A Dozen Things You Should Know About The Umpire

I want you to be an umpire

I want you to be an umpire

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book on the American Civil War The Killer Angels, author Michael Shaara comments that there’s nothing quite so much like God as a general on a battlefield. Maybe. But you know, an umpire on a baseball diamond (especially before replay) is damned close.

When I started to do a personal Hall of Fame I decided to add contributors to the Hall and that included umpires. Of course then I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about 19th Century umpires other than a smattering of names. So I’ve begun some research into umpiring. Here’s a short look at a few things I’ve found.

1. Initially umpires sat (literally sat) in a chair to the side of the diamond and were asked to render “judgments” on plays if asked by either team. In other words they weren’t involved in balls and strikes or close plays at first or anything like that on a regular basis. I think that was the thing that got my attention most. Apparently the original teams never anticipated the modern umpire.

2. During the early years the umpire, once it was decided he would do such things as call balls and strikes, stood off to the side of home plate. That made it difficult to determine if a ball went over the plate, especially the corners, but it was easy to determine if it was high or low. This was the reason that early players were allowed to call for a high or low ball from the pitcher. If they pitcher was supposed to throw a high one and tossed a low one, it counted as a ball without reference to whether it went over the plate or not. I always found that to be a silly rule, but now it makes a little more sense.

3. Early umps tended to be locals who knew and understood the game. Each home team was supposed to supply an umpire with the visitors getting something like veto rights if the guy was a known “homer.” Occasionally there were fights over the use of a particular umpire and sometimes a team would refuse to play if a certain ump was used.

4.  As the 19th Century came to a close, more and more umpires were retired players or players who were hurt. There doesn’t seem to be an actual rule disqualifying an umpire from calling a game involving a team he was playing for, but it was discouraged. Actually a handful of players were considered so honest that they were used to ump games for their own teams (try that today).

5. The American Association began to pay ($140 per month) umpires in 1882, and had the league determine which umps would cover which games, thus establishing the first “modern” umpiring set up. The National League had a group of acceptable umpires, but teams were allowed to pick from them.

6. In that same year Richard Higham was banned for advising gamblers on which games to bet on when he was umpiring.

7. By 1901 the use of two umpires was becoming more widespread. Bob Emslie began umpiring in 1890 as a solo umpire and retired in 1924 when multiple umpires was the norm. The Player’s League used two umpires in 1890 and the NL encouraged it afterwards, but because team owners had to bear the expense of paying the umps, most teams still only used one. In 1902 the two umpire rule went into effect in the AL. The NL came along.

8 In 1933 the third umpire became standard in both leagues. That system was used sporadically prior to 1933, for instance in World Series or critical games, but was unusual prior to ’33.

9. In 1952 the current four man crew was established for all games, not just the World Series.

10. In 1963 the National League Umpires Association, the first umpires union, was formed. The American League umpires followed later.

11. There are 10 umpires in the Hall of Fame.

12. In 1885 Spaulding’s sporting goods company advertised for what is apparently the first umpire’s indicator (the clicker).

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10 Responses to “A Dozen Things You Should Know About The Umpire”

  1. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    You didn’t ask, but I’m going to guess the ten umpires who are in the Hall of Fame—-

    1. Beans Reardon (what a name!)

    2. Doug Harvey

    3. I can’t think of his name now, but he was the most revered umpire of all time. Darn it. I can’t think of his name!

    4. Emmett Ashford

    5. Shag Crawford

    I can’t think of the names of the others that I was going to guess. He was a National League Umpire who was a contemporary of Doug Harvey. But I can’t think of his name right now.

    The only ones that I’m absolutely sure of is Beans Reardon and the one I can’t think of, which was number 3. Of course, you have no way of knowing which umpire I’m thinking of, and I know what umpire I’m thinking of, I just can’t think of his name right now.

    I’m relatively sure that the others that I guessed are wrong, but I think that there’s an outside chance that Doug Harvey is a correct answer.

    Now I’m going to look on the internet and see how well I did, and i know I’m going to be doing some slapping myself upside the head for not thinking of them.


  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    I just looked at the answers. And I was right about Doug Harvey! Well, what do you know! I do remember that he was very highly acclaimed when he was active.

    Bill Clem was the one that I couldn’t think of the name who was probably the highest acclaimed umpire of all time.

    I was THINKING of guessing Al Barlick, but I said, “nah, probably not”. As it turned out, I was right.

    I SHOULD have thought of Nestor Chylack and Jocko Conlan, but I didn’t.

    Another guy in there is Billy Evans. I wonder if he’s related to the Bill Evans who was an American League umpire during the 70s.

    I’m surprised that Beans Reardon isn’t among them.

  3. steve Says:

    Didn’t the national league umps wear different color ump uniforms than the american league? I remember one of the leagues wearing red velvet looking jackets and the other league not wearing them and then at some point they all started wearing the same? maybe with interleague play the distinctions between umps ended?

    This sure is an interesting topic. I never pay any attention to umps. The only one I knew by name was that fat one who unfortunately died a few years ago. And I think it was a suicide. Just horrible. He wrote some really good books. Luciano was his last name. Yeh, Ron Luciano. I guess it’s like saying Smith or Wang when it comes to umpires and being fat or maybe the new breed of umps like the players is in better shape which is actually worse shape to me. I prefer the Kruk variety because then no one cared if you were super skinny either.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Remember the red jackets and Luciano. Liked his book.

      • wkkortas Says:

        I was at a seminar where Luciano was a speaker–my favorite line was where he was talking about day games in the old ballpark at Arlington: “Temperature, one hundred degrees. Humidity, one hundred percent. Chance of rain, none.”

  4. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    The American league wore the maroon jackets. The first that I can remember them wearing them was around 1974. I have no idea why they started doing that.

    Ron Luciano was extremely depressed, or so I’ve read. He died of carbon monoxide in the garage of his house. He lived in Endicott, New York. Ironically, his nemesis, Billy Martin, died in the next town over, Johnson City, in his pickup truck in his drunken driving crash on Christmas Eve of 1989. Martin had lived in Endicott, as well, at the time of his death, but Luciano grew up in Endicott, as well, whereas Martin was from Berkley, California. Both cities, along with Binghamton and Vestal, make up the major cities in the Southern Tier of New York, an area that comprises Binghamton, Johnson City, Endicott, and also Vestal, New York.

    Here’s Billy Martin arguing with a Redcoat. I do not believe that is Luciano arguing with him in the picture; Luciano was much heavier than that, and I never saw him wearing a mustache.


  5. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Actually, I don’t believe that umpire has a mustache.


  6. Miller Says:

    This is fascinating stuff. I love the image of an umpire sitting off to the side. I picture him knitting for some reason.

    On a more serious note, if we fast-forward a couple of centuries, do you see the elimination of umpires? It seems they’re relatively poor and sometimes arbitrary callers of balls and strikes.

    And on that note, doesn’t MLB have enough money to add to every crew an ump to a video booth so that replay calls are faster?

    • verdun2 Says:

      For some reason the knitting image also came to my mind when I first read about the sitting umpire. Great minds think alike (but then so did Curly, Larry, and Moe).
      I also wonder why they didn’t just add a booth umpire to each crew. I guess it’s cheaper, but it’s really slow.

  7. Precious Sanders Says:

    I agree, that first point caught my attention the most. I did not know most of this, but it’s all very interesting.

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