Posts Tagged ‘umpires’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About The Umpire

September 8, 2014
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).

The Black Ump

February 10, 2014
USPS Negro League stamp featuring a black umpire

USPS Negro League stamp featuring a black umpire

There’s an interesting article online concerning Jacob Francis, who appears to be the first black man to umpire a game between two white teams. The article is by Sean Kirst appeared in 2011 in the Syracuse newspaper (It can be found via Google. I found it by typing in Jacob Francis umpire). It’s an excellent article and well worth your time to read. Here’s some of the information paraphrased for you.

In June 1885, the Syracuse minor league team played an exhibition game against the Providence Grays. The Grays were the current world’s champions, having completed a three game sweep of the New York Metropolitans in the first of the 19th Century’s versions of the World Series. Their ace was Hall of Fame pitcher Charles Radborne. Francis was a known umpire in the town and both teams agreed to his calling the game. Providence won 4-1 and there were no complaints about Francis’ umpiring. He seems to have umpired a number of other games, but by 1890 his services were no longer used. It’s possible racism cost him his umpiring position, after all the Anson/Walker confrontation was 1883. It’s also possible he was dead by 1890 or had moved from Syracuse.

A few remarks are called for at this point. 1870 and 1880 census data available at show Francis was a “mulatto” (we’d call him mixed race) but don’t state which parent was white and which black. He was born about 1851 in Virginia, although the 1880 census specifies West Virginia. West Virginia was split off from Virginia in 1863 to form the current state, so it’s possible he was born in Virginia but that the specific county later became part of West Virginia. Being born in 1851 of a mixed race couple it is probable he was  born a slave, but not absolutely certain. As manumitted freemen were, by law, required to leave Virginia, it’s most likely he was born a slave, but it’s also possible (but not very likely) that he was born free of a mixed race couple who was living in West Virginia. There were few slaveholders in West Virginia, but it wasn’t unheard of at all. His census data does not appear in 1860, at least that I can find. His wife Sarah was born in New York (location not specified) and was a year older than her husband.

I have no idea when or how he became interested in baseball, just as I have no idea how or when he ended up in Syracuse. He is, frankly, a very difficult person to find out much about. The 1890 census was destroyed in a fire. He does not appear, again as far as I can determine, in the 1900 census.

I trust you will read the article I referenced above. If you happen to know anything more about Francis, I’d love to know. Please comment on this post if you do.