Sunday, February 28, 2010

Remembrance of MLB Umpire John Kibler

Today Midwest Ump has the pleasure of presenting a remembrance of John Kibler by long-time New York umpire Frank Leparik:

The passing of John Kibler has left me feeling a bit empty, despite the fact that I had met Mr. Kibler on but one occasion. That occasion was in 1989, eleven years into my umpiring career. John’s work on the field, however, had caught my eye years prior. His distinctive strike call, coupled with his ability to command respect, intrigued me as a young umpire; I found him noteworthy, even as I tried to emulate the flash and flair of Palermo . By the time I met John, my demeanor on the field was closer actually to his than to Steve’s.

The occasion of our meeting was one of those rare, plum assignments that come our way very infrequently in the officiating business. The umpire-in-chief of the Big Apple Baseball Umpires Group, the late Jack Meehan, had a long standing relationship with the late Jim Plummer of the Mets. In 1989, Jack would continue the tradition of supplying umpires for the Old Timers’ Game, which was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ’69 championship Mets. The crew consisted of me on the plate, Ron Staib at first, Joe DiPietro at second, and Jack over at third. We all arrived early, and were escorted into the bowels of Shea Stadium. Our dressing room was the visitor’s clubhouse, and I recall boxes of balls that were awaiting signatures by the ’69 Mets. As I look back, I took my role of umpire perhaps too seriously, and did not take advantage of my proximity to the stars. Joe DiPietro was intelligent enough to bring his Instamatic camera, which would prove beneficial later in the day.

Stepping into the Mets’ dugout, and looking up at the full house from the opposite side of the rail was truly a neat feeling that is visceral to this day. I remember Bud Harrelson signing for the fans, a gaunt Wayne Granger smoking near the runway, and my buddy Joe camped on the bench, chatting with Ron Blomberg. The game was to be informal, with no strikeouts or walks. I vividly recall ringing about seven strikes on Lou Brock, after which he cast a glance at me and simply “stole” first base! I exercised some discretion and let him have his fun. Justice would be served him, shortly after he stole second base. He was mindlessly leading off the sack, as Seaver abandoned the mound and was replaced with alacrity by Kooseman. The reliever promptly toed the rubber, and rather than taking the requisite warm ups, spun quickly and picked Brock off second. I enjoyed watching Lou’s embarrassment, as my pal Joe pumped him out and the defense ran off the field. Later on, I was thrilled to spy Mr. Kibler watching us work from behind the backstop glass in his street clothes. The game was mercifully short, and we walked off the field secure in the knowledge that we conducted ourselves in a professional manner.

My recollection of how we ended up in the umpire’s locker room is a bit hazy. Perhaps it was Mr. Kibler who invited us in as we came down the runway. I do recall that I entered the room feeling overheated and sweat-soaked, and the first thing I heard was “Hey, Shorty” directed at my 6 foot 6 frame. This from “Svelty” Eric Gregg, sprawled lazily on the couch with his Pumas up on the coffee table. We felt comfortable enough to mingle and chat with the crew, comprised of Gerry Davis, Jim Quick, and Gregg. Kibler, as crewchief, was occupied with Bart Giamatti and Fay Vincent, also lounging in the room. My impression was that there was much respect between these bosses and the umpiring crew. My friends and I were thrilled to be in such rarified company, even for just a few moments. The accompanying photos, taken with Joe’s trusty Instamatic, documented the day. Of the eight men in the photo, three have passed away, and Gerry Davis, Joe DiPietro and I are the only currently active umpires.

Mr. Kibler’s generous invitation “made the day” of four amateur umpires. He exemplified the term “Big Leaguer” in the best sense of the word, and I recall fondly his allowing us a brief glimpse into his world. May he rest in peace.

Frank Leparik is a NCAA umpire with 30 years of experience. Frank is a graduate of the Joe Brinkman Umpire School and an active member of the CBUA since 1984. You can email him at

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