Schechter: Ken Burkhart, the one-call legacy and instant replay

From SABR member Gabriel Schechter at The National Pastime Museum on March 2, 2017:

Although it is manifestly unfair, it is the fate of many players to be remembered only for one ill-timed mental error or physical gaffe. Merely mentioning their names—Fred Merkle and Bill Buckner, for instance—will cause most fans to recall only the disaster and not the players’ long, successful careers. Umpires can suffer the same fate, as Don Denkinger will tell you. One of the side benefits of the instant replay era we recently entered is that at least the umpires can be spared the eternal ignominy of changing the outcome of a World Series.

One of the most controversial calls in baseball history was made in the 1970 World Series by Ken Burkhart, a former pitcher nearing the end of a 17-year career as a Major League umpire. It was also arguably the worst play in Series history, as all three principals involved screwed it up. It sparked lively discussions of the impact of instant replay, putting today’s procedures in a sharper perspective.

Kenneth William Burkhart was born in 1916 in Knoxville, Tennessee, and died there 88 years later. Coming of age during the Depression, he went to work and did not begin his professional baseball career until he was 21, but devoted the next 36 years to the sport he loved. In 1938 he attended one of the many tryout camps held by the St. Louis Cardinals to help stock their vast farm system. The 6-foot 1-inch, 190-pound right-hander was signed, and he immediately vanished into that labyrinth of minor league affiliates from which dozens of talented prospects never emerged.

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Originally published: March 2, 2017. Last Updated: March 2, 2017.