Saturday, March 1, 2008

Jack Sheridan: First to Crouch vs. Stand behind Catcher

For Jack Sheridan, his file on Wikipedia only lists the year in which he was born as 1862. It lists the day he died as November 2, 1914.

Born in Decatur, IL but during his childhood he and his family moved to San Jose, CA.

He began his career by umpiring in the Southern League in 1885, then officiated in the California League from 1886-1889, after which he gained his first major league experience in the sole season of the Player's League in 1890.

Nearly all games in that era used a single umpire and the most outstanding officials generally moved from league to league, going wherever the league presidents were perceived as being most supportive, both in salary and in affirming the umpires' field authority. After returning to the California League for the 1891 season, Sheridan umpired in the National League in 1892, then again in the Southern League in 1893.

In 1894-95 he umpired in the Western League, where he first became associated with that league's president, Ban Johnson. Johnson was fiercely supportive of his umpiring staff, and apart from a brief return to the NL in 1896-97, Sheridan preferred to umpire in Johnson's league (the AL) for the remainder of his career.

In 1901, the Western League added several eastern cities and renamed itself the American League, and through a series of signings of National League players successfully established itself as a rival major league. In contrast to the rowdier NL, where umps were routinely subjected to great abuse with little backing from the league office, Johnson staunchly defended his field officials and insisted that players and local authorities maintain respect for them.

Over his 14 seasons as the dean of American League umpires, Sheridan became the prototype of the 20th century ump. Whereas umpires in the 19th century had worked behind the plate in a standing position , believing that it helped them to better observe the flight of the ball, Sheridan established the practice of crouching while calling balls and strikes, a move which was quickly adopted universally due to its effectiveness. He was also remarkable in that he refused to use any sort of protection other than a mask, and was agile enough to reportedly never be hit by a foul tip. He became the standard after which other umpires patterned themselves; after arriving in the AL at age 22, in 1906, Billy Evans regularly worked in a team with Sheridan for several years in order to study under the senior umpire, with Sheridan usually working behind the plate and Evans on the bases. Both Evans and fellow Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem regarded Sheridan as the game's greatest umpire.

Along with Bob Emslie (a name who has popped up with the mention of other umpires. Emslie was affectionately referred to as Blind Bob. Emslie had played in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia A's) and Tim Hurst, Jack Sheridan is one of only three (3) umps who umpired both before 1893, when the pitching distance was only 50 feet, and also after the National League and American League recognized one another as major leagues in 1903.

Sheridan suffered sunstroke while umpiring a game at Chicago in August 1914, and never fully recovered from the affliction.

Jack Sheridan is acredited with inventing the inside chest protector. Interestingly, Wikipedia doesn't make mention of this achievement.

Kevin Marquez