Once I spent an entire ball game in the outfield trying to talk Detroit Center-fielder Mickey Stanley out of retiring. Mickey was an absolute sweetheart. If the bases were loaded and I struck him out on a pitch that bounced in front of the plate, he'd just turn around and go back to the dugout. Umpires simply can't afford to let players like that get out of the game. So I decided to talk him into playing another year.
I was working second, and Richie Garcia was umpiring at third. At the beginning of the game I told Richie what I had in mind and he agreed to cover for me. Nothing of any consequence happened during the game, but I was unable to talk Mickey out of retiring.
The telephone was ringing in the locker room when I walked in after the game. Dick Butler, American League supervisor of umpires, had heard from Detroit General Manager Jim Campbell that I had umpired the entire game from center field. He wanted to know what I was doing there.
It was a fair question, requiring a good lie. "I'm testing a new theory," I explained. "You know, one of the toughest plays for an umpire is the trap play in the outfield. Sometimes you just can't tell if the fielder caught the ball on the fly or short-hopped it. I figure that with nobody on base one ump can go out there." As I began telling this to Butler, it started making a good deal of sense.
Garcia was listening to my end of the conversation and was breaking up. Butler finally realized I wasn't going to tell him the truth and emphatically informed me that my experiment was officially a failure. He warned me to stay in my proper position from that game on. I agreed to do so.
American League President Lee MacPhail's office warned me about my behavior on several occasions, but I didn't get fined until the foul bat incident in 1972. I was at first base in Boston and a bat slipped out of the hands of the Yankees' Bobby Murcer and came spinning down the first-base line toward me. I was on top of it in a flash, and as soon as it twirled into foul territory I gave it one of my foulfoulfoulfoulfoul calls. The TV cameras caught me and compounded my crime by showing the replay twice during the game and again on the local news. Officially I was fined $200 for "conduct unbecoming an umpire," but I never paid it and they never pressed me on it. The best thing that came out of it was that nobody argued about the call.
I only felt bad when my fooling around hurt the quality of my work. Once I missed a play at second base in Anaheim, for example, because someone had made a nifty paper airplane from a page in the game program and sailed it onto the infield. I picked it up and was just about to launch it when an article about the Angels' Carney Lansford caught my eye. I was reading it when the runner on first tried to steal second, and I was out of position to make the call. I called him out, figuring I had a 50-50 chance of being right. No one argued, so I guess I got it right. I did find out, however, that Lansford graduated from Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, Calif.
Dick Williams, who thought I was a showboat, made me pay for it one afternoon in Baltimore. It was the only time in my 11-year major league career that I had to change a real call. It was in 1975. I was at third base, Bill Haller was at first, and Armando Rodriguez was behind the plate. Armando was a veteran Mexican League umpire who had been hired because the president of Mexico convinced our government that it would be a popular goodwill gesture. Armando was an excellent umpire, but he spoke no English. "Steak and potatoes" were the only words he knew, which made it difficult for players to argue with him, unless they were arguing over a menu.
California's Tommy Harper hit a long fly ball down the leftfield foul line. From the moment it left his bat it was either a home run or foul ball. It was my call all the way. I started running down the line, trying to follow the ball, but it was very difficult. The sun was glinting off Memorial Stadium's football press boxes and eventually I lost the ball in the glare. I had no idea where it landed.
The first thing taught in umpires' school is make a call. Right or wrong, make a call. In this situation my only option was to try to fake it. I had a 50% chance of being right. I looked at the Orioles' leftfielder, Don Buford, and he was looking into the seats. I listened to the Baltimore crowd. The fans were quiet, as if something terrible had happened to their team. I figured it had to be a home run.