"Many baseball fans look upon an umpire as a sort of necessary evil to the luxury of baseball, like the odor that follows an automobile."
- Christy Mathewson, Hall of Fame pitcher
“The owners basically see them like bases,” Fay Vincent, the baseball commissioner from 1989 to 1992, told me. “They say, ‘We need a base, we need an umpire, same thing. We’ve got to pay them, they’re human beings, but they’re basically bases.’”
– Bruce Weber, As They See 'em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires
As umpires we take a lot of abuse. It goes with the uniform. However, being called a piece of *@#$*% and seeing yourself as that are two different matters. There are two perceptions out there: the public perception and the personal perception. We hear from time to time that umpires should strive to change public perception, but just as important is the perception of ourselves that we take on the field. Changing our personal perception and how our umpire community views itself is something with our power, and, in many ways, even more important that the public perception.
Umpires are loyal. An umpire, any umpire, is part of the umpire community. We do not publicly condemn other fellow umpires. Experienced umpires generously share their time and advice with new umpires – often giving tips, books and even equipment to those starting out. We protect and appreciate our own. Umpires want other umpires to succeed and do well.
Umpires are disciplined and masters of self control. Shouldering public disdain, ridicule, and outright hatred is part of the job. It takes a strong person to step on that field, vastly outnumbered, and proceed to do the best job you can. Most of this hatred results from ignorance. Players, coaches, fans, “baseball insiders”. . . not one of them fully understands what an umpire does. But this does not mean we are secretive. On the contrary! Umpires are ready to share their training with non-umpires. Usually non-umpires are not willing to make the (large) commitment to learn the craft. The public does not see or care to know the sacrifices that the umpire must make to learn and improve his craft.
While the public perception of umpires has always been either malevolent or at best apathetic, umpire history is just as rich and interesting as the players and managers. Since Alexander Cartwright penned the Kickerbocker Rules in 1845, umpires have been an integral part of every baseball game. However, most umpires are oblivious to this history.
Think you know your umpire history? Try to name the umpire or umpires at these historic events:
(1) The umpires officiating at the famous Merkle’s Boner game of 1908
(2) The home plate umpire for Roger Clemens’ record breaking 20 strike out game in 1986
(3) The left field umpire responsible for Steve Bartman “no interference” call during the 2003 playoffs
(4) The plate umpire during Jackie Robinson’s steal of home during the 1955 World Series
And here’s a bonus question: name the nine MLB umpires enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Umpires, be proud of your community and its history! Take some time and learn about umpires at all levels, past and present. Take pride in your appearance and your training. Help your fellow umpires as you strive to improve your craft. While these things may not be known to the public, they are known to you and your fellow umpires. It does matter!
(1) Hank O’Day, plate and Bob Emslie, bases
(2) Vic Voltaggio
(3) Mike Everitt
(4) Bill Summers
Bonus: Tom Connolly & Bill Klem (1953), Billy Evans (1973), Jocko Conlan (1974), Cal Hubbard (1976), Al Barlick (1989), Bill McGowan (1992), Nestor Chylak (1999) and Doug Harvey (2010).