Back in the Day

Most people in America know that Little League baseball is for children up to the ages of 12. Where I grew up in the Detroit metropolitan area after 12 you could play Pony league which was for 13 and 14-year-olds and Colt league which was for 15 and 16-year-olds.

While this story is about baseball,  it’s more about certain things that you can do and not do in life with respect to authority,  decision making, and relationships. That may sound kind of deep, but it’s not so let the story begin…

When I was in the Pony league at 14 years old and playing for the Tigers we were playing the Orioles. I remember one play when I was coming around third base heading for home and the catcher had the ball while I was still about 10 feet away from home plate. I had no other choice but to try to run him over and make him drop the ball which I did and he did. I was safe at home plate, scored a run,  and the manager of the other team (who just happened to be the catcher’s father) came out screaming and yelling at the umpire and me. Back in the day you could run over the catcher if he was in your way, so I was safe, the catcher was hurting, and the manager/father was angry.

The story gets better when, the very next year, I became an umpire at the age of 15 and umpired for the Pony league. One day I just happen to be umpiring an Orioles game and as luck would have it, my favorite catcher played as a 14-year-old in that league. His dad was still the manager which had no bearing on anything in my mind.

I remember one time late in the game when said son/catcher was batting and he hit a fly ball to centerfield. From behind home plate it looked to me like a sure out and I failed to run down first baseline to get a better view of the play. As the only umpire on the field, it was my responsibility to get the best view of the play at all times. But, it was a very hot day, and I didn’t feel like running to get a better view especially as it initially looked like the center fielder would make an easy catch…..The centerfielder came running in and made what we call a shoestring catch and  held his glove up in the air with the ball as he tumbled forward. I gave the raised fist “OUT” sign after which the manager (Dad) , came running out on the field screaming at me. He told me that the ball had been trapped and that his son was safe ….I had called him out and I was sticking with my call. The manager ranted and raved and made the mistake of saying the “F” word….., at which point I ejected him out of the game with a dramatic “you’re outta here” motion. The man, at least twice my age and spewing anger that had lasted since the previous season when I had roughed up his son, kept yelling and would not back down. Amidst all of his ranting and raving, I calmly turned to face him directly, and in a normal tone of voice gave him five minutes to leave the field or his team would forfeit the game. Seeing that I wasn’t kidding, his other adult coaches restrained him and escorted him out of the area.

After Dad left the field the play the game continued and ended peacefully. Right after the game a friend of mine (Butch Wingfield) who had been watching the game came up to me and said to me “You know you blew that call right?” He said the centerfielder did not catch that ball in the air and that it had bounced about a foot in front of him. I said well that may be true,  but you’re not allowed to swear at an umpire so that’s the way it is.

Teaching point for me as an umpire is you cannot stay behind home plate no matter how tired you are you must run and get a better view of the ball. The teaching point for the manager was a judgment call cannot be protested and you cannot swear at an umpire, even if said umpire kicked your kid’s ass the prior year. Back in the day that was my story and I’m sticking with it.

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