baseball umpires -- 1/31/19

Today's encore selection -- from As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber. Major league umpires are the very integrity of the game and have served baseball well. The surest sign of their good work is in those games when they are largely unnoticed. However, there have been a few that were noticed -- and even some that were notorious:

"In 1882, Richard Higham became the only umpire ever accused of dishonesty on the field. He was allegedly in league with gamblers, and on flimsy and dubious evidence (his accuser was a team owner angry about a call) he was thrown out of the sport.

"This isn't to say that umpires are morally or ethically pure. Most of them would admit they aren't, and even if they wouldn't, their history is dotted with brutish, scheming, or narrow-minded behavior. George Magerkurth, a habitual barroom brawler who worked in the National League from 1929 to 1947, was suspended for ten days in 1939 when he got in a fistfight during a game at the Polo Grounds in New York with the Giants shortstop Billy Jurges.

Bruce Neal Froemming

"Bruce Froemming, who retired after the 2007 season, his thirty-seventh, as the longest-serving umpire in major league history, was suspended for ten days in 2003 when a religious slur directed at an umpiring administrator, Cathy Davis -- he referred to her as 'a stupid Jew bitch' after an argument over travel arrangements -- was caught on her answering machine. And in 2001, Al Clark lost his major league umpiring job after twenty-five years when he was fired for habitually cashing in the first-class airline tickets baseball provides the umpires for coach seats and pocketing the difference. Subsequently, he went to jail for fraud as part of a scheme to profit on phony memorabilia. Clark, who umpired in the 1978 American League playoff game between the Yankees and Red Sox (the game won by Bucky Dent's home run), Nolan Ryan's three hundredth career victory, and Dwight Gooden's no-hitter at Yankee Stadium in 1996, would sign baseballs and authentication documents certifying that the balls were used in those and other games, even though they weren't, then share in the profits of their sales.

"Even so, rarely if ever have the acts of major league umpires threatened the honor of the game, though a couple of incidents have come to light showing them tiptoeing up to the line. In 1989, two umpires, Rich Garcia and Frank Pulli, were put on probation after the commissioner, Fay Vincent, learned through baseball's security office that they (along with Don Zimmer, then the manager of the Chicago Cubs) had placed bets with an illegal bookmaker (who was also a drug dealer) on sporting events other than baseball games.



Bruce Weber


As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires 


Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2009 by Bruce Weber


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