Saturday, February 20, 2010

John Kibler NL Umpire (1928-2010)

As a kid I was big fan of National League teams, first the Dodgers and later the Cardinals after my family moved to the St. Louis area in the late seventies. I remember the name John Kibler, but I never paid much attention to the umpires. To paraphrase Ken Kaiser, no one grows up dreaming about being an umpire.

As umpires I think it is important to recognize and remember umpires from the past. John Kibler passed away on Thursday, he was 81. Kibler worked as a full time National League umpire from 1965 to 1989. During his final season Sports Illustrated did a feature story on Kibler that I highly recommend. It describes the joy he had in going to the ballpark to ply what he called, “my profession.” Kibler was a Navy Vet during the Korean War and worked four World Series.

While the media has reported Kibler’s death with reference to the Bill Buckner error in 1986 (which he had little to do with other than pointing the ball fair), what he may be most remembered for in umpire circles is a very human and “umpire-ish” moment.

During a game in 1969, the Dodgers' Bill Sudakis tried to take second on a looper into short center that the Cardinals’ shortstop and secondbaseman both chased. Center fielder Curt Flood fired the ball into second where third baseman Mike Shannon was covering. Kibler, the second base umpire, had gone out. Seeing his partner out, first base umpire Ed Vargo hustled into second just in time for the play. . . and the arrival of Kibler. Here is the photo:

Kibler, on the left, has Sudakis out while Vargo is adamant with a safe call. Home plate umpire Al Barlick told a bewildered Dodgers manager that the call was Kibler’s and the runner was out. Under today’s mechanics the call would be Vargos. Additionally, today’s MLB Rule 9.04(c) states: “If different decisions should be made on one play by different umpires, the umpire-in-chief shall call all the umpires into consultation, with no manager or player present. After consultation, the umpire-in-chief (unless another umpire may have been designated by the league president) shall determine which decision shall prevail, based on which umpire was in best position and which decision was most likely correct. Play shall proceed as if only the final decision had been made.”

Great teaching point! Thanks, John Kibler, for all of your contributions to baseball. And thanks for reminding me what a privilege and joy it is to participate in the greatest game in the world.

The family asked that any donations be made to the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps those in the baseball community in need.

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