Saturday, February 23, 2008

Honest John

John Gaffney (Born: June 29, 1855. Died: 8-8-1913)

Baseball's first great umpire who played a pioneering role in the use of multiple umpires in baseball games.

Born in Roxbury, MA, Gaffney's family moved to Worcester when he was 11 years of age. His promising baseball career ended when he injured his arm throwing a snowball in 1880, reportedly just before being promoted to the National League.

Gaffney started umpiring college games involving nearby Ivy League teams in 1883.

Joined the National League staff in August of 1884. He quickly gained wide respect as a top officiator, and as the league's best judge of balls and strikes. In the middle of his third season, his knowledge of the game was so highly regarded that he was offered the managing position of the Washington Nationals and he took over the team on August 21, 1886. He would finish that season and manage the 1887 season, compiling a record of 61-wins and 101-losses.

Into the 1880s, baseball had always been played with the use of a single umpire, but by late in the decade it was becoming apparent that this was an unsatisfactory arrangement for the most important games. The 1886 World's Championship Series had witnessed a two-game experiment in which each team selected an umpire- both positioned behind the catcher- with a third official, called a referee, positioned behind the pitcher and able to move about the bases. However, the referee was only permitted to make calls when the 2 umps (behind the catcher)either disagreed or requested his decision. This system was deemed a failure by all observers.

The following year Gaffney and John"Kick"Kelly were selected to umpire the 1887 Series. The two worked out a system whereby one umpire would work behind the plate to call balls and strikes while the other was positioned in the field to make calls on the bases.
This format was a decided success and although it was not until almost 1910 that 2 umpires per game became the standard, it formed the basis for the multiple umpire system which followed.

Connie Mack, who was a rookie catcher for Gaffney's 1887 Nationals' team and later caught for 5 years in which Gaffney umpired, described him as the perfect umpire. ("He was perfect. He would follow a ball all the way from the pitcher, and when he made his decision, he would say, 'That was one-eighth of an inch outside'- or 'That was one-eighth of an inch too low,'and he was right. There has never been another umpire like him."-Connie Mack, the Sporting News, April 8, 1943.)

Gaffney moved to the Players League for its sole season in 1890 before returning to the National League in September of 1891.

The stress of 19th century umpiring, when players and fans demonstrated tremendous abusiveness and hostility toward the lone umpires, began to take its toll, however, and Gaffney was released by the National League after the 1893 season due to his increasing drinking.

After beginning 1894 in the Eastern League, he returned to the National League mid-season, but his alcohol abuse continued and he was again let go.

He umpired in the Eastern League again from 1895-97 before coming back to the National League and lasted from 1899 thru the 1900 season.

He would umpire college games near Worcester after 1900 and later moved to New York city, where he worked as a night watchman.
John Gaffney died at age 58.

"I have studied the rules thoroughly. I keep my eyes wide open, and I follow the ball with all possible dispatch. With the players I try to keep as even tempered as I can, always speaking to them gentlemanly yet firmly. I dislike to fine, and in all my experience have not inflicted more than $300 in fines, and I never found it necessary to order a player from the field. Pleasant words to players in passion will work far better than fines." Honest John Gaffney as quoted in the Sporting News, April 25, 1891.

How many of today's umpires take this approach? I am speaking of today's punk (a.k.a. attitude in need of adjustment) whose ground work was laid down by men like John Gaffney. I think before anyone makes the decision to become an umpire they should dedicate their profession based on this quote by Honest John. Rather than going into the profession with a huge chip on their shoulder because they won't be paid nearly the amount as some backup on a poor team will.

The league today MOST DEFINITELY needs umpires like Honest John Gaffney because it is men like he who make you want to be an umpire.

Kevin Marquez