Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Last of the Former Umpires

Just wrapping up the history of umpires. I'll continue to have a say about the current umpires and will put noteworthy stuff on the men in blue who umpire the 2008 major league season. I just wanted to give a wink to a couple more umpires who I thought represented themselves and the big leagues rather well.

First mention goes to Shag Crawford. Henry Charles Shag Crawford. (Born: 8/30/1916.
Died: 7/11/2007)

Worked in the National League from 1956 to 1975.
Was notable for getting a low crouch and resting his hands on the back of the catcher in front of him.

Born in Philadelphia, PA, he played football and baseball and was into boxing. In fact, he was a catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system.

He served in the US Navy during WWII, and was on the destroyer Walke when its bridge was struck by a Japanese kamikaze on January 6, 1945, during the invasion of Luzon, the largest and most economically and politically important island on the Philippines. Commanding Officer George Fleming Davis suffered fatal injuries and was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the US government, similar to the British Victoria Cross or the French Legion of Honor. (Established by Napoleon Bonaparte, the renowned Order is the highest decoration in France and is divided into 5 various degrees. (1) Chevalier (knight), (2) Officier (Officer), (3) Commandeur (Commander), (4)Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and (5) Grand -Croix (Grand Cross). The order's motto is Honneur et Patrie (Honour and Fatherland).)

During Shag's major league umpire career there isn't a whole lot of information and that may be because of the way Shag ended his stay with the big leagues. In 1975, Crawford was relieved of his duties for refusing to work the World Series that year, due to a new rotational system implemented for selection of World Series umpires vs. the traditional assignment by merit.

His sons Jerry (major league ump since 1976) and Joey (NBA ref since 1977) are sports officials like their dad.

Marty Springstead. Born in Nyack, New York on 7/9/1937.

This former major league umpire worked in the American League with the huge outside chest protector used by home plate umpires. His tenure was from 1966 thru 1985 inclusive.

Not much was said about Marty but I remember the guy having quite the personality and being a very good balls and strikes umpire. He made a homer like Monte Moore comment on many occasions how the strike zone was the same for both teams. And with Moore that must have been a stretch.

There was one noteworthy thing mentioned about Marty Springstead. It was that he was the youngest umpire ever to serve as crew chief in the World Series, heading the staff for the 1973 Series at the age of 36 years and 3 months.

Like Emmett Ashford, Chris Pelekoudas, Shag Crawford, Nestor Chylak, Tom Gorman and Al Barlick, I remember Marty being an umpire who had fun at the ballpark. Not a guy who wanted to see himself on SportsCenter, even though there wasn't a SportsCenter back then. I think the quality of person these guys were that none of them would have altered their styles just to see themselves on the big screen the way today's men in blue give every indiciation of hamming it up or refusing to change a blown call all in the name of looking good.

When I spent some time in an umpire clinic, in Cocoa Cocoa Beach, FLA, it was stressed that getting the call right was not as important as how you looked, where you were positioned, making the call. When I asked a couple of minor league umpires- who would be big league umps that year- they wouldn't commit as to how they interpreted what was being taught. I had always felt okay with whatever approach was taken TO GET THE CALL RIGHT. It just wasn't happening at this umpire school so I left early because I didn't feel there was any reason to stay and if I waited any longer I wouldn't have been reimbursed the money I spent to be there.

Umpiring is a very important part of baseball. The men selected to represent what is considered the "big leagues," even though there are things that happen that aren't exactly big league, are there to do a job. Or to reiterate one of Nestor Chylak's quotes how he felt honestly that he never called one wrong, in his heart. That the way he saw it, an umpire must be perfect on the first day of the season and then get better every day. That's the way to umpire. No more or no less. A fun-loving, upbeat personality is always welcome, just leave the "attitude" in the clubhouse.

(thanks to Wikipedia encyclopedia's on-line)

Kevin Marquez