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Umpty Dumpty

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Major league umpires take a great fall

By Bill English

IT'S A FAMILIAR SIGHT--a true baseball tradition. An irate, foaming-at-the-mouth ballplayer gets belly to belly with an umpire as they conduct a screaming match over a child's game. Recall the joy of watching the late big-league manager Billy Martin going ballistic over what he considered a bad call.

The flashpoint release of all that raw rage fueled a pure and choreographed baseball ballet. You could always count on plenty of kicked dirt and language as salty as peanuts.

It was all part of the baseball soap opera and featured a predictable ending. Because the instant the histrionics reached a climax, the ump would simply turn his back on the discussion and jerk his thumb toward the dugout. "You're outta here, fella!" he'd snarl.

It was a moment to cherish.

But, until recently, the players always got the short end of the stick. Now all of a sudden the classic heave-ho has taken on a whole new dimension. When major-league umpires returned to work last week after the All-Star Game, they got a standing boovation from fans across America.

Why?

The umps had decided to throw themselves out of the game. In a preposterous and convoluted version of baseball's suicide squeeze, the boys in blue have announced they plan to resign en masse come September. It seems they have some lingering issues over their strained relations with the players and the altered strike zone. The umps can't get beyond the fact that Roberto Alomar was only given a slap on his wrist bands two years ago for spitting in the face of one of their own.

Believe it or not, bodily fluids are about to disrupt the National Pastime.

Once again baseball is taking a long lead toward chaos. Personally, I think the umps are nuts. Clearly, these guys have been standing in the sun too long. Who cares if they quit? Certainly not the players or owners. And any fan with a real job isn't going to feel sorry for a bunch of fat slobs who think going to work means calling close plays at the plate for a few hours in the afternoon.

Hey, ump, try working as a taxi driver if you want abuse.

MAJOR-LEAGUE umpires make up to $250,000 a year for a few hours of watching millionaires play baseball. How tough can it be when you get the whole winter off to spend at the all-you-can-eat buffet? Who the hell walks off a job like that just because a second baseman spits in your face? Hey, spitting is part of baseball. Everybody spits in baseball. OK, so maybe one little arc of infielder drool got a tad out of control and just happened to land in an umpire's eye. Is that any reason to quit your profession and risk the security of your family. No way.

I, for one, am more than ready to jump into the breach and become a full-time replacement umpire. Sure, I'm going to have to pack on 200 pounds to transform myself into an acceptable human obstruction--but if Robert De Niro was willing to pack on pounds for his Raging Bull role, why not me? And for the kind of cash flow we're talking about here, I could care less if a few wealthy shortstops spit in my face. Naturally, it doesn't matter to me if the strike zone has shrunk to the size of a microwave oven and dances on a rubber band.

I'll get the job done.

SO, SPORTS FANS, look for me out there. With my beaming face turned up toward the baseball sun, enjoying the moment. Because given the opportunity, I plan to become the world's first totally enlightened umpire: Yoga-Call-'Em-As-I-See-'Em.

Infield chatter will become a chant. The long-lost church of baseball will return. Trust me, when I throw you out of the game it will be with a humanistic touch. Like carefully removing a spider from the bottom of the bathroom sink. I'll truly listen to your pleas before I toss your butt to an early shower.

Whoa, just a bit outside . . .


Kenwood writer Bill English is the author of two books about baseball.

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From the July 22-28, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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