showing extended coverage of the World Series game … when of course anyone who cared about the game would have been watching it live on the other channel, not watching pseudo-coverage on Channel 5. But there in the studio, via three-hour videotape time warp, Rick Edlund and his newsmates thought they were reporting on a Cardinals World Series victory.
They couldn’t show any on-field action, because the game was still going on on another network. But with each shot, it was clear the situation was getting worse for the Cardinals. Whoever was standing outside of the stadium was talking about how the Cards were on the verge of winning … and then you could hear a loud cheer going up from the Royals crowd inside the ballpark. At the sports bar, the reporter was talking about the excitement as the Cardinals were going to win it all, but the stunned silence of the fans behind him belied everything he was saying. Like a masochist, I kept watching. When they cut back to the studio, the anchors were still actually thinking the Cardinals were pulling it out. I finally couldn’t watch any more, and crawled off to bed.
The next day, I made the easiest prediction in the world: that night’s game 7 was going to be ugly, and someone was going to be ejected. I was of course right, in spades. The Cardinals came out tight and played maybe the worst World Series game ever. Before it was over, at least two Cardinals — manager Whitey Herzog and pitcher Joaquin Andujar — had been tossed. I was long gone myself before the game was over; as I drove home from my cousin Bruce’s house, I took a detour to drive past my old junior high school; Plymouth Jr. High was in the process of being torn down to make room for new luxury condos. As of that night, the school was a huge pile of rubble. It fit my mood perfectly.
Update: Ah, well, it seems Major League Baseball found the YouTube clip of Denkinger’s blown call that I’d linked to in this post, and had it taken down. I found the image above, which tells the story even more succinctly.