SI Vault
Steve Wulf
April 02, 1984
Once baseball's invisible men, umpires are bringing attention to themselves these days with their feisty attitudes
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 02, 1984

The Umpires Strike Rack

Once baseball's invisible men, umpires are bringing attention to themselves these days with their feisty attitudes

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

"People don't realize that during the strike umpires weren't facing just the loss of a job but the loss of a profession," says Richie Phillips, who heads their union. "Where else can an umpire go? They have a right to feel special. They have a higher opinion of themselves than ever before, and they want the respect they feel is coming to them."

But respect must be earned, and at times last season it was given grudgingly at best. Torre on West: "He goes out of his way to look for trouble. He always does. It's a shame, because he's a pretty good umpire." Milwaukee coach Dave Garcia on Steve Palermo: "He's an excellent umpire, probably the best in the league, but he's a very arrogant kid." Seattle pitcher Jim Beattie on Kaiser: "He's a good all-around umpire, but he likes to challenge people. He'd be better off if he weren't so stiff on the field."

This isn't isolated criticism, either. People throughout baseball are concerned about the umps' increasingly aggressive demeanor. In 1982 National League president Chub Feeney issued a midseason bulletin stating he had received more complaints that year than in any since he took office in 1970. The complaints, he said, were about "careless calls, bad plate work, bad attitude and being too quick on the trigger to throw managers and players out of the game." Obviously, Feeney felt that his umps weren't paying enough attention to the National League's nine rules of deportment (see box, page 74). Today, that same feeling seems to exist everywhere.

To baseball men, the umpire problem is a product of the umps' strike in 1979. Says one American League manager, "The attitude of umpires has changed greatly in the last three to six years, and especially so since the strike. The young guys have become more arrogant. They seem to know there aren't enough of them to go around and that their jobs are secure, so they're arrogant [10-letter word, plural]."

California manager John McNamara says, "None of them can take as much heat as they used to. It's difficult to walk away from an umpire these days. They follow you. That's not the way it used to be. You could present your case, walk away, and that was it. Now they come after you, looking to run you." According to Whitey Herzog, the Cardinals' manager, "The umps' attitude isn't as good as it was before the strike. And some have been bitter because they didn't feel they were backed up enough during the strike by the players."

John Schuerholz, general manager of the Royals, is sympathetic to umpires, but he also senses a change: "They seem to have more of a forceful presence than in the past. I know they're in a no-win situation, but they don't have to be ogres. There are good cops and bad cops, and most of them are good. But every once in a while the umpires get angry and defensive, and it's been my experience that when someone gets that way—in any walk of life—that person is insecure and uncertain, for whatever reason."

"They seem to take things more personally," says Seattle manager Del Crandall, "and think they're under personal attack when that's not what is intended. It's different than the way it used to be." Mariner coach Vada Pinson says simply, "Some of them seem to have a chip on their shoulder."

California's Rod Carew would certainly agree with that. In a game against Pinson's Mariners last year Carew got into an argument with plate umpire Greg Kosc over a strike call, and it ended with the usual result.

In his version of what happened, Carew asked, "Where was the pitch?"

"At the knee," said Kosc.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4