This Is Not 1985

by on October 23, 2011 · 0 comments

This is most definitely not 1985, and Ron “Mea” Kulpa is not Don Denkinger.  Don Denkinger was not solely responsible for the Cardinals losing game game 6 of the 1985 World Series, and Ron Kulpa was not solely responsible for the Rangers losing game 3 of the 2011 World Series.  Cardinal fans were upset in 1985, and some are still upset to this day some 26 years later.  If history is any indication, Rangers’ fans will be upset some 26 years from this day.  Karma is irrelevant here.  One call does not make up for the other.  If you sift through the emotional white noise that surrounds last night’s game 3, then you will indeed hear a few echoes of the past.  Those echoes are reaching out to us all with lessons worth learning.  If you can set partisanship aside for a while, you can hear them and learn.

A single play is not solely to blame for the outcome of a game.  That is impossible, unless the game only consists of a single play.  One might argue that a baseball game consists of hundreds of plays, and each pitch begins a series of plays.  More precisely, a game consists of hundreds of actions that cumulatively define the plays, and the outcome is a result of those actions.  With that in mind, you can think of a baseball game as a partially choreographed dance comprised of moving parts which are human beings working on a well-defined stage using bat, ball, and glove.  Every single play impacts in one way or another the plays that may follow.  Too abstract?  Definitely.  Worth mentioning?  I believe so.  There is a practical way of thinking of such things.

Consider for a moment the Don Denkinger blown call which occurred in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 6 of the 1985 World Series.  Denkinger called leadoff hitter Jorge Orta safe at 1st base, even though replays showed that Orta was clearly out.  The game was 1-0 in favor of the Cardinals at the time, and Orta represented the tying run.  Even if Denkinger gets the call correct, there is absolutely nothing that guarantees that the next two batters won’t hit back-to-back home runs.  There is still room for a bloop and a blast if you will.  The next two batters could strike out, and the game would be over.  The only thing guaranteed by the blown call was that nobody on earth would have an opportunity to find out what the next few batters would do after Orta made the 1st out. 

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Steve Balboni followed Orta with a single, and the rest is history.  Without the blown call, Steve Balboni can’t follow Orta with a single that advances Orta, but this isn’t a simple rehash of the sequence of events.  What if Todd Worrell induces a double-play ball from Balboni to essentially erase Orta?  Would that have changed the outcome?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  To say that you do know with any certainty is both reckless and moot.  All we really know is that the Cardinals were unable to overcome a bad call to win game 6, but they had their chances in that 9th inning.  They also had other opportunities earlier in the game to accumulate more hits and possibly score more runs.  They didn’t.  They left themselves a very small margin for error.  You can blame Don Denkinger for a bad call, but the Cardinals failed to rise to the challenge the call created.  This is where the lessons begin.

Lesson 1:  Rangers fans have every right to be upset.  A blown call is a horrible thing.  Just ask Armando Gallaraga.  The game wasn’t lost solely because of the Kulpa’s blown call, but that call certainly didn’t help.  As with the Denkinger incident, everyone was robbed of the opportunity to find out what the outcome would be without a missed out. 

Lesson 2: Cardinal fans should probably avoid soapboxes and pedestals for a day or so.  As a whole, Cardinal Nation did not react well to Denkinger’s blown call, and forgiveness (which shouldn’t even be an issue) has taken an awful long time.  To the “fans” who still haven’t moved past it, please feel free to give it a rest and join the rest of humanity known for that thing called “human error”.  If anything, Cardinal fans should understand quite well how many Rangers fans might be feeling about Kulpa.  Now is the time to speak up and let others know that harboring ill feelings toward Kulpa won’t change anything, and it certainly won’t really make many people feel better.  Those Ranger fans have an opportunity here to step up and be better than the “Best Fans in Baseball” were in 1985.  

If Holliday isn’t called safe, then we still have no way of knowing whether or not runs would score or not.  That path was closed to us by human error.  That error can’t be explained away or justified.  It altered the course of events, and the Cardinals benefited.  Don’t deny it in an attempt to quiet the noises that your conscience is making right now.

Lesson 3: The Texas Rangers can most certainly learn something from 1985.  The Cardinals followed up game 6 with an epic failure in game 7, and it was evident that they had failed to move past the memory of the previous game.  Certainly Denkinger’s questionable strike zone helped fuel the fire a bit, but that wasn’t the only lasting impression worth taking away from the game.  If anything, the way the Cardinals handled themselves should provide a learning point for this year’s Rangers.  Joaquin Andujar got downright beligerant and was tossed along with Whitey HerzogJohn Tudor punched an inanimate object with his pitching hand, and Andujar took out his anger on a toilet at Kauffman Stadium.  Play like a Cardinal.  Act like a Cardinal.  Two different expectations that several men failed to live up to in game 7…and that doesn’t even cover the way they played.  Therein lies the lesson for the Texas Rangers.  React better than those Cardinals did, and things will take care of themselves.  After all, this is not 1985.

TIDBIT:  As a Cardinal fan, it took me years to “forgive” Denkinger for blowing the call that I thought cost the Cardinals a World Series in 1985.  It then took me another couple of years to realize that it wasn’t even my place to “forgive” him.  I am not the correct person to cast the first stone.

MORE TID:  Please don’t let yet another blown call be a rallying cry for instant replay.  While I like the replay concept, I don’t like the notion of taking the first step down the path to relying on digital optics to scrutinize every aspect of the game during play.  As long as humans play the game, I’m fine with humans doing all of the officiating….as long as the game doesn’t end in a tie.

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Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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