The most famous swing of a baseball bat by anyone Humboldt grown was at a pitch slung by Todd Worrell of the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning of the sixth game of the 1985 World Series against the Kansas City Royals. With the bases loaded and a 1-0 lead, the perfect pitch would produce a double play and a World Championship for the Cardinals. Worrell had become the ace of a St. Louis bullpen that had not lost a game in the ninth inning all season.
The pinch hitter for the Royals, Dane Iorg, had starred in the World Series as the designated hitter three years earlier for the same Cardinals he was facing that day. He had nine hits in 17 at-bats in that series and already owned a World Series ring. Ironically, he was playing against his former manager, Whitey Herzog, who was instrumental in his development, especially as a pinch hitter.
It was not the hardest ball he ever hit but it was the most important. After a ball in the dirt and the bases loaded, he knew he was sitting on a fastball in a moment he had dreamed of since his childhood in his backyard, a house he lived in with his parents, his older sister and two younger brothers just off Railroad Avenue on a little knoll in "downtown" Blue Lake. He told himself to relax and enjoy the dream. All eyes in the packed Logger Bar in Blue Lake were suddenly glued to the TV. "Dane is in the on-deck circle, Dane is going to pinch hit."
Mike Gillespie, a great East Coast sports writer wrote after the game: "People may not always remember who hit it, but Dane Iorg's two-run, pinch-hit single in the sixth game of the World Series put the KC Royals in a position to win their first fall classic title." Old-timers in Blue Lake remember his name and how his walk-off, two-run single led to pandemonium. The Royals came back out the next night and walloped the Cardinals to win their first World Series.
Iorg had had his worst season due to injury and had only batted 27 times that season. In his career, Iorg had twice batted over .300, led the Cardinals in batting average in 1981, batting .327, and was a versatile defensive player. But it is those two World Series rings locked in his safe he's remembered for most.
The citizens in Blue Lake who worked the Simpson and Levittown mills, shipping lumber and nails to East Coast towns, remember other things about the Iorg brothers. For one, Dane's youngest brother Garth played against him on the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League playoffs to get to that same World Series in 1985. Garth was four years younger than Dane with another brother, another local sports legend, Lee Iorg, sandwiched between the two.
From 1978-1987, Garth played every position for the Blue Jays but pitcher and catcher — he could play either, all the boys had learned how to pitch, catch and hit in their backyard, one boy for each position. He played mostly in a platoon at third base and retired from the Blue Jays as their career-leading pinch hitter. He had led the team in hitting in that 1985 season and stayed with the organization for years as a coach at every level of the big leagues.
All three boys were multi-sport stars and played on what are arguably the best baseball teams in the history of Humboldt County. Seven players Garth played with in high school were drafted into the major leagues. His batting stance was quite odd — standing on his toes and leaning back toward the catcher. Unlike Dane, he was drafted soon out of high school straight to the big-league system.
Between the two was Lee Iorg, another star multi-sport athlete at Arcata High School. Don Terbush, the longtime Times-Standard sports editor, said Lee "was possibly the better of the three athletes." Garth wouldn't go that far but said, "Lee might have been the better of us as a football player." Lee, on the other hand, once said, "Garth is the best player to come out of our area."
Lee, like Dane, had gone to Brigham Young on an athletic scholarship to play baseball and, again like Dane, was voted into the Brigham Young Hall of Fame. He played in the New York Mets organization in Triple-A ball but took different routes. One year at Brigham Young, he played summer ball in the National Semi-Pro League for Alaska and was awarded the Most Valuable Player in the National Baseball Congress Tournament.
Baseball has stayed in their family, as Garth has three sons that played professionally and a daughter who played NCAA softball. But it all started with their dad, Charles, who taught them to hit rocks with a broom handle, play Wiffle ball in their backyard and didn't blink an eye as the three boys broke at least a dozen windows in the house. Amid the smell of the logs on the logging trucks constantly downshifting and squealing through town, their dad always had patience with the rambunctious boys, coaching their Little League teams after working the dayshift at the Simpson Korbel Mill.
When their dad retired from coaching after Lee's 12-year-old season and Garth's 10-year-old season, John Tomini, one of the baseball gurus in the Northern Humboldt area, took over. They had time to practice, as the boys' mom, Leona, who worked at the only grocery store in the town of 1,200, wouldn't let the kids inside until dinner was ready.
Their dad was their greatest sports influence but the Iorg brothers had great coaches in the Arcata area and lots of quality athletes to play with. Credit goes to their teammates but even more to their high school coach Dennis Pontoni and American Legion coach Dave Del Grande for the time, energy and a great traveling schedule.
In the 1960s, this trio of brothers growing up in Blue Lake became a source of town pride. Their dad always told them to say they were from Blue Lake, not Eureka or Arcata. With mitts hanging off their handlebars, they rode their bikes down to what would later be named Iorg Field. Who'd a thunk it? They swam and fished the Mad River and now, spread across the country, they remain best friends and avid fishermen, fishing together as much they can.
When I asked Garth Iorg what it was like to grow up in Blue Lake, he thought for a second and said, "It was awesome."
I got to grow up in one those towns in those times with the influences of the barber, the police chief, my coaches, my parents, my friends' parents — well, the whole town. I wish every girl and boy of every color and economic background could have a childhood like we had. We were so lucky.
Rod Kausen (he/him) is a retired teacher and coach.