What if … Denkinger hadn't blown the call?


What really happened: With the Royals trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, leadoff man Jorge Orta slapped a routine grounder to first baseman Jack Clark, who made the toss to pitcher Todd Worrell in time to retire Orta by half a step. Or so everyone thought, except first-base umpire Don Denkinger, who called Orta safe and wasn't about to change his mind. Two defensive misplays and two line-drive singles later, the Royals had scored the winning run, and they would clinch the Series the next night with an 11-0 blowout.

But what if … Denkinger hadn't blown the call?

The Cardinals would have won Game 6, and thus the World Series. While it's true that the Cardinals should have won even with Denkinger's blown call, it's hard to argue that they would have lost without it, because the blown call seemed to unhinge them. With Orta on first base, Steve Balboni lifted a foul pop toward the first-base dugout; somehow, neither Jack Clark nor catcher Darrell Porter was able to make the play, and Balboni eventually singled. Moments later -- after a failed sacrifice bunt -- Porter was charged with a passed ball that moved runners to second and third, both of whom scored on Dane Iorg's two-run single.

Without the blown call, though? Everything's different. And considering that the Cardinals hadn't lost a game all season in which they'd led after eight innings, we may assume they'd have won this one, too.

What would be different if the Cardinals had won? Well, Whitey Herzog might already be in the Hall of Fame. Billy Southworth, another St. Louis manager, was enshrined last summer. Southworth won four National League pennants and two World Series. Herzog won six division titles, three league pennants … but just one World Series. Herzog may yet be elected to the Hall, but his résumé would look a bit better with another Series ring.

The ripple effect goes far beyond Herzog, though. In 1985, the Royals' general manager was John Schuerholz. The franchise stumbled in 1986, then treaded water in '87 and '88 before a 92-win season in 1989. Emboldened, Schuerholz spent a huge amount of money on free-agent pitchers Mark Davis and Storm Davis. Both were abject disasters, the Royals plummeted to fourth place in 1990 … and after the season, he was welcomed in Atlanta as the Braves' new GM.

You know the rest of the story. And I will argue that if not for Don Denkinger, Schuerholz would not have landed in Atlanta. That instead of being hailed as the mastermind behind the Royals' world championship, he would have been blamed for laying waste to a once-proud franchise. So go the fates.