That was the very moment that the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals were “Denkinger’ed”, and the moment a friendly rivalry became a point of contention and posturing.
In the summer of 1985, “The Heat Is On” by Glen Frey and “We Built This City” by Starship were the top songs on the pop charts. The Huxtables battled with the Keatons every week to be TV’s favorite family. Doc Brown was driving a Delorean through space and time, and he only had to pay $1.20 per gallon.
There was also a line drawn down the center of Columbia. One side was Cardinal Red, the other side was Royal Blue. A nice little college town smack-dab inbetween the two major metropolitan cities in Missouri. It was a fun summer.
Then summer became fall, and fall became “October baseball”. Jack Buck implored Cardinals fans to “Go crazy, folks.. GO CRAZY!” and the Redbirds defeated the Dodgers in the NLCS.
The Royals became the first team in baseball history to get down in a series 3 games to 1 and come back to win, beating the Blue Jays.
That set up an All-Missouri World Series in 1985. Gateways and Fountains. Toasted Ravioli and Barbecue. Interstate 70….
… and a line in the sand.
The Cardinals won Game One and Game Two in KC. The Royals bounced back to win Game Three in St. Louis, but the Cardinals came right back to win Game Four at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals fans in Columbia were confident with their team leading the World Series 3 games to 1.
The Royals were in the same position as they were the prior week against the Toronto Blue Jays. They were the first team to come back from that kind of deficit and win a seven-game series. After KC won Game Five in St. Louis, they tried to become the SECOND team to do it. The two teams went back to Kansas City for Game Six with the Cardinals leading the World Series 3-2.
Saturday, October 26, 1985 at approximately 10:17 P.M., first base umpire Don Denkinger’s life would change forever. Bottom of the 9th inning. St. Louis leading Kansas City 1-0.
Jorge Orta leads off the inning with a bouncing ball to Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark. Clark flips the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell who races to first base in an attempt to beat Orta to the bag. Worrell beats him by a hair. One out.
WAIT! Denkinger throws his arms out like an airplane and screams: “SAFE! SAFE!”
After an argument from Worrell and Cards Hall Of Fame Manager (and former Royals Manager) Whitey Herzog, Denkinger doesn’t reverse the decision and the Royals have the tying run on base with nobody out.
Most Missouri-born baseball fans know how it all ends. Steve Balboni hits a single to left field, Jack Clark drops a foul ball pop-up, the Cardinals make a pitch that gets by the catcher and goes to the backstop, Dane Iorg hits a looping single to right field, the Royals score two runs in the bottom of the 9th, beat the Cardinals 2-1 and head to Game Seven.
The Royals would win Game Seven 11-0, George Brett picks up Bret Saberhagen and the City of Fountains celebrates their first and only World Series Championship.
Cardinals fans and Royals fans drive from Columbia to meet at the “scene of the crime” every year in Kansas City. This weekend, Ozzie Smith and Whitey Herzog are replaced by Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa… George Brett and Dan Quisenberry morph into Eric Hosmer and Joakim Soria. 1985 lives again at Kauffman Stadium for three days in May.
Though things have cooled in the 26 years since the “I-70 World Series” in 1985, it’s still best to NOT say the name “Denkinger” to anybody. Cardinals fans and Royals fans in Columbia will have an opinion. One side will reminisce with a smile, the other side will reminisce with a four-letter word.
Let’s just “agree to disagree”, crack open our Budweiser or Boulevard, and try to avoid the same tired argument.