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Old Fri Apr 10, 2009, 10:58am
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George Will Column Praises Umpires

George Will's recent column is a discussion of Bruce Weber's book, "As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires."

Baseball's Judicial Branch

By George F. Will
Thursday, April 9, 2009; A17

In Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," a time-traveling American brought baseball to sixth-century England, where arguments with umpires were robust: "The umpire's first decision was usually his last. . . . When it was noticed that no umpire ever survived a game, umpiring got to be unpopular." But it remains a necessary, extraordinarily demanding and insufficiently appreciated craft.

Now, however, comes "As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires" by Bruce Weber of the New York Times. Forests are felled to produce baseball books, about 600 a year, most of them not worth the paper they should never have been printed on. Weber's, however, is a terrific introduction to, among much else, the rule book's Talmudic subtleties, such as:

A great fielding play can cost the fielder's team the game. With less than two out, if a player makes a catch and falls into the stands, every runner moves up a base. So with a runner on third in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, if a fielder makes a catch but his momentum flips him over the railing into the seats, his team loses.

Also: There is a play on which the umpire must give a manager a choice of two different outcomes on a batted ball. With one out and runners on first and third, the batter swings, his bat ticks the catcher's glove but drives a fly ball that is caught by an outfielder. The runner on third tags and scores, the runner on first stays there. But because the catcher interfered with the batter's swing, the umpire awards the batter first base, moving the runner there to second. Because that nullifies the sacrifice fly, the runner who scored is returned to third. But why should the batting team lose a run because the other team's catcher committed an infraction? So the manager of the team at bat is given a choice -- bases loaded, one out, no run in, or man on first, two out, one run in.

Umpires -- the only people who are on the field during the entire game and the only ones indifferent to the outcome -- were depicted in pre-Civil War drawings wearing top hats and carrying walking sticks. An account of the (supposedly) first game between organized teams -- June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, N.J. -- mentioned the umpire fining a player six cents for swearing.

Umpires still are custodians of decorum. "As the umpire," Weber writes, "you are neither inside the game, as the players are, nor outside it among the fans, but . . . the game passes through you, like rainwater through a filter, and . . . your job is to influence it for the better, to strain out the impurities."

Baseball is, Weber notes, the only sport that asks an on-field official to demarcate the most important aspect of the field of play -- the strike zone. Although defined in the rule book, its precise dimensions are determined daily by the home plate umpire.

Umpires are islands of exemption from America's obsessive lawyering: As has been said, three strikes and you're out -- the best lawyer can't help you. But because it is the national pastime of a litigious nation, baseball is the only sport in which a nonplayer is allowed onto the field to argue against rulings.

Umpires are used to having their eyesight questioned -- when someone criticized Bruce Froemming's, he said, "The sun is 93 million miles away, and I can see that" -- but their integrity is unquestioned. As Weber notes, players, not umpires, conspired to fix the 1919 World Series; a manager (Pete Rose), not an umpire, was banned from baseball for betting on games. As umpires say, "If they played by the honor system, they wouldn't need us."

Sport -- strenuous exertion structured and restrained by rules -- replicates the challenges of political freedom. Umpires, baseball's judicial branch, embody what any society always needs and what America, in its current financial disarray, craves -- regulated striving that, by preventing ordered competition from descending into chaos, enables excellence to prevail.

"You can't," Weber says, "hide on a baseball field." But a batter who fails two-thirds of the time for 15 years goes to Cooperstown. An umpire can fail once in a high-stakes moment and be remembered for that forever. It is amazing how rarely they fail as they strive not to be noticed in their pursuit of unobtrusive perfection.
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Old Fri Apr 10, 2009, 11:05am
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IamMatt View Post
An account of the (supposedly) first game between organized teams -- June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, N.J. -- mentioned the umpire fining a player six cents for swearing.
Wow, Mike... You've been calling this game for THAT LONG???
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Dave

I haven't decided if I should call it from the dugout or the outfield. Apparently, both have really great views!

Screw green, it ain't easy being blue!

I won't be coming here that much anymore. I might check in now and again.
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Old Fri Apr 10, 2009, 11:26am
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NCASAUmp View Post
Wow, Mike... You've been calling this game for THAT LONG???
I KNOW you cannot be talking about me since I don't have a problem with swearing.......unless it is at someone, particularly me
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Old Fri Apr 10, 2009, 11:29am
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IRISHMAFIA View Post
I KNOW you cannot be talking about me since I don't have a problem with swearing.......unless it is at someone, particularly me
I know how you feel about swearing, which is why I'm picking on you for this part of the story!
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Dave

I haven't decided if I should call it from the dugout or the outfield. Apparently, both have really great views!

Screw green, it ain't easy being blue!

I won't be coming here that much anymore. I might check in now and again.
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  #5 (permalink)  
Old Fri Apr 10, 2009, 11:30am
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Back to the OP, I think this would definitely be an interesting read.

Umpires have been the butt of jokes for decades and decades. If this book is worth its salt, it'll be nice to have someone in our corner for once!
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Dave

I haven't decided if I should call it from the dugout or the outfield. Apparently, both have really great views!

Screw green, it ain't easy being blue!

I won't be coming here that much anymore. I might check in now and again.
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Old Fri Apr 10, 2009, 06:21pm
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Send a message via Yahoo to ASA/NYSSOBLUE
This book is EXTREMELY recommended......
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Old Sat Apr 11, 2009, 10:39pm
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I ordered it a couple hours ago. I flipped through it in a bookstore and I think it will be very fun to read.

And there's a quiz on the back cover. I got it right without looking in the book.
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Old Sat Apr 11, 2009, 10:57pm
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I'm pondering picking it up from Amazon. Only problem is I leave for a two-week vacation a week from now (Saturday), so I don't know if it will arrive. Might prove to be handy, though, especially considering it's a 15-hour trip, one-way.
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Dave

I haven't decided if I should call it from the dugout or the outfield. Apparently, both have really great views!

Screw green, it ain't easy being blue!

I won't be coming here that much anymore. I might check in now and again.
Reply With Quote
  #9 (permalink)  
Old Mon Apr 13, 2009, 09:32am
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NCASAUmp View Post
I'm pondering picking it up from Amazon. Only problem is I leave for a two-week vacation a week from now (Saturday), so I don't know if it will arrive. Might prove to be handy, though, especially considering it's a 15-hour trip, one-way.
I am spoiled - I always pay for the Amazon Prime each year - I get just about all of the 'free two day' shipping just like the 2.99 overnight, due to being within the one day zone of UPS... The $79 really pays for itself as I get enough crap from them in a year to make it worthwhile...especially at holiday time!
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Old Mon Apr 13, 2009, 09:35am
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ASA/NYSSOBLUE View Post
I am spoiled - I always pay for the Amazon Prime each year - I get just about all of the 'free two day' shipping just like the 2.99 overnight, due to being within the one day zone of UPS... The $79 really pays for itself as I get enough crap from them in a year to make it worthwhile...especially at holiday time!
Thanks! I have stock in Amazon.
__________________
Dave

I haven't decided if I should call it from the dugout or the outfield. Apparently, both have really great views!

Screw green, it ain't easy being blue!

I won't be coming here that much anymore. I might check in now and again.
Reply With Quote
  #11 (permalink)  
Old Fri May 08, 2009, 08:06am
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Picked up the book before heading to Argentina and read a lot of it on the plane. Definitely a must-read for any umpire at any level. I can actually see a lot of myself from when I first started umpiring in some of these stories.
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Dave

I haven't decided if I should call it from the dugout or the outfield. Apparently, both have really great views!

Screw green, it ain't easy being blue!

I won't be coming here that much anymore. I might check in now and again.
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Old Fri May 08, 2009, 08:50am
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I'll add my enthusiastic recommendation.
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Old Fri May 08, 2009, 03:23pm
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I finished it in two days. Lots of great stuff in there.
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Old Fri May 08, 2009, 05:17pm
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At the time I ordered As We See EM I ordered a few other used books about Umpiring.

Yesterday, I started Please Don't Kill the Umpire by John Massaro.
After reading the Preface and 1st Chapter, I'm not impressed and pretty disappointed. If it gets better, I'll revise this post. If it doesn't, I may not finish the book....
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Old Sat May 09, 2009, 02:40am
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I ordered The Best Seat In Baseball, But You Have to Stand, and I'm about a third of the way through it. It's an entertaining book for me because it shows how different it was to umpire in the 70s (a lot more guys were breaking ribs and collarbones before the hard shell CP), but also how some things have stayed the same (the players and coaches complain constantly).
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