Thursday, February 28, 2008

Beans was 'the Last of the Cussin' Umpires'

John Edward "Beans" Reardon ...... (Born November 23, 1897...... Died July 31, 1984 in Long Beach, CA.)

An umpire in major league baseball who worked in the National League from 1926-1949. One of the best liked and most respected umpires in the league, he was known for his colorful arguments with players and managers.

Born in Taunton, MA, Reardon's family moved to Los Angeles, CA when he was 14 years of age, where he acquired his nickname due to his Boston-area origins. Having no chance at a career playing baseball due to a throwing arm ruined by overexertion in sandlot ball, he began umpiring amateur games as a teenager.

He looked to get his professional start with a copper miners' league in Arizona in 1919, but after arriving for duty and learning his contract required him to work in the mines, he resigned after one (1) day's work, followed by a doubleheader he umpired singlehandedly.

In 1920-21 he umpired in the Western Canada League where he made his reputation in Edmonton by refusing a police escort out of a park after a particularly contentious game before a hostile crowd. He said, "I didn't sneak in and I won't sneak out."

He then worked in the Pacific Coast League for 4 seasons before reaching the major leagues. He was known for his many arguments on the field and for the fact that he relished the opportunity to match the players in his use of off-color language; he came to refer to himself as "the last of the cussin' umpires," and rarely ejected players from games, reportedly because he loved trading insults. At one point National League president, Ford Frick, issued a memo to all field personnel requiring them to reduce their use of profanity, a thinly veiled move directed primarily at Beans Reardon.

Beans had a difficult relationship with longtime National League ump, Bill Klem, the dean of the league staff; the younger Reardon insisted upon wearing the outside chest protector used by American League umpires, rather than the inside protector favored by Klem. Reardon also regularly conversed during games with spectators in the stands, another annoyance to Klem.

Reardon noted that perhaps he stayed on as long as he did only because Klem was promoted to a non-field position in 1941. Ever outspoken, upon accepting an award, ironically named for Klem,
from Houston sportswriters in the 1960s, Reardon offhandedly remarked that he and Klem hated one another.

Reardon was the home plate umpire when Babe Ruth went out with a bang-bang-bang. Hitting three homers in 1935 at the cavernous Forbes Field while a member of the Boston Braves.

He was notably the basis for the central figure, the home plate umpire, in Norman Rockwell's famous painting Bottom of the Sixth flanked by umpires Larry Goetz and Lou Jorda. Reardon is largely identifiable because, despite the depicted games being in the National League, the umpire in the photo is using the outside chest protector.

Reardon retired following the 1949 World Series. (A series won by the Yankees 4-1 over the Brooklyn Dodgers. The first two games were 1-0 shutouts. Game 1 was a 2-hitter by Yankee hurler Allie Reynolds while Game 2 was a 6-hitter by Dodger old-timer, Preacher Roe.)

Although by the late 1940s Reardon was the highest paid umpire, he was earning three times as much from his off-season business as an Anheuser-Busch beer distributor. He would eventually sell the distributorship to none other than Frank Sinatra for over half a million dollars in 1967.

Beans is my kind of umpire. In fact, when I put on the tools of ignorance and squatted behind the catcher to call balls and strikes, my attitude mirrored his. I'd trade barbs with players and managers and never looked to toss anyone from the ballgame. If someone was heckling throughout the entire game I wouldn't take it out on his team. The strike zone wouldn't shrink, but you can bet if the pitch was borderline it wasn't going in that person's favor.

Where nowadays you see the umpires enticing the players I don't get that from Beans Reardon.
He just was giving the players and or coaches back what they were dishing out to him and it was all in the spirit of competition. Once the game was over they probably got together for a couple of cold brews.

I tossed just one player out in my time as an umpire which was somewhere between 12-15 years. And that was only because the league had issued a statement that if the players used the f-bomb frequently you were to issue a warning and then follow that up by dismissing said player from the game. In this one particular incident I recall the opposing coach getting together with the coach of the player and it was agreed that if the player said the magic word (that rhymes with duck) again, and he'd said it a few times up to that point, I had to toss him.

I didn't like it because I knew the player to be very competitive and it wasn't much longer after that when I decided it was no longer invigorating for me to continue umpiring.

The powers that be had inserted this and that rule and claimed it was all to encourage sportsmanship when really it was introducing this new age of players who no longer got cut from the squad if they weren't good enough. All anyone had to do was tryout and they would make the team. And the word these people in positions of authority keep using was sportsmanship.
It had nothing to do with that because if some kid was cursing and throwing his bat he still played. Or there would be grown-ups advising their kids to lie-on the team's behalf- to the umpire when the game was played under the honor system because there was a shortage of umps.

So I say, Atta Boy Beans Reardon. You're my kind of ump. I'd hoist a brew with you!

Kevin Marquez