According to his official bio at MLB.com, umpire Ron Kulpa graduated from Hazelwood Central High School in 1987. Hazelwood Central is located in Florissant, a second-ring suburb of St. Louis. A talented athlete, Kulpa played baseball at Hazelwood before going on to play for teams at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and Missouri Baptist College.
During the autumn of Kulpa's junior year in high school, the Cardinals reached the World Series. Entering the ninth inning of the sixth game, the Cards appeared to have the Series against the Kansas City Royals wrapped up. Leading, 1-0, and needing just three outs to eliminate its intra-state rivals, St. Louis gave the ball to rookie reliever Todd Worrell. Facing Jorge Orta to start the botom of the ninth, Worrell induced a bouncer back to Jack Clark at first. Clark tossed to Worrell who had dashed over to cover the bag. Worrell reached the bag, caught the ball. Orta arrived a moment later, but "Safe!" was the exclamation of first base umpire Don Denkinger. No amount of arguing by Worrell, Clark or skipper Whitey Herzog could persuade Denkinger to change his terrible call at first.
With the door left ajar by Denkinger, the Royals pushed through for a come-from-behind win in Game 6. The Royals would explode for 11 runs in the decisive game an the Cards never got closer to the '85 crown than the moment before Denkinger delivered his incorrect call. Understandably, Denkinger was a pariah to baseball loving folks in St. Louis. As "a lifelong Cardinals fan," Kulpa was likely among those dismayed by the outcome of that World Series.
Twenty-six years later, one of St. Louis' own may have earned similar status in Texas.
With the Rangers trailing the Cardinals, 1-0, in the top of the fourth inning, Kulpa had a Denkinger moment at first base that led to four runs for his hometown Cardinals. With Albert Pujols at first, Matt Holliday grounded to Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, who flipped to second baseman Ian Kinsler. One out. Kinsler fired a throw to first baseman Mike Napoli. The throw pulled Napoli down the line toward home a few steps, but he snagged the ball and slapped a tag down onto the back of Holliday as he tried to sneak by. Holliday was tagged -- and actually knocked off balance -- by Napoli a full stride before the bag, but "Safe!" was the exclamation of first base umpire Ron Kulpa. No amount of arguing by Napoli or manager Ron Washington could persuade Kulpa to change his call.
In the moments following the glaring error, someone updated Kulpa's Wikipedia page to reflect his performance.
During Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, Ron Kulpa gave away 3 runs to the St. Louis Cardinals on the worst call in Major League Baseball History.
Just as Denkinger's call enabled the Royals to build a rally in the ninth, the Cards took full advantage in the fourth on Saturday, adding four runs in the frame. Both teams would go on to score many, many runs during the remainder of Game 3 of the 2011 World Series and there is no way if knowing if Kulpa's call ultimately mattered. Would Rangers starter Matt Harrison have been able to go deep in the game and hold down the Cards' offense? Does Pujols not hit those three home runs later if this play was called correctly?
Umpire controversy is as much a part of October baseball as cold weather and A-Rod strikeouts, and that is unlikely to change unless Major League Baseball vastly expands the use of instant replay. WIth that change not seeming to be on the horizon, it might be worth making sure that none of the umpires potentially involved in those controversial calls aren't presiding over a Series featuring the team that they grew up rooting for.
Immediately following the play, Dan Shulman gleefully informed those listening to the game on ESPN Radio that Kulpa was from St. Louis. Despite repeatedly saying that he wasn't attempting to nurture any conspiracy theories, he felt compelled to mention Kulpa's hometown several times in the moments following the play. Given all the scrutiny umpires are under, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig might want to consider adding some sort of conflict of interest clause for postseason umpire selections.