|Umpire Honor Rolls|
Umpires, the unsung heroes of baseball, predictably received less than an appropriate share of the publicity generated by the 75th anniversary of the World Series in 1978. Although the men in blue are both essential and conspicuous participants in the National Pastime, they continue to be regarded generally as necessary evils by fans and as invisible men by sportswriters and statisticians. Furman Bisher has aptly described the fate of umpires: "They're submerged in the history of baseball like idiot children in a family album." Such neglect and misunderstanding are unfortunate not only because umpires deserve recognition for their achievements but also because the history of umpiring mirrors the history of baseball.
From the appearance of the modern game of baseball in 1846 to the formation of the first professional league in 1871, the umpire was the personification of an amateur sport played by gentlemen. Initially, umpires were either volunteers or persons chosen from the assembled spectators (and even players), for then the only qualifications for umpiring were a basic knowledge of the rules and a reputation for rendering fair and accurate decisions. Because it was considered an "honor" to be designated an umpire, the early arbiters received no payment for their service. Although umpires worked in whatever clothing they happened to wear to the game, contemporary wood-cuts depict the idealized stereotype of the umpire-a distinguished-looking fellow, often attired in a top hat, Prince Albert coat, and cane, who stood, kneeled, or sat on a stool a respectable distance from home plate along the first base line.
After the Civil War, baseball, like virtually every other aspect of American society, underwent a profound transformation. The era of the gentleman arbiter quickly came to an end, replaced by the age of the professional umpire. From the 1870's through the 1890's the nature of umpiring was altered because of four factors: the professionalization of baseball, revisions in the rules and techniques of the game, a change in the composition of teams and spectators, and the transformation of the National Pastime from sport to business.
As players progressed in status from amateur to semipro to professional, umpires predictably followed suit. The organization in 1876 of the National League had an immediate and profound effect on umpiring. The League moved quickly to impose uniformity and quality controls on umpires. In addition to counseling its arbiters on the interpretation and application of rules, the League in 1878 enhanced the independent posture and professional stature of the officials by paying them $5 a game. At first the League adopted the practice pioneered by the old Professional Association of having the home team select an umpire from a list of five candidates submitted by the visiting club, but in 1879 it compiled an official list of 20 qualified men from whom the home team could choose an arbiter. The rival American Association went one step further when it began operation in 1882. In addition to paying its umpires a salary plus $3 per diem for expenses while on the road, the Association required its officials to wear blue flannel coats and caps while working games. The next year the National League adopted the concept of a permanent, paid, uniformed staff, thus completing the professionalization of major league umpires.
Fundamental changes in the rules and strategy of the game during the 1880's and 1890's necessitated a significant expansion of the authority granted to umpires. Rapidly changing rules combined with ambiguities in existing rules (what, for example, was a "legal" pitch?) caused confusion among players, fans and arbiters alike. Revolutionary changes in offensive tactics - the popularity of the bunt, hit-and-run, and stolen base-placed additional strains on the officials. The problem was simple: a single umpire, whether he worked behind the catcher or pitcher, had an enormously difficult time obtaining proper position to call plays and thus to maintain control of the game.
The problems confronting umpires were compounded by the expansion of baseball to the public at large. This resulted in the "lower sort" increasingly replacing the "respectable element" both on the field and in the stands, and umpire-baiting and rowdyism became commonplace. Umpires were routinely spiked, kicked, sworn at and spit upon by players, while fans ("kranks" as they were then called) hurled curses, bottles and all manner of organic and inorganic debris at the arbiters. Mobbings and physical assaults by players and patrons alike became commonplace; police escorts were familiar and welcome sights to the men in blue. One of the most inhospitable towns in baseball was Baltimore, where in the 1890's the Orioles of Ned Hanlon and John McGraw set new lows for violent behavior on the field. In short, a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred mentality dominated the game in the last part of the 19th century.
Given the difficulties confronting umpires in the early days of the professional era, it was clear steps would have to be taken to increase the ability of the officials to control the game. To help exert discipline on the field, umpires were first granted absolute authority in judgment decisions, then allowed to fine players deemed guilty of abusive conduct, and finally in the 1890's permitted to eject offenders from the game. But the problem of inadequate coverage of plays went unresolved despite the use of two umpires (dressed in white to symbolize "purity"?) by the rebel Players League in 1890. The use of two officials became widespread during the first decade of the 20th century, but it was not until 1910-11 that the official rules stipulated the assignment of both an umpire-in-chief to call balls and strikes and a field umpire to make decisions on the bases. (Three umpires were assigned to regular season games in 1933; the four-man crew was adopted in 1952.)
Many of the difficulties faced by umpires in the 1880's and 1890's are traceable to the evolution of baseball from sport to business. Club owners, in the business of selling entertainment, soon realized that umpire-baiting boosted gate receipts. Apart from a refusal to provide adequate salaries, facilities, or staffs, the owners undermined the position of the umpires directly by paying their player's fines and indirectly by doing nothing to curb rowdyism by teams or spectators. Owners and league officials were culpable not only in that they refused to support their umpires but also in that they quickly joined forces with zealous sportwriters in deliberately casting the arbiters as villains and scapegoats.
For all the uncertainties and tribulations of this early period, it produced several umpires who deserve special recognition in baseball history. William B. McLean (NL 1876-80, 1882-84) perhaps deserves the title of the first professional umpire. So great was his ability and reputation for fairness that league officials not only agreed to his demands for the then unheard of fee of $5 per game but also sent him on an expense-paid tour of every city in the league. The most famous early exponents of the two basic styles of umpiring were Robert V. Ferguson and John H. Gaffney. Ferguson, known as "Robert the Great," ruled as an iron-fisted autocrat while Gaffney, dubbed "The King of the Umpires," controlled the game through tact and diplomacy. Gaffney also popularized the technique of working behind the plate until a man reached base and then moving behind the pitcher (before the umpire worked either behind the batter or pitcher and did not usually shift) and began the practice of calling a ball "fair" or "foul" at the point where it left the park instead of where it was last seen. In 1888 Gaffney was the highest paid umpire in baseball, earning $2,500 a year plus expenses on the road.
Other noteworthy umpires were John 0. Kelly, who worked mostly in the American Association and who appeared in more early World Series (5 Series, 26 games) than any other umpire of the day; and the duo of John A. Heydler and Thomas J. Lynch, both of whom went on the serve as president of the National League. Finally, there was Richard Higham, who was dismissed in 1882 for advising gamblers how to bet on games he umpired and, thus, has the dubious honor of being the only umpire ever judged guilty of dishonesty.
The umpiring profession as well as baseball in general became "big league" after 1900. Principal credit for enhancing the stature of the men in blue belongs to Byron "Ban" Johnson who, as the first president of the American League, emphatically supported the decisions and positions of his umpires. Continued front office support, coupled with the on-field reputation of umpires like Bill Klem, secured by the 1920's the role of the umpire as the unquestioned arbitrator of the game. But in other areas the umpiring profession progressed slowly. Although Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier as a player in 1947, there was no Black umpire until Emmett L. Ashford joined the American League staff in 1966. And it was not until the organization of the Major League Umpires Association in the l960's, thanks largely to the efforts of National League arbiter Augie Donateffi, that umpires finally began to receive salaries and fringe benefits commensurate with their contribution to the game and achieve true professional status.
Despite the prominent position of umpires in baseball history, information about arbiters and their activities remains elusive. James M. Kahn's badly out-dated The Umpire Story (1953) is the lone scholarly history of umpiring. And where countless tomes contain detailed career profiles of players, coaches, and managers, there is no comprehensive biographical compendium for umpires. The archival plight of the umpire is illustrated by the three basic baseball sourcebooks. The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball contains an "All-Time Register" of umpires, but the names are often incomplete and there are numerous inaccuracies; the Baseball Register offers annually biographical sketches of current umpires, but some information is incorrect; the massive Baseball Encyclopedia has nothing on umpires. Worse yet, newspapers have long since banished umpires from the box scores; the Sporting News alone continues the tradition of listing game officials.
I have learned first-hand the difficulty of obtaining even the most elementary information about umpires in the course of researching a history of baseball umpiring. Neither the American nor National League headquarters could produce a comprehensive roster of the men who have umpired in their leagues. Moreover, I have had to obtain the names of All-Star and World Series umpires from box scores and official game records. Tabulations of those umpires who have achieved the greatest distinction in terms of either length of career or service in All-Star games and the World Series constitute the burden of this article.
In addition to providing baseball historians with information not readily available elsewhere, the compilations help sharpen our perspective on the game's umpiring elite. Arbiters work in essential anonymity: few fans know even their names, and their great calls and outstanding performances go generally unrecorded. As a result, career longevity and assignment to work one of baseball's showcase contests serves as reliable, albeit imperfect, indexes of professional achievement. Although front office favoritism and the recent practice of rotating All-Star and World Series assignments skew slightly the following tabulations, they nonetheless identify those umpires who exerted a dominant influence in their profession and, thus, baseball since the turn of the century.
Long Service Umpires
An umpire, indeed anyone who officiates athletic contests, has an extraordinarily difficult job. In addition to enduring low pay, minimal financial reward, minimal fringe benefits, lack of recognition, and constant verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, the umpire is subject to the strain of performing in pressure-packed situations in full view of thousands and even millions of hypercritical observers. It is often said that an umpire is the only person who is expected to be perfect at the beginning of his career and improve every day thereafter. And, one might add, possess the patience of a Job and the wisdom of a Solomon.
Although a love for the game leads numerous individuals to attempt a career in umpiring, only a small minority are able to reach the major leagues. The attrition rate is high, even among the elite who make it; most major league umpires either walk or are driven away within five to ten years. To remain an umpire for more than a decade one must not only possess superior technical skills and physical stamina but also be tough-minded and thick-skinned.
The following table of men who officiated in the major leagues for 20 or more years reads as an umpires' Who's Who. Because an umpire's reputation and contribution to baseball are determined largely by the length of his career, these 30 men are the arbiters who have had the greatest influence on the game of baseball in modern times. Interestingly, the umpires are evenly divided between the American and National Leagues, with Tommy Connolly and Ernie Quigley having served in both circuits. Bill Klem and Hank O'Day, who rank at the top of the list in terms of the number of seasons worked, also have the distinction of having careers that encompassed five decades. It is recorded that Bill McGowan, in the course of 16½ seasons, worked 2,541 consecutive games. Babe Pinelli, in a recent letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame Historian, stated that he did not miss a regulation game in his 22 years, 1935-56.
What the list of long-service umpires does not relate, and for which we lack the space in this article, is a discussion of the colorful side of some of the umps like William "Lord" Byron, the singing ump, or Ron Luciano, of flamboyant gesture fame. Absent also is an explanation of the nicknames by which some of the officials were known, such as Silk, Beans, Brick, Jocko, Dusty and Ziggy.
Long Service Umpires, 1876-1978
Although the spotlight has appropriately focused on the players chosen to participate in baseball's All-Star games, the umpires selected to officiate those contests likewise deserve recognition as "All-Stars." From 1933 through 1978, 114 arbiters, 58 from the AL and 56 from the NL, have officiated 49 All-Star games. Beginning with the inaugural contest in 1933 through 1948 (there was no game in 1945), four umpires, two from each league, worked the games. In 1949 the designated "alternates" were positioned on the field along the outfield foul lines, forming the now-traditional crew of six. During the years 1959-62, Major League Baseball experimented with holding two All-Star games a year; while the cast of players and coaches remained largely the same for both games, a different crew of umpires was assigned to each game except for 1960 when the same contingent worked both contests. Prior to the mid-1960's, when the Umpires Association established a schedule of assignment rotation, league officials selected All-Star umpires.
While most baseball aficionados are familiar with the players and performances that marked the initial All-Star game, few know that Bill Dinneen, Bill McGowan, Bill Klem, and Cy Rigler-four of the greatest umpires in baseball history-worked that historic contest. Fewer still recall the composition of other historic crews-that Eddie Rommel and Joe Rue (AL) and Jocko Conlan and Tom Dunn (NL) worked the first night game in All-Star history at Shibe Park in Philadelphia in 1943 or that Nestor Chylak, Jim Honochick and John Stevens (AL) along with Dusty Boggess, Tom Gorman, and Vince Smith (NL) are the only umpires to work two games in a single season (1960).
Unique individual achievements provide data for historians and triviots alike. A few examples will suffice. Charles Pfirman was the arbiter behind home plate when Carl Hubbell struck out the side, including five batters in a row, in the first two innings of the 1934 game. Several post-1933 Major Leaguers-Jocko Conlan, Charlie Berry, Tom Gorman, and Bill Kunkel (1972, 1977)-made the All-Star game as an umpire, but Lon Warneke, the Arkansas Humming Bird, alone played (1933-34, 1936, 1939, 1941) and umpired (1952) in the contest. Only two men have umpired consecutive All-Star games, Scotty Robb (1950-51) and Doug Harvey (1963-64); Robb's is the more unusual record since they were the only games in which he appeared. Finally, if there ever was an All-Star tandem of umpires, it would be Al Barlick (NL) and Bill Summers (AL), who not only share the record for the most All-Star appearances (7) but also worked together in three games.
The table that follows lists those umpires who worked the most All-Star games in baseball history. Due to space limitations, the roster is limited to the 23 men who made four or more appearances. For the record, another 17 umpires worked 3 games apiece, 27 others appeared in two contests each, and 47 arbiters received a single assignment. The record of the men listed below is the more impressive since umpires assigned to All-Star games appeared in an average of 2.3 contests.
To make the roster more serviceable to readers, I have organized the following table first according to the number of appearances; individuals are then listed alphabetically within the numerical categories. The superscript numbers 1 and 2 indicate the game worked during the period of the dual All-Star games.
All-Star Game Umpires 1933-1978
World Series Umpires
Since interleague championship competition began in 1903, 117 umpires, 61 from the American League and 56 from the National League, have worked the 443 games played in 75 World Series, (The Series was not held in 1904). Hank O'Day, (NL) and Tommy Connolly (AL) share the distinction of officiating the first autumn classic. The format of a 2-man crew, one arbiter behind home plate and the other on the bases, was employed in the Series until 1908. In that year a pair of 2-man crews-John Sheridan (AL) and O'Day, Bill Klem (NL) and Connolly-alternated games. The practice of alternating umpires carried into the 1909 Series, but in the third game, played in Detroit on October 11, all four umpires were on the field at the same time. Silk O'Loughlin and Billy Evans of the American League and Klem and Jim Johnstone of the National League thereby formed the first four-man crew, a tradition which continued through 1946.
In 1947 the "alternate" umpire from each league, who had been seated in the stands from 1940 to 1946, was stationed along the foul line in the outfield thus establishing the now-familiar six-member Series staff. The umpires in that historic contingent were Jim Boyer, Bill McGowan, and Eddie Rommel of the American League, and Larry Goetz, George Magerkurth, and Babe Pinelli of the National League. Another historic occasion was the inauguration of night games in the 1972 Series. The umpires for the three night contests, all of which were played in Oakland, were Bill Haller, Jim Honochick, and Frank Umont of the Junior Circuit, and Bob Engel, Chris Pelekoudas, and Mel Steiner of the Senior Circuit.
More than All-Star games, World Series assignments clearly reveal the dominant umpires in a given era as well as in baseball history. In large part because of his unprecedented influence within National League headquarters, Bill Klem stands alone at the top of the list with a phenomenal 108 games in 18 Series-almost one-fourth of those played. His dominance was such that he received consecutive Series assignments on four occasions including one stretch of five Series in a row (1911-15). In addition to Klem, contemporaries Tommy Connolly (1910-11), Hank O'Day(1907-08), Cy Rigler (1912-13), and John Sheridan (1907-08) worked back-to-back Series; George Barr is the only "modern" umpire to be assigned consecutive Series (1948-49). By far the predominate umpire pairing in World Series competition is the twosome of Klem and Bill Dinneen, a combination that appeared together seven times.
For umpires as well as for players, an appearance in the World Series is the culmination of one's career. Former Major League players Charlie Berry, Jocko Conlan, Tom Gorman, and Babe Pinelli made it to the Series as arbiters instead of as athletes; Bill Kunkel was a member of the 1963 Yankees, but did not play in the Series; Bill Dinneen (who pitched for Boston in the first Series), George Pipgras (1927-28; 1932), Eddie Rommel (1929, 1931), and Lon Warneke (1932, 1935) appeared in the Series both as a player and as an umpire. (Warneke is the only man to play and umpire in both the All-Star games and the World Series.)
Through World Series assignments, individual umpires have achieved some unusual statistical records. In four appearances, George Hildebrand and George Magerkurth umpired "for the cycle"-Series of 4, 5, 6, 7 games. Bill Klem and Cy Rigler worked Series which lasted 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 games; Rigler had three 8-game Series. Hank O'Day once worked five consecutive 5-game Series. John Sheridan worked four Series, each of which went five games. It is unusual that each of the three Series Stan Landes worked went to a full seven games, but it is simply extraordinary that Jim Honochick worked seven games in each of his six Series assignments.
The table below identifies the 22 umpires with the most World Series assignments since 1903. Although space permits listing only those with five or more Series assignments, it should be noted that 20 men worked 4 Series, 16 received 3 assignments, 18 got 2 calls, and 41 appeared in a single autumn classic. The table is organized first according to the number of World Series assignments, then by the total number of games worked, and finally alphabetically.
World Series Umpires, 1903-1978