5. Don Denkinger – Game 6 of the 1985 World Series (Kansas City Royals vs. St. Louis Cardinals)
Not every historic playoff mistake has come from the players. Every once in a while, the men in blue make a crucial bad call that changes the outcome of a playoff series. Even earlier in this postseason, in the Braves-Cardinals Wild Card Game, we saw umpire Sam Holbrook make an awful infield fly call on a ball that made it well out into left field. When the ball dropped to the turf, Holbrook’s call effectively stifled a potential eighth inning rally by the Braves, who trailed 6-3 and would end up losing by the same score.
The worst missed call, however, goes to Don Denkinger, who was umpiring at first base in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. The Cards led the series 3-2 and took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. The mistake came on the first play of the inning, when reliever Todd Worrell got the Royals’ Jorge Orta to hit a harmless-looking bouncer to first base. Jack Clark, the Cards’ first baseman, moved to his right to grab the ball, then flipped it to Worrell covering first. Denkinger called Orta safe, but replays showed Orta was out by a good half step. Kansas City went on to load the bases with one out, when pinch-hitter Dane Iorg came through by dunking a single into right field, barely scoring the winning run on a play at the plate. The Royals rode the momentum of the 2-1 walk-off win to an 11-0 demolition of the Cardinals in Game 7, taking home the title with at least partial thanks to Denkinger.
6. Bill Buckner – Game 6, 1986 World Series (New York Mets vs. Boston Red Sox)
Possibly the most famous, or infamous, error of all time is the one Bill Buckner suffered in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Buckner is, of course, remembered for letting a routine ground ball off the bat of Mookie Wilson go right through his legs at first base to end the game, with the Mets’ Ray Knight coming around to score the winning run from second, ending the game in the tenth inning with a 6-5 Mets victory. Much like the Royals in the previous World Series, the Mets carried their good fortune into the next game, taking the series with an 8-5 win.
In Buckner’s defense, in the bottom of the tenth, the Mets had already rallied back from a two-run deficit with two outs and no one on to tie the score, so his making the play on the grounder would have only given Boston another shot to win the game in the eleventh. Relievers Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley have each avoided blame all this time, despite Schiraldi’s giving up three straight singles to breathe life back into the Mets before Stanley threw a wild pitch that tied the game. Regardless, Buckner’s error will remain the main example of just how bad a postseason mistake can be for your baseball legacy.