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How Umpiring Has Changed


An All-Star Effort

Until recently, the All-Star Game was purely an exhibition game with nothing at stake. But that didn’t mean that the players and coaches didn’t care who won. In fact, the intensity of the play during the Mid-Summer Classic has waned through the years — not coincidentally as big money has come to baseball. Here we see a clip from the 1954 All-Star Game in Cleveland in which Red Schoendienst unsuccessfully attempts to steal home (not a play we’d likely see in an exhibition these days). But what’s really surprsing is that when Red is called out, both National League coaches — Leo Durocher and Charlie Grimm make B-lines for home plate umpire Eddie Rommel and really let him have it. The intensity is impressive.

Incidentally, on this play and on the steal of third preceding, it’s interesting to note how quickly the umpires signal their call. Before one’s eyes can even go from the runner slide into third to the overlooking umpire, he has already made the call. Today’s umps wait a pregnant beat or two and think it over before issuing their rulings.


Shovin’ Casey

This newsreel footage of a 1957 Chicago White Sox game against the Yankees at Comiskey has quite a few interesting tidbits. First, we see Minnie Minoso of the “Go Go Sox” daringly move from first to third on a passed ball (It was some 86 feet to the backstop at Comiskey). Minoso then somewhat recklessly attempts to take home as the Yankees argue the call. Apparently the home plate umpire had already called time, which brings Minoso back to third.  This brings forth an even odder sight, as Casey Stengel clearly shoves the umpire in arguing that call., Incredibly Stengel is not even removed from the game. In 1988, Pete Rose was fined 30 games for shoving an umpire (see clip below). Granted, Rose’s shove was far more egregious but it does show the changes in the standards for respecting umpires in the intervening three decades.

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The Dark Ages of Umpiring

Two clips from the 6th inning of Game 5 of the 1969 World Series show just how far umpiring has come in the past 45 years. In the top of the inning, Jerry Koosman clearly hits Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson in the side, but home plate umpire Lou DiMuro somehow rules the ball foul. This was long before the days when umpires sought help and so DiMuro stubbornly insists on the call. Robinson then takes his sweet time by actually going down into the training room to be attended to for an injury that DiMuro claims never happened. Somehow Robinson manages not to get thrown out. Also, interesting to think about how thirty years later Robinson would go from hot head to gray beard, overseeing player discipline as MLB’s VP of On-Field Operations.

In the bottom of the same inning, DiMuro bizzarely uses shoe polish to determine that the ball hit the cleat of Cleon Jones (a fact that seems obvious just by the bounce of the ball to the right of home plate). Still, determining the call based on Gil Hodges’ shoe polish claim seems both random and dubious. Indeed, Jerry Koosman later claimed he scuffed the ball himself while others said it was not even the game ball that Hodges brought out to DiMuro.

It’s also interesting to note that Earl Weaver, known for his fiery temper, also somehow manages not to get himself thrown out of this game — even though every MLB manager worth his salt nowadays would have guaranteed it, after the second bogus call against his team in one World Series inning.

DiMuro just seems to be wandering around aimlessly, inconsistent and arbitrary in these days before umpiring became a proud and steady profession.

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Hot-Tempered but Still in the Game

An interesting clip from a July 1972 NBC Game of the Week at Fenway Park against the Athletics.  With the old “behind the plate camera” trained in, Sal Bando erupts at home plate umpire Larry McCoy, who incredibly does not throw him out of the game.  Umpires had a longer fuse in those years and arguing balls and strikes was far less forbidden. Reggie Jackson did get thrown out for arguing a strike call a few innings later, but it’s still hard to believe Bando remained.  I wonder if the way McCoy called him out may have contributed to Bando’s anger.  You don’t see such passionate Strike 3 calls anymore.

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Runaway Umpire

Most Major League umpires had a different attitude in the 1960s and 70s than they do today.  First of all, they took a lot more guff from players.  Perhaps they were not so far removed from the early days of baseball when an umpire’s controversial call could literally land him the hospital after dealing with fans after the game.  Indeed umps of the 1960s and 70s avoided confrontation and were slow to eject players.  Today, most umpires seem to have their tempers on a hair trigger. Watch here as the second base umpire literally runs away from an argument with Giant baserunner Billy North, who screams at him a demontsrative fashion that would probably not be acceptable today.

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Leslie Nielsen Impression

Today it seems that the ethos of baseball umpires is to try to blend in as much as possible. With perhaps the exception of Tim McClelland’s deliberate calls, most MLB umpires today seem almost interchangeable in their demeanor. Without the mic of an NFL official or the speeds skates of an NHL referee, MLB umps blend into the background.This was not as true in years past when some umpires demonstrated more elaborate on field personas. Here we see home plate Dutch Rennert’s enthusiastic strike call that might remind some viewers of Leslie Nielsen in Naked Gun

Other tidbits from this summer scene in San Francisco. Donnie Moore is on the mound for Atlanta. He would tragically kill himself in July of 1989 after shooting his wife Tonya three times during an argument in front of their children in their Anaheim home. Tonya would survive. Moore gave up the famous Game 5 home run to Dave Henderson in the 1986 ALCS.

We also see current broadcaster Mike Krukow at bat. Skip Carey comments that Krukow is hitting .333 at the moment with a .231 lifetime batting average. Strong hitting pitchers have consistently become rarer in baseball through the years. Krukow hit .314 in 51 at bats with the Cubs in 1979. 

The game is broadcasted on “Superstation WTBS,” Ted Turner’s 1980s cable outlet in Atlanta allowed viewers all over the country to see Braves games nightly. The station tried to capitalize on this by naming the Braves “America’s Team,” as seen at the end of the inning. This never caught on and America’s Team remained the football team in Dallas. 

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