Gregg went back to the minors and retaliated by becoming, he says, a junk-food junky. "I saw that it didn't matter if I was a thin umpire, so I worked hard at being a fat one. I devoured mustard pretzels, cheeseburgers, cheese steaks, and washed everything down with beer."
The anger, if not the appetite, was dispelled when Gregg was called up to the National League for the final days of the '76 season. His first game was in Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. When his name was announced over the P.A. system he yelled with delight, startling Second Baseman Joe Morgan. Gregg worked 77 games the following season and became one of the National League's 24 full-time umpires in 1978.
"I love umpiring," he says. "I can see myself doing it for 20 more years. I make $27,500 a year, a whole lot less than the millionaire players we have to baby-sit for, but before I'm done, I'll have worked in three or four World Series, five playoffs, three All-Star Games. How many players can expect that?"
Gregg's joy in his work is evident. At Philadelphia games he has taken a turn between innings with the Phillie Phanatic, the club's costumed mascot. "I'm the only umpire who'll dance with the Phanatic." he says, "because I'm the only umpire who can dance." Even controversy seems to help him. In Philadelphia toward the end of the 1979 season, the Phillies' Keith Moreland hit a long drive down the leftfield line with two men on base. Gregg lost the ball in the lights. "Next thing I see is Mary Sue Styles, a Phillies' ball girl, jumping up and down, giving us a thigh high and yelling, 'Home run!' I believe Mary Sue. She's a fox. I call the ball fair, a home run. The Pirates circle me and I feel like Ward Bond in Wagon Train, so I look for my source for help. Mary Sue has vanished. So have the Phillies. I checked with Doug Harvey, who was working the plate, and I reversed myself and called the ball foul."
Dallas Green went crazy, but the Philadelphia press loved the story, and Gregg became a media discovery in that city. He has made three commercials for Phillies Franks, one for the First Pennsylvania Bank and spends the winters cruising the banquet circuit.
That Gregg could reverse his call and preserve his authority is significant. Harvey, in his 20th year as a National League umpire, says, "It takes five years for a good young umpire to get respect. Eric is progressing well. He has a chance to be outstanding. I only worry that the attention he's getting might detract from his talent."
But Gregg doesn't seem affected by the attention. "I don't hear comments from the spectators," he says, "unless they're very personal. In Philadelphia once I called Larry Bowa out in a close play, and 40,000 people booed me. I looked up in the stands to my wife for comfort. She's a big Phillies fan. She threw her hands at me in disgust. That was one of the few times I thought that becoming an umpire was a dumb thing to do."