Posts Tagged ‘Onix Concepcion’

Game Six: Blown Call

July 30, 2011

There have been a lot of blown calls in baseball history. There was Jim Joyce’s muff last season that cost a perfect game. In game five of the 1952 World Series, Johnny Sain, playing for New York, was called out at first on a play in the 10th inning. Photographs clearly showed him safe. Brooklyn then won the game in the eleventh. Some people argue the Steve Bartman play was a blown call. Just the other day the Pirates had a complaint. But no blown call is more famous than the “Denkinger Call” in game six of the 1985 World Series.

Game 6, 1985

1985

Down three games to two on 26 October 1985, the Kansas City Royals needed to win game six to force a game seven. Going for them was the fact they were playing at home. The game featured Charlie Leibrandt (who will show up prominently in another game six a few years later) for the home team. He had gone 17-9 during the season, but was 0-1 for the Series. Danny Cox, who was 18-9 for the season, but had no decision in his previous start, was on the mound for St. Louis.  Both men pitched well. Cox went seven innings, walked one, struck out eight, gave up seven hits, and held the Royals scoreless. Leibrandt did equally well through seven, giving up four hits, no walks, three strikeouts, and, like Cox, held the opponent scoreless.

Things changed in the top of the eighth. With one out, Terry Pendleton singled, went to second on a walk, stood at second while the next out was made. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog pulled Cox, sending up Brian Harper to pinch hit. Unlike Bob Lemon’s 1981 ploy, this one worked. Harper singled plating Pendleton with the go ahead run. Now six outs from a championship, the Cards brought in Ken Dayley. He gave up a  walk, but shut down the Royals. St. Louis did nothing in the top of the ninth, which brought the game to the last half of the last inning and  Don Denkinger’s brush with infamy.

St. Louis brought in closer Todd Worrell who had a terrific World Series to that point. The Royals countered with pinch hitter Jorge Orta. Orta hit a roller toward first and was called safe by first base umpire Denkinger. The Cardinals went ballistic and replays showed Orta was out. First baseman Steve Balboni singled sending Orta to second. An attempted sacrifice by catcher Jim Sundberg resulted in Orta being out at third. Back up shortstop Onix Concepcion, running for Balboni made it to second with Sundberg safe at first. A passed ball moved both runners up a base, then Hal McRae was walked intentionally. That brought up Dane Iorg to bat for the pitcher. Iorg was a former Cardinal and had made an out in his only previous Series appearance. He singled to right scoring both Concepcion and Sundberg and setting up a seventh game which Kansas City won handily 11-0. It is, to date, the Royals’ only world’s championship.

Denkinger had been a Major League umpire since 1969 and a crew chief since 1977. He was crew chief for the 1985 Series (his third Series) and served again as crew chief for the 1991 World Series. He did a number of All Star games and umped for several League Championship Series’. In other words, he was an experienced and respected umpire. After the end of the 1985 season he reviewed tapes of the play and admitted he’d gotten it wrong. Unfortunately, as crew chief he had the plate for game seven which St. Louis lost. Some sources blame both the blown call and the follow-up of Denkinger being behind the plate in game seven for the Cardinals losing the Series. Frankly, St. Louis couldn’t get its act together for game seven and that wasn’t Denkinger’s fault. If I blame anyone, it’s Herzog for not having his team mentally prepared for the seventh game. St. Louis, and pitcher John Tudor in particular, looked like they were going through the motions in game seven, convinced they’d won and didn’t seem to understand why they were playing another game (I’m sure Tudor would dispute that, and probably validly. But that’s how it seemed to me as a fan.). That’s the fault of the Cardinal players and managers, not the umpire. It took St. Louis 21 years to win its next World Series. Sometimes I think they thought that was Denkinger’s fault too. Denkinger is now retired and seems to have gotten over it. That’s good. So too have the Cardinals, which is better. At the 2005 Whitey Herzog Youth Foundation dinner, Denkinger was one of the speakers.

An Anniversary in Kansas City

October 27, 2010

Dick Howser

With the start of the World Series, it seems appropriate to look back at previous champions so that the current crop of players can see the shoulders they stand upon. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the only World Series win by the Kansas City Royals. Over the last several years the Royals have become irrelevant in the American League, so many people have forgotten that they were once a powerhouse winning it all in 1985.

The Series is now primarily famous for Don Denkinger’s blown call in the ninth inning of game six. I’ve even heard people complain that call cost St. Louis the Series. It didn’t. Being unable to get their act together after the disappointment of game six did. The Cards lost game seven 11-0 (tied with a Cardinals victory in 1934 as the biggest blowout game seven ever) and Denkinger didn’t cause that. It also helped that the Royals were a good team. Ewing Kaufmann had away of finding good players who rose to the occasion when needed. They won only the single World Series on his watch, but they were competitive year after year. Dick Howser was an excellent manager who got the most out of his players and had a knack of nurturing new team members. It’s a great shame he died so very early. In fact, the early deaths of Howser and Dan Quisenberry give this team something of a tragic air.

The team itself had a young pitching staff. The four men who started the World Series games were 21 (Bret Saberhagen), 23 (Danny Jackson), and 28 year olds Charlie Leibrandt and Bud Black was the geezers (22-year-old Mark Gubicza didn’t pitch in the Series). Closer Dan Quisenberry saved 37 games that season, the last of four consecutive seasons he would lead the AL. Saberhagen picked up the Cy Young Award that season (and another in 1989). None of them went on to greatness, even Saberhagen, the best of the starters. He ended his career 167-117. Jackson had a few good years getting into World Series play in 1990 (with a winning Cincinnati) and 1993 (with a losing Philadelphia), and ending with a 112-131 record.  Leibrandt got into the 1991 World Series, lost two games, and is primarily famous today for giving up Kirby Puckett’s walk off in game six. His career record was 140-112. Black now manages at San Diego and went 121-116. Gubicza stayed with KC the longest (to 1996) but finished his career 132-136. Quiz died young but gave KC 244 saves (and for my money rates a serious look for Coopertown). For one year, they all pitched well and led a team to victory.

The infield was solid, if uneven. Steve Balboni hit .243 and led the team with 36 home runs. He also led the league in strikeouts with 166. Shortstop Onix Concepcion hit .204 and was replaced in the Series by Buddy Biancalana who had hit all of a buck-88. While neither tore up the diamond with a bat, both were decent fielders. The other two infielders were two-thirds of the heart of the team. Frank White was a great second baseman. He turned the double play with grace, could catch anything and played wider of the base than anyone else in the AL. He hit .249 with 22 home runs. Hall of Famer George Brett was at third. He led the league in slugging at .585, hit .335, had 30 home runs, 38 doubles, and 112 RBIs. Just your standard George Brett type year.

If White and Brett were two-thirds of the heart of the team, center fielder Willie Wilson was the other third. Leading off he hit .278. stole 43 bases, and led the AL with 21 triples. As an outfielder he was terrific, using his speed to roam all over the grass. Which was just as good because Lonnie Smith played left field. Smith could hit, but he was a terrible fielder. For 1985 he hit .257, stole 40 bases, and had 23 doubles. Today he’s probably most famous for the base running blunder in game seven of the 1991 Series, but for a while he was a winner (appearing on World Series winning rosters in 1980, 1982, and 1985). The Royals platooned Darryl Motley and Pat Sheridan in right field. Motley was the right-handed hitter. Both hit in the .220s, but Motley produced 17 home runs. Both Wilson and Smith were involved in drug allegations that effected their career, which adds an element of sadness about what might have been lost to this team.

The catcher and designated hitter were also solid. Jim Sundberg, lately over from Texas, was considered one of the finest catchers of the era. He hit .259 with 14 home runs in 1985, a major offensive explosion for him. Jorge Orta and Hal McRae split time as the DH (McRae was the right handed hitter). Both had acceptable years, but as the DH was not used in the 1985 Series, both were relegated to pinch hit duties. Orta got the only hit either had; it drove in two runs.  No one on the bench hit .250 and none had more than two home runs. Dane Iorg of Denkinger fame (or infamy depending on your point of view) hit .223 with one homer.

The team won the Series by hitting .288 to St.Louis’ .185 and scoring 28 runs to 13 for the Cards (take out the 11-0 game 7 and the numbers were 17-13). White had six RBIs, Brett led the team with a .370 average, and Saberhagen had two wins (including game seven) and picked up the MVP.

That was the highpoint for Kansas City. The pitching didn’t pan out, the hitters got old or faded. But for one year they were the best in baseball and showed the fans that Kansas City was relevant. Too bad that last part’s changed.