I had a chance to spend some time recently, with a large group of amateur umpires and came away with some interesting, crazy and funny stories. They were a cross section of people, who work normal jobs and officiate in their free time. Sometimes working as many as 4 to 8 baseball games on a weekend. And while the extra cash is nice, the passion for the game for most of them is their driving force. The following is one of the stories I heard that night. It is by Rich Lionetti who is the president of the Western Suffolk Umpires Association (WSBUA) on long Island. He works both High School varsity and college games throughout the metropolitan area.
As told by Rich Lionetti: On a hot and humid Saturday in July, with the temperature already 93 degrees at 9 in the morning, a batter comes up in the first inning, the pitch is thrown and I call it a strike. The batter turns, looks at me and says, ”That is not a strike.”I think, it was close but was definitely a strike. Next pitch he flies out to right. His next at bat in the third inning, I call the first pitch a strike. He turns again and says, “That was not a bleeping strike.” The next pitch he takes right down the middle and I call it a strike. He bangs the bat down and says again, “That is not a strike, you gotta be kidding me.” He takes the next pitch for a called strike three and again tells me that was not a bleeping strike and throws his bat at the dugout.
As the next batter gets in the box, I ask him “What’s up with that guy?” He tells me that last night was his bachelor’s party, he got in about six in the morning, is still nursing a pretty good hang over and wants to be thrown out of the game so he can go home and sleep it off.
Now, I get it and am ready for this guys next at bat. He comes up in the fifth inning and takes strike one, tells me that my shoes must be too tight because that was not a strike. He fouls one off, then takes strike three and throws his bat over the backstop and again says, “That was not a bleeping strike.” I then tell him, “I am not throwing you out of this game, so you can go home and sit in air conditioning, while we bake out here today. You are going to finish this game. You would have to set the field on fire for me to throw you out of this game.” Now everyone on his team and my partner are hysterically laughing. He finished the game.
Here is a situation where the umpire calmed the situation and had some fun by using some creative thinking. Things happen on the field a lot that are either crazy, amazing, ugly or funny and when officials get together at meetings, at an annual dinner or in a parking lot before or after a game to get changed, they share their latest or dig back for one of their favorites. They call them “War Stories.”
At every level of play, all umpires have stories. All the way up to the big leagues, umpires hear, see or are part of things that happen on the field. After all, they have the best seats in the house. I was always told, “You want to be able to tell the story and not be part of the story.” But in the case of the umpire, most of the time they are a part of it.
It is a physically grueling task at times and though there is some fun, they take it seriously. At this particular meeting I attended with about 150 members of WSBUA , Mr. Lionetti took them through a clinic on mechanics and rules that was the equivalent to a college class in umpiring. There was a good question and answer participation by the members with a few war stories thrown in for a laugh. Some of these “War Stories” are serious and are used as tools at these clinics to demonstrate how to handle an ugly situation. Remember, the umpire is the one who keeps the game moving smoothly so the players can play. They are always trying to get better.
So thank them after a game. Don’t abuse them and risk being the ugly part of a “War Story.”