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"What about tips?" one of my friends asked me.
"Nah," I said, "I'm not paying at all."
It would work just fine. If they held the ball I'd call it, softly, a strike, and if they threw it right back, a ball. If the game was close in the later innings I'd take back control. No one I ever worked with ever took advantage of the situation, and no hitter ever figured out what I was doing. And only once, when Herrmann was calling the pitches, did a pitcher ever complain about a call. I smiled; I laughed; but I didn't say a word. I was tempted, though, really tempted.
There was a time in my imaginary playing career when I thought that, given the choice and another body, I'd want to be an infielder. I continued to feel that way until I made my major league debut.
Spring training, 1973. Tucson, Arizona. The Indians were playing the Angels in an exhibition game. Buddy Bell was at third base for Cleveland and having an awful day. I was umpiring at third and reminding him he was having an awful day. After he committed his second ridiculous error I did the natural thing, I laughed at him. He turned around and warned me, "Watch your step, Luciano. I make one more, you're gonna have to play third and I'm gonna ump." An inning later a routine grounder skipped through his legs, setting up my major league career. Bell turned around and flipped his glove to me, and we exchanged hats.
In an instant I made the transition from umpire to player. Suddenly I was part of the team. Winning mattered. I was no longer neutral. I bent down as low as possible and made sure the fingers of my glove were almost brushing the dirt so nothing could get under it. I was ready. Then the batter, a righthanded hitter, stepped up to the plate and looked in my direction.
I knew then I was going to be killed. He was so close to me. And so big. And he was actually swinging a telephone pole. I'd never felt so vulnerable in my life. When I'd played football I'd worn protective padding. The only padding I had that day was hanging over my belt.
The batter took a few vicious practice swings. I could feel a slight breeze. I backed up a foot, thought about it, and backed up another few feet. Bell was standing behind me yelling at the pitcher to keep the game moving. I started yelling at the pitcher, too. "C'mon, babe," I screamed, "you can walk this guy."
The pitcher started his windup. Everything was wrong. Bell's glove was too small for me. I needed spikes.
The first pitch was high and outside. "Way to go," I screamed. "Keep it away from him."