The players and managers had never seen, or heard, an umpire like me. It was as if everyone were surprised that an umpire was bright enough to watch the game and talk at the same time. Later I proved that an umpire could watch, talk and enjoy a soft drink or throw paper airplanes all at the same time. But because I didn't act like other umpires, many people didn't know how to deal with me. Some of them enjoyed the way I worked; others despised it. Some of the players wouldn't talk to me; the managers had no choice.
When Rick Burleson was with the Red Sox he would get livid if I bothered him, so naturally I kept after him. Once, when he came to bat, he told me that if I said one more word, he didn't care how much bigger I was, he was going to pound me into the ground. Of course, I wanted to talk about that.
On the other hand, my questions never bothered Rodney Carew. Carew is the finest pure hitter I've ever seen, and he doesn't allow anything to break his concentration. One night in Minnesota, just as the pitcher began his windup, I asked Rod how they'd been pitching him lately. As he began striding into the pitch, he said, "Curveballs on the outside." The pitch began breaking and he started his swing. "I'm going to left with it." Which he did.
Most players were like Carl Yastrzemski; when they were going good they didn't mind my chatter, or at least ignored it, but when they were going bad they didn't want me fooling around with them. I remember Yaz coming to bat in a gamer situation in Boston in 1976. There were 33,536 Fenway Park fans screaming at him, but he didn't hear them. Before I could say a word, he looked right at me and said, "Listen, Ronnie, my kid is hitting .300, my wife is fine, I haven't heard any new jokes, I don't want to know about Polish restaurants, I'm nothing for 15 and I want you to keep your mouth shut."
What could I say?
On the second pitch he hit a home run. As he crossed home plate he looked right at me and nodded. "O.K.," he said, "you can talk to me now."
My talking drove managers crazy, and they couldn't even hear me. But they were convinced I was bothering their players. The only one who ever did anything about it was Cleveland's Frank Robinson.
I always liked working Indian games, because they were usually out of the pennant race by the end of April and there was never too much pressure on the umpires. Although Robinson and I had never gotten along very well, I liked a lot of his players. But in 1975 he imposed a $200 fine for any player who talked to me.
If I had kept quiet and concentrated on my job, I would have been a better umpire, but I wouldn't have enjoyed myself as much. When I came up I knew the rules of the game, but I really didn't know baseball. I didn't understand the subtle movements of the game, the strategy that goes into every pitch—and who better to learn it from than the players?
The only time I ever regretted my behavior was when it interfered with my job and when it got other people in trouble. First Baseman Jim Spencer was with the Rangers in 1974 when he successfully pulled off the hidden-ball trick. The runner wandered off base while Spencer was holding the ball, and Jim tagged him. It's a tough play to pull off, and a fielder has to be lucky to manage it even once a season. Unfortunately I was in the middle of an important conversation with the first-base coach at the time and missed it completely. So I ended up getting the coach in trouble with his manager and Spencer infuriated. "Jeez," I told Jim later, "next time you're going to do that you've got to warn me."