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The Despot and the Diplomat
Melissa Ludtke
April 10, 1978
Catchers and home-plate umpires are almost certainly the oddest of all sport's odd couples. Crouching and sweating together beneath layers of padding and suffering like bruises from foul tips and curves in the dirt, they play a game within a game, one in which other players are seldom involved. The catcher acts as his team's diplomat, his words usually as guarded and as subtly delivered as his signs to the pitcher. The umpire is an autocrat, often congenial, sometimes unyielding. However, the peace between the diplomat and the benevolent despot is tenuous and often destroyed. When this happens, their masks fly, and what began as a discussion inaudible to virtually everyone else in the park becomes as much of a show as an Ali weigh-in. That's exactly what happened one day late last season when Umpire Don Denkinger miscalled the first pitch of a game.
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April 10, 1978

The Despot And The Diplomat

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Mets Manager Yogi Berra charged from the dugout.

"He made no attempt to stop that pitch," Froemming told Berra. The umpire's accusation was tough to prove and he knew it. Grote remained in the game.

Aside from catchers who gripe, steal pitches and sometimes miss them, an umpire must contend with bellyaching batters. Catchers can be the worst of the lot, because they are more attuned to an umpire's strike zone and his frame of mind than other hitters. One umpire, Jim Evans, classifies hitters as follows:

"There's the alibier, the guy who tries to put the monkey on my back. Then there is the phony beefer, the guy with the superstar complex who thinks if he doesn't swing, it can't be a strike. And there's the legitimate beefer. He sincerely believes he is right. I never mind an argument from him."

According to umpires, worst of all is the two-strike-zone catcher, who sees one strike zone while working behind the plate and another, smaller version while standing alongside it.

" Joe Ferguson hardly ever questions me when he's catching," says Dick Stello. "But when he's a hitter, he has a wholly different strike zone, one that's so small I can't call a strike on him."

Once when Umpire Paul Runge called Bench out on strikes he heard about it for the rest of the game. Seems that Bench was going for his 1,000th RBI. When the third strike was called, with a man in scoring position, Bench disagreed. Walking back to the dugout, he complained.

"I came out to catch, and we talked some more," says Bench. "Runge was ready to throw me out. I caught a pitch he called a ball. I held it there to show him that it was the same as the pitch he struck me out on."

"Don't show me up," the umpire said.

"If I were trying to show you up, I sure would've said more when I walked away."

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