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Mr. October of Umpires Is Set for New Season : Attention and Apology From World Series Won't Change Don Denkinger, He Vows

March 07, 1986|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — Despite the phone threats against his life and property, the number is still listed in the directory at Waterloo, Iowa.

He will still appear behind the bar at his two Waterloo lounges when his schedule permits.

He does not turn down interview requests, because he considers it part of his job, which is what he was doing when all this started.

Now preparing for his 19th year as an American League umpire, Don Denkinger is no longer cloaked in the blue gabardine of anonymity.

He did not seek this recognition, nor does he care for it, but he knows it will linger now, as it has during the winter, sustained by media and fans.

His response: a vow never to change--personally or professionally.

No grudges. No bitterness. No alterations in life style or work habits.

In other words, when Joaquin Andujar apologizes today, as Andujar has said he will do, Denkinger plans to simply say, "Thank you," and proceed with a job that he did so well last season that American League managers rated him among the top third of his peers.

That ranking is one reason Denkinger was in Missouri last October, calling a World Series in which he ultimately became the center of a furor, in both Games 6 and 7.

The Kansas City Royals rallied, and the St. Louis Cardinals railed after Denkinger's call at first base in the ninth inning of Game 6--he has since admitted it was a mistake--led to a 2-1 Kansas City victory, which tied the Series at three games apiece.

The Cardinals were already being buried in the fifth inning of Game 7 when Denkinger, working the plate, ignited the volatile Andujar with a pair of calls that first led to the ejection of St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog, then his pitcher, whose seemingly uncontrolled attempt to reach Denkinger prompted Commissioner Peter Ueberroth to suspend him for the first 10 days of the 1986 season.

Traded in December, Andujar will serve it as a member of the Oakland A's, who are opening their exhibition season today against the San Francisco Giants.

Denkinger will also be there, a member of the umpiring crew.

"Fate works in funny ways," he said, relaxing near his hotel pool on a 90-degree Arizona Thursday, alluding to the fact that both he and Andujar will be in the same place at the same time today.

Asked what his reaction will be if Andujar follows through on plans to apologize, Denkinger smiled and said: "There's not a whole lot I can say except thank you. I'm not looking for an apology because I was just doing my job, but the ball's in his court, and I'm sure he doesn't want to start off his American League career with the possibility that anyone is mad at him."

Denkinger was asked if that's what he is--mad at him?

"No," he said. "I have no hard feelings. It wasn't a pleasant scene, but it's not the first time I've had a run-in with a player. People have said to me, 'Don't get mad, just get even,' but there's nothing I want to do to get even. I'm not a vindictive person to start with and I believe that a good umpire can't afford to carry a grudge and let it affect his work."

Which is not to say, Denkinger added, that he completely exonerates Andujar, who exploded over pitches that Denkinger said were ridiculously out of the strike zone and appropriately called balls.

"There is no question that he was wrong to start with and didn't consider the ramifications of his actions," Denkinger said. "As a person who has always been able to control his emotions and doesn't feel he could keep his job if he didn't, I'm puzzled as to how Andujar could let his get away from him.

"The record shows that when he goes out and does his job, there's no problem. He's been successful because he throws strikes, which is what you're looking for as an umpire--something to work with within your strike zone."

The frayed emotions that Andujar and the Cardinals carried into Game 7 seemed a legacy of the Royals' rally in Game 6. The ninth inning had started with Denkinger calling Jorge Orta safe on a grounder wide of first.

"As the play evolved, I was too close to the bag," he said. "I was in the wrong position."

Denkinger said he was in position to judge a foot race between Orta and pitcher Todd Worrell, covering the bag. He said he guessed that the toss from first baseman Jack Clark would lead Worrell to the bag, but that Worrell and the ball arrived at the same time.

"I would have been all right if the throw had been at his waist or lower," Denkinger said. "But it was at the pinnacle of his reach, and I was too close to see both the ball and his foot. I looked for the catch first, then looked down and saw Orta's foot on the bag. I realized when I saw the tape later that the ball had beaten him, that Orta had gotten there in the time it took me to look down."

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