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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 3, 2010

MLB: Denkinger advises not-so-perfect ump to move on


What we have here, sadly for one poor umpire, meets all the qualifications of a true Obit Call.

That's when the mistake is so unforgettable, it ends up in the first three paragraphs of a guy's obit.

So what should we do, now that Jim Joyce has been unanimously voted into the Blown Call Hall of Infamy? Exile? The gallows at dawn? A White House executive order for more baseball replay?

There seemed one man to ask.

"He's sick. I've been there, so I know," Don Denkinger said over the phone from his home in Iowa. "My best advice to him is to keep his chin up. Don't look back. Go on. He's going to be an umpire for a long time. He can't let this get him down.

"This only happens because we're human beings. I think I'm going to call him and tell him that, because I know him."

Another dose of replay? Denkinger became convinced last autumn, watching the postseason turn into a lowlight reel of umpire misfortune.

"They have to start somewhere, and now's the time. I haven't always said that, but I've said it the last few years."

Agreed. If one bad moment can unjustly stain a life's body of work, the umpires must be saved from something like this, if possible. Wednesday can't happen.

Denkinger, of course, is the gold standard for missed calls in baseball. Or at least, he was.

The play that marks him still was strikingly similar to Joyce's nightmare; the ninth inning, a ground ball to the right with the pitcher covering, a close play at first.

Denkinger and Joyce both said safe.

Replays clearly showed out.

Denkinger's call in game 6 of the 1985 World Series, with Kansas City down 3-2 in the series and 1-0 in the game, opened the door to a Royals' 2-1 victory. They ended up champions the next night. The St. Louis Cardinals lost 11-0 and he didn't throw a pitch, but he got the blame anyway.

With his call directly impacting a World Series, it might still rise above Joyce costing Armando Galarraga a perfect game. But this is new, and thus seems more jarring. Plus, it was the 27th out.

Both probably go in the inner sanctum of officiating disasters:

The referees giving the Soviet basketball team three times to get it right in the final seconds against the Americans in the 1972 Olympics.

The botched 1998 Thanksgiving overtime coin toss in Detroit.

The fifth down granted Colorado to beat Missouri and preserve its 1990 national championship hopes.

Vinny Testaverde's phantom touchdown for the 1998 Jets that cost the Seattle Seahawks a playoff spot, their coach his job, and was judged so egregious, it turned a 21-9 vote against replay the year before into a 28-3 vote in favor.

The Irish constituency will no doubt nominate the handball for France last year that kept Ireland out of the World Cup.

A personal favorite is Oregon's onside kick against Oklahoma in 2006. The Ducks got away with touching the ball too early and won 34-33. Not a significant game, maybe, but the officials used replay and STILL got it wrong.

Never mind rankings. What of the mortal men who missed the call?

"I probably made thousands of plays," Denkinger said. "That's the only one they'll remember. That's pretty sad.

"I've heard people say, when they're working their first postseason, `I don't want to have a Don Denkinger call.' Nobody wants to have one of those, but they happen."

And when they do, the world wants to hear from one retired umpire.

"I have become very accustomed to it. I can live with that."

Denkinger was at a country club golf outing Wednesday night, when a nearby friend was on a cell phone, being told of the events from Detroit. Denkinger caught enough of the conversation to get the idea.

"Perfect game for 26 outs . . . play at first . . . they're saying it was the worst call since Don Denkinger."


When Denkinger got home, his wife told him the calls had been pouring in. He had left his cell phone in his golf bag.

"Turned out," he said, "to be a good place for it."

That night in 1985 never dies. The rest of us can sympathize with Jim Joyce's pain. Don Denkinger can feel it.