"Knees my ass," said Carew. "What did you say?" Kosc demanded.
"You heard what I said," Carew answered. It went back and forth this way several times before Kosc gave Carew the heave-ho.
McNamara said later that Kosc had merely misunderstood what Carew had said. Kosc said he hadn't misunderstood anything.
This was a noteworthy incident because Carew has an excellent reputation for politeness among umpires; they've ejected him only "four or five" times, he says, in his 17 major league seasons. On this evening, though, Carew unloaded. "I've never had an umpire try to get me to repeat something so he can throw me out of the game," Carew charged. "But Kosc has always been that way. A big mouth.... I don't know what they're doing, umpiring in the big leagues. They think they can get away with murder."
Criticism of umpires is as old as the profession, of course. Dick Butler, the American League supervisor of umpires, has in his files an owner's letter that was sent to league president Will Harridge more than 50 years ago. Says Butler, "He accuses the umpires of being domineering, lazy and arrogant. One word he used was 'Bolshevik.' " The complaints are the same today, although Bolshevik has been replaced by "union activist."
Judging umpires is such a subjective task that inevitably some arbiters deemed among the top five by one team are banished to the bottom five by another. Also, for every manager who complains about the umpires, three managers have nothing but praise for them.
"I think we're fortunate in baseball to have as many competent umpires as we have," says Pirates manager Chuck Tanner. "I used to pray they'd settle the strike, get the umpires back. You know, when you have something good going and lose it, you get to know quickly what you're missing."
Most everybody wants an umpire to be "firm and fair," but that can be a very fine line. If an umpire tries to bend over backward to accommodate everyone, he's viewed as being weak and will lose control of the game. "I've got a guy in the American League," says Haller, "whose judgment is as good as anyone's. But he never throws anybody out of a game, so I can't give him high marks. If you're not running people, it means you're not making the tough calls, you're not calling balks or fan interference or obstruction." The crusty Al Barlick, who should be in the Hall of Fame along with some other neglected umpires, particularly Nestor Chylak, takes a hard line on softness, saying, "If we were meant to be diplomats, we'd be out there in top hats, tails and striped pants."
There are great umps and there are bad umps. Fortunately this year the American League has lost two of its lowest-rated officials to retirement—George Maloney and Russ Goetz (nicknamed Rough Guess). Unfortunately, the National League has lost Ed Vargo and could conceivably lose Doug Harvey at the end of next season to the normal retirement age of 55. Both have been considered among the best.
But let's hope Harvey stays around to teach better manners to some of the younger umps. West, for instance. He was 23 years old when he reached the majors in September 1976, but his deportment doesn't match his technical skill. "The supervisors in every league I've ever worked have discussed my temperament with me," he says. "And I've talked to Haller and Harvey about it. They think I'll grow out of that, and I do, too. Last year I had fewer ejections [one fewer, actually] than ever before. I try to be a perfectionist, and I expect other people to do their job as well as I do mine."