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OUR FAVORITE UMPIRE
For connoisseurs of umpiring the National League this year offers an encouraging phenomenon. He is Freshman Umpire Henry C. (Shag) Crawford, 36, who never walks when he can run, who already has established a Shag style of umpiring easily recognizable at any ball park.
When Crawford umpires behind the plate he dashes after foul balls and pop flies with catchers and infielders. He skims from plate to base, even to the edge of the outfield, often arriving at a play in a dead heat with players and other umpires. Between innings he stands 10 feet down the first-base line, and when the pitcher has completed his preliminary throws he sails in to the plate with his whisk broom. His method of throwing new balls to the pitcher is beyond criticism. After a hop, skip and modified leg kick his sidearm fast balls land in the pitcher's glove with a resounding smack.
When not the umpire-in-chief behind the plate Shag, of course, officiates on the bases and knows enough not to be poking his sharp-chinned jaw into another umpire's territory. But he's what the pros call a good backer-upper. When another umpire has more than one play to call in his area Shag will be right on the spot. At the Polo Grounds the other day he made consecutive back-up calls at first and third, operating, of course, as roving plate umpire.
Crawford has been wearing an umpire's cap on his head for only six years. During World War II he wore a sailor hat, served on a destroyer that unsuccessfully tried to shag away from a Kamikaze in the Battle of Luzon. After the war he hustled milk bottles to South Philadelphia housewives, became an umpire after the semipro baseball team on which he played (all positions) disbanded. Shag worked his way up to the big time by officiating in the Canadian American League (Class C), the Eastern League (Class A) and the American Association (Class AAA). Last year he umpired in the Little World Series.
Major leaguers seem pretty much in favor of the tall, slim (6 feet one inch, 170 pounds) hustler. Says one veteran umpire: "He's the best young umpire to come up in a long time." Shortstop Roy McMillan of Cincinnati says: "He's a good one. He keeps on top of the plays, and he hasn't gotten into any fights with us yet. I like that."
Shag Crawford doesn't run off at the mouth about himself. He just says: "The closer I get to the plays, the better I can call them. Oh, yes, there's another reason. I want to speed up the game."
The Russians weren't ready to send tennis players to Forest Hills this year. But give them time. Strollers in Washington's Rock Creek Park this summer have been surprised by the appearance twice each week of 10 to 20 members of the Soviet Embassy staff, filling two fenced-in public courts to the bursting point with flying rackets, balls and outcries in English and Russian. As many as 10 Russians have lined up on each side of the net at one time, lobbing, driving and smashing balls across the net at an opposing 10 on the other side.
This resolute Russian determination to master an unfamiliar sport began in July when the Embassy Volleyball League season ended. The Russians (who won the tournament) asked the District of Columbia recreation department for tennis instruction. The department lent balls and rackets and also provided an instructor at $5 for 10 lessons. Since recent reports indicate that Russia intends to enter the 1957 Davis Cup competition and Soviet sports journals periodically blast Russian apathy about tennis, the embassy's sudden enthusiasm could be more for the party line than for the game. But the embassy set deprecates this view.