By Jeffery Armstrong
I recently saw a SportsCenter segment about former major league umpire Don Dekinger, one of the umpires on duty when the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Kansas City Royals in the 1985 World Series. I remember that World Series well. I was hoping the Cardinals would win because I wasn't a big Royals fan, even though they were an American League team (George Brett used to torch the Yankees at the time so yes, I was hating on them).
The Cardinals were up three-games-to-two and they had a 1-0 lead in the top of the ninth inning in game six. They were three outs away from winning the World Series when the unthinkable happened. Jorge Orta of the Royals hit a ball that first baseman Jack Clark grabbed and threw to the Cardinals' pitcher covering first. Orta was out, but Dekinger called him safe, thinking he beat the throw. The Cardinals were upset and managed to lose the game 2-1. In game seven, the Cardinals lost 11-0 and the World Series title.
Dekinger said he was shocked to find out from the head of the umpires association that he blew the call. He said he felt bad, but it didn't matter to Cardinals fans. Dekinger got tons of hate mail from angry Cardinals fans for that missed call. Many wrote that he better not show his face in Missouri and one fan even wrote that he would blow Dekinger away (with a .357 magnum) if he ever saw him on the street.
Dekinger and his family lived in Waterloo, Iowa and before he arrived home from the '85 Series, his family had received death threats.
Just to show how loony these people were, the guy that threatened to blow Dekinger away sent that letter to the Silver Fox Restaurant, which Dekinger owned in Waterloo. The coward misspelled the word restaurant on the envelope.
When I see stories like that, it amazes me how seriously people take sporting events. People get maniacal over these games and it's very disturbing. I actually think someone will kill an umpire, referee or official one of these days. It's only a game, people. There's absolutely no excuse to threaten someone's life or their family's lives over a bad call in a playoff game.
My theory about why people get so crazy is two-fold: first, people love their teams and live vicariously through them. Fans paint their faces, wear wigs, jerseys and other items and generally act foolish at games. Many probably feel if their teams do well, it validates their lives.
Second, gambling is out of hand. From sports pools at work to huge gambling websites, people sometimes put up huge sums of money on these teams and if they don't win, they stand to lose a great deal.
People who gamble on sports are already upset if they lose money and if an official makes a bad call in the team's loss, knuckleheads always want to blame him or her instead of calming down and getting on with their lives. I understand being passionate about your team(s), but I just can't imagine wanting to hurt or kill somebody over it. We're all human and we all make mistakes.
But I guess that human "excuse" doesn't apply to all referees, officials and umpires.
Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .