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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Call...And the Truth

The Play...and The Call
From Matt Weeks' Hubpages
No attribution listed, but I suspect Sports Illustrated

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Written material only

Tuesday night (June 2nd) at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the Royals and Indians were entangled in a tight game, tied 1-1 going into the 8th inning.  The tribe got men on base, but with one out, Jose Ramirez grounded into what should have been a double play, and a ticket out of a tough inning against one of the dominant relief pitchers in baseball, Wade Davis.  On the throw to first, the first base umpire started to call Ramirez out, but switched his call almost in mid-motion to call him safe.  The replay, played in super-slo-mo for the benefit of Royals' fans seemed to show definitively that Ramirez was out.  But after a long review, the word came back from New York:  Safe.

After that, second baseman Omar Infante muffed another sure double play ball, and eventually Michael Brantley's base hit scored what would prove to be the winning run.

The incident brought immediate memories of another memorable blown call 30 years ago, as several of my friends who are St. Louis Cardinal fans eagerly reminded me.  They took delight in sending emails and texts, all essentially of the same theme:  "How does it feel?"

They say that time heals all wounds.  

Not this one, apparently


Some passions fade after 30 years.  Some stay as fresh as if they had just happened.  For some folks in St. Louis, that play (and Mr. Denkinger admitted later that he did indeed blow the call) was the tipping point that caused the Redbirds to lose the series.  In fact, whenever I see a Cardinal fan, all I have to say is "Denkinger got it right" and...whoosh!...they go off like a bottle rocket.  

But I do know how they feel.  I am a fan of the University of Missouri and remember with great clarity that day against Colorado that an official named Louderback lost the ability to count to four.  And another play against Nebraska when Mizzou successfully knocked a touchdown pass away from a Husker receiver only to have it kicked by another Nebraska player (who years later admitted he did it on purpose) into the arms of yet another friendly receiver, thereby taking away from the Tigers a rare and soul satisfying win against Nebraska.

Despite the decades-long rants from the east side of Missouri over the '85 series, time has provided a valuable historical perspective on the real story of those two weeks in October.

As any fan knows, sports is a stat-driven world.  Stats are how the performances of teams and individual players are measured.  It helps managers make better decisions about what hitters hit certain pitchers better.  Mostly though, I think if gives sports geeks a way to be even more obsessive about their particular sport.  The advent and explosive growth in computing power has led to a veritable flood of statistical information that would easily fill several shelves of any library, if anyone still bothered with print media.  So a look back at the I-70 Series can be instructive, if somewhat painful for Cardinals fans.

The series went the full seven games.  The Cardinals won 3 of the first four, and thus found themselves at a 3 to 1 advantage, 9 innings short of yet another flag in Busch Stadium.  But the Royals, who had been playing comeback ball all year long, won games five and six, tying the series at 3-all.  The last game was an 11-0 blowout and Kansas City was able to celebrate its first (and only) World Series Championship.

So the Redbirds had the Royals down 2 games to none and three games to one, but couldn't close the sale.

A look at the team stats tells another interesting story.  The Cardinals batted only .185 for the Series.  The Royals were over 100 points higher, .288.  Among players with at least 20 at-bats, the Royals had four players above .300, George Brett at .370, Willie Wilson, .367, Lonnie Smith at .333, and Steve Balboni at .320.  The Cardinals had one, Tito Landrum, who wore out the Royals to the tune of a mighty .360.  The next two hitters, Willie McGee and Terry Pendleton, finished at .259 and .261, respectively.

The team ERA for St. Louis was 3.96, actually a fairly respectable number in modern baseball.  But the Royals corps of young and talented pitchers, led by Cy Young award winner Bret Saberhagen threw down a very impressive 1.89.  Over the seven games, the Royals outscored St. Louis 28-13.  

(All these numbers were compiled by Baseball Almanac and are available online at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ws/yr1985ws.shtml)

The Series is remembered as one which went back and forth, filled with tight games and exciting baseball.  But the stats don't lie. The Royals dominated in just about every meaningful statistical category, and the one for which no number exists, the absolute refusal to give in.

It is plain from what I've assembled here that Denkinger's call, while critical at that particular juncture, did not define the series.  Jorge Orta, who was ruled safe at first, never scored.  He was erased at third on a fielder's choice a few minutes later.

Some Cards fans maintain that the call was so outrageously bad that it unnerved the team.  They point to Jack Clark and Darryl Porter allowing an easy foul popup to fall harmlessly between them, and a costly passed ball by Porter.  They say that the lopsided victory in game seven, and the mortifying meltdown by the Cardinals, was a result of that play, and the fact that Denkinger was behind the plate for that game.

I don't buy that.  Not for one second.

The Cardinals were the 1985 National League Champions, winning 101 games, and one thing they had all year long was a solid sense of composure.  During the NLCS, they were down 2 games to none to the Dodgers before going 4-0 for the win.  During the season, they spent 79 games in first place, and only four below .500.  The Redbird pitchers threw 20 shutouts, and were only goose-egged themselves 8 times.  Their longest losing streak all season was a measly 4 games.  This was a dominant club that clearly earned their championship.  After all that, I refuse to believe that they melted down just because of one bad call.

The Cardinals have been to the Big Dance 19 times in their long and storied history, winning 11 championships.  The Royals have been twice and won just once, before fading into a horrendous 29-year post-season drought.  However, since 1985, the Cardinals have been to the post-season 13 times, and to the Series five times, winning twice.  There's no doubt, even restricting history to the years when the Royals were active (1969 to the present) that the Cardinals have consistently been winners.  And across their 133-year history they've played a lot of really good baseball.

Still, these are two cities populated by rabid fan bases who really don't like each other.  While the emotion for the players doesn't match the ferocity of Chiefs-Raiders, or even Chiefs-Broncos, contests played out at the other end of the Truman Sports Complex parking lot, it can be guaranteed that anytime the Royals and the Cardinals meet, there will always be something important on the line.

Even if it's only bragging rights.
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