David Bruce: The Funniest People in Sports: 250 Anecdotes — Umpires

Umpires

• Umpire Tom Gorman once got mad at the players in the Brooklyn Dodgers dugout because they had been riding him all game. He yelled at them to shut up, they didn’t shut up, so he walked over to the dugout. At that point, he had committed himself, so he had to throw somebody out. Of course, an umpire doesn’t want to hurt any team unless it is necessary, so an umpire in that situation will choose a player to throw out who isn’t useful to the team — for example, a pitcher who had worked the game before. Mr. Gorman pointed in the dugout and yelled, “You’re out of here, John Van Cuyk,” because Mr. Van Cuyk had pitched the day before. The Brooklyn manager, Chuck Dressen, asked, “Who you want out?” Mr. Gorman repeated that he wanted Mr. Van Cuyk out, and Mr. Dressen said, “That’s great, but you’ll have to yell a little louder because I sent him back to the Texas League last night.”

• Major league baseball manager Preston Gomez sometimes was criticized by higher management for being too nice, which means they felt that he didn’t argue with the umpires enough. At a time in his career when he was under fire, a close play at second base went against his club, so he came out of the dugout, told his shortstop, who was complaining, “Get back to your position. I’ll handle this,” then went to the umpire, Harry Wendelstedt. Out of earshot of everybody but the umpire, Mr. Gomez said, “Look, Harry, I know you got the play right and I shouldn’t be out here. But they’re on my *ss. They’re telling me I’m not tough enough.” As he talked, he performed a pantomime of a manager arguing chin to chin with an umpire. Every fan, reporter, and player thought he was mad as hell.

• Late in the career of baseball umpire Bill Klem, his eyesight started to go, and of course he didn’t want the baseball team managers to know that. One day, Casey Stengel and Frank Frisch, who suspected Mr. Klem’s eyesight was going, cooked up a scheme. Mr. Frisch wrote out his lineup in very large letters and Mr. Stengel wrote out his lineup in very small letters. The two managers then gave their lineups to Mr. Klem, who first read Mr. Frisch’s lineup out loud, then looked over Mr. Stengel’s lineup and said, “That’s fine.” Later, Mr. Klem admitted to fellow umpire Jocko Conlan that he couldn’t see Mr. Stengel’s lineup: “Always have the answers, my boy. They tried to stump me. I couldn’t see that lineup no more than the man in the moon. But I could still umpire.”

• Even as a young minor league umpire, Doug Harvey had gray hair — his hair started turning gray when he was 13 — and chewed tobacco. A pitching coach for the Philadelphia Phillies, Ray Ripplemeyer, told him, “You’re a good umpire, but if you want to make it to the major leagues, you better dye your hair and get rid of that chewing tobacco.” Mr. Harvey replied, “If they don’t want a gray-haired, tobacco-chewing umpire, then I guess they don’t want me.” In a few more years, Mr. Harvey was in the major leagues as an umpire, and he went up to Mr. Ripplemeyer, spit chewing tobacco juice on his shoe, and said, “Well, I made it.”

• In the early days of baseball, Hugh Rorty was an umpire in New England. During a game between Lynn and Haverhill, Haverhill was leading when a fog rolled in, and the Haverhill manager requested — strongly — that the game be called on account of poor visibility, saying that he was the right fielder as well as the manager and so he knew when visibility was so bad that a game couldn’t be played. Mr. Rorty simply picked up a baseball glove and went to right field, telling the Haverhill manager to hit him three flies. Mr. Rorty caught all three flies, then the game continued.

• Minor league umpire Harry “Steamboat” Johnson officiated at a time when violence against umpires was not uncommon. Following a game in Nashville, some angry fans stood outside the umpires’ dressing room and demanded that they come outside. Steamboat made a motion toward his hip pocket and said, “Just wait until I get this gun out and you’ll leave us alone.” The fans ran away, leaving Steamboat laughing because he didn’t carry a gun — all he carried was a knife, which sometimes came in handy in such situations.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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