THE MICHIGAN DAILY
uesday, April , 1969
'age Tet, THE MICHIGAN DAILY I uesdoy, April 8, 1 969
The play is close, the runner slides, the tog is high
and Howlett calls him safe.
"What the hell, are you out of your gourd?
He was out by a kilometer at least."
"Listen, son, this is just a friendly game,
and if you don't keep your mouth shut .. .
The sun always
sets on the
The trouble with umpiring is that every call
-Must be "fair" or foul,""out" or "safe," "ball" or "strike."
What's wrong with the call"I don't
By GJ AYLE HOWLETT
Associate Sports Editor, 1967-68
I WAS AN umpire for the IM.
I make this statement with pride be-
cause I was a good umpire. But I must also
note the word was. I was an umpire-I quit
The excuse I gave for quitting to Lou
Jankowski, director of the .intramural soft-
ball league, was that I was too busy with
my job and school to umpire. But the excuse
I had to give myself was that I couldn't
stand the aggravation.
You see, I have always operated under
the assumption that a good umpire or a
good referee was never noticed as he per-
formed his job. For one half of the summer
in the IM league, I was noticed.
Since I considered myself a good umpire,
I"couldn't figure out why I was so con-
spicuous. Instead of junking- my theory
that a good umpire isn't noticed, I simply
junked my career as an umpire. I suppose
some people might say I skirted the issue,
,but I'll always think that this decision
saved my life.
mY CAREER AS AN umpire began when I
noticed a sign in the IM Building pro-
claiming that umpires were needed.
Now I knew that the baseball fan has.
always placed the umpire on the same level
as the used car salesman; and that baseball
myth has also tragically portrayed the man
in blue (or gray, depending on whether
you're an American League fan oi not) as
being a lonely figure who' must live to the
musical accompaniment of "boos."
But I've never bought this image of the
umpire. I've always viewed the umpire as a
man who was fiercely dedicated to the game
The more I thought about the umpire and
how much I loved the game of baseball, I
knew that I had to be an umpire. With
no malice aforethought but with gratitude
that I was going to be paid too, I applied
to be an umpire in the IM Summer Softball
I must admit that my application was
quite a disappointment. My strong point is
the infield fly rule. Most fans, even the
good ones, get tripped up on the infield fly
rule. I knew it cold and figured I would
quote it verbatim when it came time for
me to prove my qualifications for the um-
Reciting, "an infield fly is a fair fly ball
(not including a line drive or a bunt) which
can be caught by an infielder with ordinary
effort, etc.," I walked into the general office
of the IM Building. N
A ratcher' unathletic secretary, without
looking up, asked me what I wanted.
"I want to be an umpire," I demanded,
waiting for the ensuing interrogation.
"What's your social security number?" the
bureaucratic voice shot back.
I wasn't ready for that one and I had to
ask her to repeat the question. She said she
needed my social security number for the
books. I guess that meant I had been ac-
cepted as an umpire. I gave her the infor'-
mation and she said that Lou Jankowski
would be getting in touch with me. As I
turned to leave I thought about asking her
if she knew what the infield fly rule was,
But I decided that, with my luck, she prob-
gly in the hand. The balls were kept at
the top where Sacramento would be, the
strikes were south around San Francisco
and the outs were kept at the bottom around
Los Angeles. The balls, strikes and outs were
on plastic dials, half of which stuck out on
When umpiring all you had to do was flip
the appropriate dial depending on what
the call was. A sharp click signalled the
umpire that his decision was finalized.
That click fascinated me. All the way
home I practiced on the indicator. "Click ...
click . . . click." I suppose my constant
practice was out of fear of an incident I
had read about. During a rainy afternoon
Dusty Boggess, long-time National League
umpire, became aware of the fact that he
wasn't hearing that "click." The rain had
rusted his indicator and for the rest of the
game he had to rely on the very "unofficial"
scoreboard. I guess I subconsciously felt that
my continual flipping of the knobs would
keep them well lubricated.
My first game was the next day so I
thought some studying was necessary. My
textbook was Harry Simmons' So You think
You Know Baseball.
As I was lying on my lower bunk, I tested
myself on "batted balks," "two balls in play
at the same time," "getting hit by a pitched
ball-as you were stealing home," and "a
batted fly ball hitting a sea gull."
My answers were amazingly correct and
I felt confident.
The next day I found myself practicing
the all-important strike call. I would throw
up my right hand and 'bellow "strike."
brought along their wives or girl friends.
You could usually spot these players because
they always were the ones swinging the
bats before the game.
I met with the managers and we went
over the ground rules. There was really
only one. Thiere was this big tree in left
field which was half fair and half foul. If
the ball hit the tree on the fly in fair ter-
ritory it was a ground rule double. Very
The conference broke up and the game
was about to begin. One of the managers
came running up and asked me to hold up
the game until his right fielder got there-
he had overslept. I was in a good mood so I
decided to delay the game. Not a very good
decision-but I figured it was a "friendly
In the following weeks I would discover
that I had misinterpreted the game.
The right fielder arrived lacing up his
shoes on the run, and looking for his mitt.
He took his position and I yelled "Play
The first pitch was across the plate and
I yelled "HeeYAH" with great motion of
the right hand. I had arrived.
One mistake I constantly made was call-
ing the pitch too soon. If it was over the
plate I'd call it a strike, which was quite
embarassing if the batter hit the ball.
r1HE UMPIRE who hesitates is asking for
a lot of trouble. When you're the only
umpire sometimes hesitating is the only fair
thing to do. My third game as an umpire
produced a disastrous hesitation. I was be-
with no fear of reprisal. Well, my authority
was finally challenged in what had to be
the worst game of my life.
The summer league was moving toward
the playoffs and the teams were starting
to play more seriously. This particular day
was the hottest day of the summer and the
humidity was unbearable. As I got to the
game I sensed trouble because one of the
teams had a shortstop who was known
around the league as "Mouth." His par-
ticular strategy was to taunt the other
team. And in a "friendly game" this can be
quite unbearable. With the heat, the ap-
proaching playoffs, and the "Mouth" I
knew there would be trouble.
"Mouth's" opponents were a group of
good hitters who had brought along more
girls than any other team so far. With the
girls came lemonade, which I hoped to
avail myself of if things went right.
Things were disastrous from the first.
"Mouth" dumped a double down the line in
right field in the opening inning and there
was going to be a play at the plate as his
teammate tried to score. I was in good posi-
tion for the call and the throw had the run-
ner beat. But for some reason the catcher
tagged him up high, around the shoulders,
allowing the runner 's right foot to touch the
plate ahead of the tag.
I yelled "safe" and the catcher went crazy.
He jumped two -feet in the air and pirouet-
ted around screeching "WHAT?" When his
feet were planted on the ground again, he
pegged the ball in one fluid moment right
at me. The ball missed me by a foot. I was
I stalked the retreating catcher and push-
ed him with my hand. "Did you throw that
ball at me?" I challenged. He wouldn't
answer, so with a theatrical flair I "pulled
the trigger" (umpire lingo for giving the
heave-ho) and hollered "You're out of this
game." I turned to the manager and said,
"You'd better warm up another catcher be-
cauaz this one's through."
Then I thought, "Oh, my God! What if he
doesn't leave? Do I have enough guts to for-
feit the game."
I never had to make that decision because
the catcher left. As he walked away, I
thought "There goes my lemonade."
I learned one thing from that game: an
umpire should never answer the crowd's
taunts-he might get topped. Naturally, the
ousted catcher's side of the field was hostile
at this point. Everytime I called a strike on
their team some girl would yell, "That was
outside," or "That was way too low." I re-
sponded with "How can you call them from
that angle?" She replied, "Ah, if you had
another eye, you'd be Cyclops." I shut up.
BUT THE GAME was still not over. The
contest was quite close and with that hu-
midity, I was soaking wet and dying of
thirst. With "Mouth" taunting away at
shortstop, his opposition got, a man to
second on a walk and a wild pitch. I got
set for the next pitch when all of a sudden
some blur caught my eye. I looked up to
see "Mouth" throwing a block into the base-
runner racing for third. "Mouth" was yell-
ing "interference" but the baserunner wasn't
saying anything. He was writhing on the
ground in the pain. "Mouth" claimed he had
been run over.
I quite correctly ruled that the base path
belonged to the runner as long as the field-
Prv '.mn't in the rt of fielding'h h hll Tt
. . . I'm gonna kick you right out of it."
"Not me, ump? You can't do this to me."
What was bad was that the baserunner
"Mouth" had chosen to dump was the op-
posing pitcher. When the side was retired,
the pitcher took the mound muttering how
he was going to stick the ball between
"Mouth's" upper and lower plates. As a good
umpire, I walked out to the mound and told
the pitcher that if he threw at the batter
he was out of the game. He replied: "Then
I'm out of the game because "Mouth" is
"Mouth" strode to the plate urging the
pitcher to throw at him. Remarkably he
didn't and the game ended without incident.
After the game, the pitcher who had been
dumped went over to the other side and
asked the women spectators for "Mouth's"
name and address. They wouldn't tell and
the pitcher responded with some language
that would make Ralph Houk blush. This
brought an immediate complaint to who else
-me, the umpire.
One of the women, who was about eight
months pregnant, waddled up to me and
said, "Mr. umpire, that pitcher swore at me."
I said, "Lady, that's out of my depart-
ment. Tell your husband about it--if you
My roommate had borrowed my car to
go grocery shopping and had not returned
by the end of this beleaguering game. All I
could do was wait.
I must have presented quite a picture.
With the sun setting over my shoulder,
casting a haze over the deserted field, there
I sat on the State Street curb.
The loneliest man in the world.
THINK EVERY umpire fears the big call,
I know that was my case, My one and
only big call came in a semifinal game of
the playoffs: The game pitted two real
good hitting clubs, but one had a superior
pitcher and figured to win big. When the
teams took the field I noticed the pitcher
was missing. I asked the substitute where
he was. He told me that he was on his
honeymoon and there was no way he would-
come out of retirement. I knew I was in for
a long afternoon of basehits and runs.
Going into the last inning the score stood
at 15-15. The visiting club added two runs
in the top half of the seventh, and the home
team came up for their last at bats and
their last shot at the championship game.
The first man was retired but then two
straight singles put men on first and third.
A foire nlv at second scored a run. but
wanted the pitcher to work. Anyway, I was
The first pitch was a strike, but the next
two were balls. I was praying, "Please swing,
swing at the next pitch." He didn't and I
ruled that the count was even at 2-2. The
next pitch was outside for ball 3.
The scene was set: bases loaded, tie score,
game meaning a berth in the championship
game, and a batter who was a wooden In-
dian. Out loud I said to the batter, "Please
swing for me. Hit the pitch."
The pitcher wound up and let it go. From
my vantage point a couple of months later
when all the angry faces are forgottefi, I
still don't know what the pitch was. I tend
to think that it was too low, to be a strike
but too high to be a ball. Too far outside
to be a strike but enough on the corner not
to be a ball. It was actually a nothing ball-
neither a strike nor a ball. But I couldn't
make that call. I said "ball" because that
Photos by Jay Cassidy
THE LONELIEST MAN IN THE WORLD
was my first reaction.
I turned and walked hurriedly away, hop-
ing I was walking to the side where the
winners were. I had chosen the right side,
and I just stood amongst them until the
other side had left the premises.
N THE CHAMPIONSHIP game, the IM
department provided funds for two um-
pires. I was assigned the bases for which
I was most grateful. The real complaining
comes around the plate. Nothing much hap-
pened on' the bases and I got through my
last game unscathed.
It was indeed my last game. I decided to
hang up the striped-shirt.
There's an old adage about an umpire
who was asked to describe his job. Ie said,
"Some umpires calls -em as they see 'em.
Others call 'em as they are. But as for me
they ain't nothing until I call 'em."
I'm convinced that my trouble was that
I never really believed this. I never thought
that I controlled the fate of the game. I was
quick to listen to the other guy-to admit
that he might be right. I lived in fear of
making the wrong decision-feeling some-
how that I was cheating the game if I made
a mistake. Umpiring was like a puzzle: the
pitch was either a strike or a ball in the
Something was missing, however. It took
me a long time to find the flaw. I wasn't
saying."strike" right. A big-time umpire
would yell "heee-YAH" and not "strike." As
I practiced this new cry, I suddenly felt
ARRIVED for the game early and walked
out on Ferry Field diamond No. 2 just to
get the feel. There was quite a feel on that
diamond. The ground was hard and rocky,
and the pitcher's mound was in a hole. The
outfield grass was quite long, contrasting
hind the plate with a runner on first and
the Stroh Firebrewers out in the field. The
runner from first took off for second and
the throw from the catcher was short forc-
ing the second baseman to come in a few
steps to take the peg. Then he had to reach
back to make the tag.
There was no doubt that the throw was
in time but I was in the worst position to
see if the tag was made. Rick Bloodworth,
the Michigan basketball player, was play-
ing second and he was one of the nicest
guys I had met. (Besides, in the inning
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