SI Vault
Frank Deford
October 11, 1976
Whether they're called umpires, referees or judges, those who must decide if it was fair, foul, in, out, over or short are, officially speaking, unappreciated
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October 11, 1976

Nobody Loves The Ruling Class

Whether they're called umpires, referees or judges, those who must decide if it was fair, foul, in, out, over or short are, officially speaking, unappreciated

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A new magazine, Referee, began publication earlier this year. Like Playboy with its rabbit. Referee has a little whistle on each cover. Referee estimates that there are 150,000 amateur officials in the U.S. The magazine's first story in its inaugural issue was on, of all people, Al McGuire, the Marquette basketball coach, who is invariably arguing with officials and once even drew two technicals in an NCAA final.


Chick Lang, general manager of Pimlico: "You see more claims of foul now in the big races. There is a rule against claiming a frivolous foul, but that is hard to prove, so a kid figures he'll take a shot. What's he got to lose?

"Films have helped the young rider. He can see what he's doing wrong. And, you know, it's made all the best jockeys clean. There just aren't any more Frito Banditos. In the old days, before film, a guy like Meade—if he got in front, you couldn't get by him. The last good jock to—if this is the word—enjoy a bad reputation in that respect was Manny Ycaza, and, of course, he was involved in probably the most spectacular modern foul claim, down here in the '62 Preakness, when he was on Ridan and Johnny Rotz was on Greek Money. Greek Money won, but as Rotz was bringing him back, I went out there and I said, 'Hey, don't bring him into the winner's circle yet because Ycaza claimed foul.' And Rotz said, 'You got to be kidding. He was sitting on my lap the last quarter mile.' And, of course, the films backed Rotz up, and they fined Ycaza."

The majority of NBA referees come from north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the state of Ohio. Says John Nucatola, the league's supervisor of officials, "You've got to be tough to take the abuse from the stands. Northeastern people seem to take it better than others, maybe because it seems to be a rougher part of the country and people are exposed more to that kind of pressure in their daily lives."

National Hockey League officials start at $11,500 and can work their way up to $40,000. They also get $24 a day in expenses; the league pays hotel and air fare. They work 80 games. Their ages range from 19 to 40.

Until very recently, the most famous man in baseball with the nickname of "Catfish" was Bill Klem. He was a great horse player, and after quitting baseball in 1928, lost a great sum of money at the track and had to return to umping.

Alex George of Kansas City is a retired official who worked 10 bowl games and six NCAA basketball tournaments. About 20 years ago, he officiated a game between Detroit and Wichita. Detroit, down one point with four seconds to go, had the ball out of bounds. Wichita's arena was then in a tough part of the town, and a lot of the fans had been drinking. George watched one Detroit player throw the ball in to another, who shot. At that moment George looked up and saw that a Wichita fan had thrown an overcoat over the basket. The ball hit the coat and the gun went off.

"I was working with Cliff Ogden, but the call was mine." George says. " 'What are you going to call it, Alex?' he asked me. I told him, 'It's 120 feet to our dressing room, and I'm not going to call it anything until we both get to the door.' When we got there I called it a basket.

"A friend of mine named Joe Peters waited for me outside. We didn't come out for a long time and when we did, Joe said he'd carry my bag to the car. We started off and a woman walked up and looked at Joe and said, 'You worked a beautiful game all right,' and then she began beating him with her umbrella. Joe started to point at me, but before he could say anything, I said, 'That's right, you did work a beautiful game.' After all, he'd already been hit. There was no sense for me to get beaten, too."

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