He went to umpiring school in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1971 and started scaling the cliffs of organized ball. By '78 he was a full-time big league ump. And in no time he was a big big league ump. " Eric Gregg looks like the Michelin Man," actor Bill Murray observed during a telecast of a game. "If he had to haul ass right now, he'd have to make six trips." Off the field Gregg hates the fat jokes he has been obliged to listen to with a merry smile. He feels no such obligation on the diamond. "If a player makes fun of my weight," Gregg says, "he's history."
Over the years Gregg has had no trouble losing pounds. He has had no trouble finding them again either. His visit to Duke was his third. "I've tried Nutri/System, Weight Watchers, Ultra Slim-Fast," he says wearily. "They all worked until I stopped. The best is the Eric Gregg program." That regimen includes daily five-mile walks, hourlong swims and a 2,300-calorie limit. "With my program I know what I need to do," he says. "Nobody's on my shoulder but me."
Nobody's on his shoulder, but somebody's on his wrist. Gregg wears a silver bracelet inscribed BIG JOHN, #10. It gleams like a tombstone whenever he reaches for a burger. "I love to eat," he says, "but I love being alive even more."