History of Umpiring
Traditionally regarded as villains by fans, adversarial autocrats by players, and invisible men by the press, umpires have been, as Furman Bisher put it, "submerged in the history of baseball like idiot children in a family album." Yet the umpire is baseball's indispensable man, for the arbiter transformed baseball from a recreational activity to a competitive sport and has personified the integrity of the professional game. Since attorney William R. Wheaton officiated the first recorded "modern" game on October 6, 1845, umpires have made important contributions to the National Pastime. Indeed, the history of the umpire mirrors the distinctive eras and developments of the game itself.
From the creation of the modern game in the 1840s through the Civil War, the umpire was the personification of base ball (two words then) as an amateur sport played by gentlemen. According to the September 23, 1845, rules of the Knickerbocker Club of New York, which created modern baseball, the president of the club "shall appoint an Umpire, who shall keep the game in a book provided for that purpose, and note all violations of the Bylaws and Rules." As "match" games between clubs became more frequent, three officials were commonly used--one umpire chosen by each team and a neutral "referee" to decide the often partisan split decisions. In 1858 the National Association of Base Ball Players sanctioned a single umpire, sometimes a spectator or even a player, chosen by the home team with the consent of the rival captain.
There was no dress code, but contemporary prints depict the idealized portrait of the gentleman arbiter--a distinguished-looking gentleman resplendent in top hat, Prince Albert coat, and cane, who stood, kneeled, or sat on a stool in foul territory along the first base line. Although the attire became less formal by the Civil War, the volunteer arbiters continued to receive no remuneration for their services other than the "honor" of being chosen "the sole judge of fair and unfair play."
The nationwide popularity of the game after the Civil War led to the professionalization of baseball and, in turn, to professional umpires. In 1871 the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players continued the tradition of unpaid volunteers by allowing the home team to choose the umpire from a list of five names submitted by the visiting club, but gave the arbiter greater authority by limiting appeals to decisions involving rules interpretation, not judgment. In 1878 the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, organized two years earlier, instructed home teams to pay umpires $5 per game, and in 1879 National League president William A. Hulbert appointed baseball's first umpire staff--a group of twenty men from which teams could chose an arbiter. The approved list and compensation did not free the umpires from the "homer" syndrome (ruling in favor of the home team as a civic gesture) or suspicion of collusion with gamblers. Indeed, in 1882 Richard Higham of Troy, New York, former manager and National League player, was banished from the league for advising gamblers how to bet on games he umpired, thus earning the infamous distinction of being the only umpire ever judged guilty of dishonesty on the field.
That same year a new professional circuit, the American Association, pioneered in the creation of an umpiring staff that was hired, paid, and assigned to games by the league itself. Paid $140 a month and $3 per diem for expenses while on the road, American Association umpires were required to wear blue flannel coats and caps while working games. The next year the National League adopted its own permanent paid and uniformed staff, thus completing the professionalization of major league "men in blue."
Despite increased status, umpiring in the major leagues was an uncertain, stressful, and even dangerous occupation through the end of the century. Frequent revisions in the rules and innovations in playing techniques made the umpire's job exceedingly difficult, while the physical and verbal abuse from fans and players alike often made an umpire's life intolerable. Umpires were routinely spiked, kicked, cursed, and spat upon by players, while fans hurled vile epithets and all manner of debris at the arbiters. Mobbings and physical assaults were frequent, so much so that police escorts were familiar and welcome sights to the men in blue. The transformation of the umpire from esteemed arbitrator to despised villain was largely deliberate. As club owners and league officials recognized that umpire baiting boosted gate receipts, they refused to support the umpires' field decisions, dismissed or paid player's fines, did little to curb rowdiness, and even joined sportswriters in depicting umpires as scoundrels and scapegoats. Occasionally umpires retaliated by hurling objects back into the stands or by punching players and reporters--and were summarily punished for so doing. But most found other jobs. In an era when "Kill the umpire!" was not mere rhetoric, there was a high turnover rate in umpires as few men were willing to endure such trials and tribulations for paltry pay and poor working conditions.
Nonetheless, baseball's tumultuous era produced several umpires of historical importance. William B. "Billy" McLean, part-time pugilist from Philadelphia, was the first professional umpire. So great was his ability and reputation for fairness that National League officials in 1876 not only agreed to his demands for the unheard of $5 per game but also sent him on a expense-paid tour of every city in the league. The most famous early exponents of the two basic styles of umpiring were Robert V. Ferguson and John H. Gaffney. Ferguson, known during his playing days as "Robert the Great" and "Death to Flying Things," ruled as an iron-fisted autocrat, while Gaffney, dubbed "The King of the Umpires," controlled the game through tact and diplomacy. Gaffney also popularized the technique of working behind home plate until a player reached base and then moving behind the pitcher. (Before this the umpire worked either behind the batter or behind the pitcher and did not shift.) In 1888 Gaffney was the highest-paid umpire in baseball, earning $2,500 a year, plus expenses on the road.
Other umpires of note include John O. "Honest John" Kelly, who appeared in more World Series (five) than any other umpire of the day; feisty Timothy Hurst, quick and handy with curses, quips, and fists; Benjamin F. Young, killed in a railroad accident en route to a game, who in 1887 drew up a professional code of ethics for umpires as well as a ten-point proposal to improve their status; John F. Sheridan, the prototype of the modern umpire; and John A. Heydler and Thomas J. Lynch, each of whom later became president of the National League.
With the 1903 peace agreement between the National League and the new American League, major league baseball entered the modern era and brought stature and stability for umpires. Byron Bancroft "Ban" Johnson, president of the upstart American League, led in providing the strong support from league officials that was essential to the morale and effectiveness of the umpires. Noted for his backing of umpires when he had been the head of the Western League, Johnson insisted that umpires be respected and backed up his words by supporting their decisions and suspending players who were guilty of flagrant misconduct. In turn, he insisted upon tactfulness in contrast to the combativeness of the previous era. The National League followed suit, especially under ex-umps Lynch and Heydler, and by World War One, major league umpires enjoyed "unprecedented authority, dignity, and security." As umpire, manager, and baseball executive, Clarence "Pants" Rowland later remarked: "All umpires ought to tip their hats whenever Ban Johnson's name is mentioned."
Johnson also took the lead in dealing with the obvious handicaps presented by the single-umpire system. The game had long since become too fast and the players too devious for a lone arbiter to follow the action, let alone control the contest; moreover, in case of illness or injury clubs had to use a player to officiate the game. A three-umpire system, suggested in 1885 and actually used in the World Series that year, was an aberration, but a two-umpire system was much discussed in the 1880s and 1890s. Although the Players League of 1890 employed two umpires and in 1898 the two-umpire system was sanctioned in the rules, club owners continued to resist the expense of a second arbiter. After Johnson added a fifth umpire in 1902, the use of two arbiters became frequent, common, and then standard--an umpire-in-chief to call balls and strikes and a field umpire to make decisions on the bases. Again, the National League followed apace and in 1912 both leagues had ten-man staffs--two umpires per game and two replacements in reserve.
While front office support and the two-man system contributed greatly to the effectiveness of the umpire on the field, the enhanced stature of umpires was due perhaps as much to the personalities and contributions of the men who served in the first two decades of the twentieth century. That so many of the umpires who loom large in baseball history (and mythology) hail from the early decades of the century is partly the result of the extraordinary skill required to manage the game during the dead-ball era, when the bunt, stolen base, and hit-and-run were primary offensive tactics, and partly because of the media attention lavished on major league baseball at the time.
Ban Johnson, who personally selected his umpires with an exacting eye for ability and character, assembled an imposing staff for the American League. The senior umpire was John F. "Jack" Sheridan, veteran from the nineteenth century, who served as the acknowledged model for the younger men in both leagues and popularized working from a crouch position behind the plate. Another holdover was Franklin O'Loughlin, nicknamed "Silk" as a boy because of his long, curly hair, who successfully matched wits and words with players. College-educated William G. "Billy" Evans, who in 1906 became, at twenty-two, the youngest major league umpire in history, wrote nationally syndicated sports columns while working as an umpire, and went on to be a baseball executive. A fastidious dresser, Evans set the standard for the appearance of umpires on the field. English-born Thomas H. "Tommy" Connolly umpired the American League's first game in 1901 and thirty years later became the Junior Circuit's first umpire-in-chief (1931-54); patient and reserved yet firm, he established the league's tradition of ejecting players only as a last resort and once went ten years without a banishment.
The National League had its own illustrious arbiters. Outstanding were Canadian Bob Emslie, who for years umpired wearing a wig because his frazzled nerves caused premature baldness; hulking Cy Rigler, who while in the minors in 1905 started the tradition of raising his right hand on called strikes; Hank O'Day, stickler for technicalities, whose controversial Merkle decision in 1908 is a staple of baseball lore; and William J. "Lord" Byron, "The Singing Umpire," who periodically announced his decisions in melodious (if not poetical) singsong verse. But it was William G. "Bill" Klem, generally regarded as the greatest umpire in history, who dominated the league staff and set the style for Senior Circuit arbiters. Self-righteous and autocratic, Klem boasted of his scrupulous honesty and encyclopedic knowledge of the rules, intimidated players with threats of fines, and dramatically illustrated his insistence upon discipline and authority during arguments by drawing a mark in the dirt and warning antagonists, "Don't cross the line!" He also popularized the inside chest protector, the over-the-shoulder position for calling balls and strikes, emphatic arm signals for calls, and straddling the lines instead of standing in foul territory. Sharp-tongued and tough-minded, the highly publicized "Old Arbitrator," who vowed, "I never missed one [call] in my life," was for most of his thirty-six-year career the public's personification of the major league umpire. Upon retiring in 1941, Klem served as the league's first modern chief of umpires until his death in 1951.
Between World Wars One and Two, when baseball dominated the nation's sport consciousness as the National Pastime, umpiring became a career vocation instead of a limited occupational opportunity. Expanded schedules meant seven months of employment, and umpires received better salaries and more recognition. Staff stability became the norm: an umpire who passed muster the first two or three years could look forward to a long career. Umpires continued to be vexed by arguments with players, insults from fans, and occasional flying objects, but the vicious rowdiness declined. The physical abuse was curtailed significantly because of the stiff penalties imposed for fighting and bottle tossing, while the verbal abuse abated as league officials and the press did an about-face after the infamous Black Sox Scandal by proclaiming the umpire the personification of the game's integrity. To underscore their role as independent arbitrators, umpires had to make travel arrangements separate from players and patronize different bars, hotels, and restaurants.
Umpiring had become a desirable and respectable vocation, but the odds against a major league career were far greater for umpires than for players. Competition was keen, as normally only one or two of the some two dozen umpiring positions came open each year. And the low pay, primitive working conditions, wearisome travel, and vicious abuse from players and fans that characterized the life of the minor league umpire drove out those who would or could pursue other employment. Moreover, there was no prescribed system of career development. Becoming a professional umpire was a matter of chance opportunity or personal contacts; there was no systematic evaluation or supervision of minor league arbiters; and advancement, even to the major leagues, was sometimes more a matter of politics and personalities than merit or ability. Nonetheless, those who persevered as "men of the cloth" and proved their mettle in the big time enjoyed a secure and esteemed career. Where Tim Hurst justified working as an umpire by saying, "You can't beat the hours," Bill Klem would declare, "Baseball to me is not a game; it is a religion."
Still, major league umpires received far greater recognition than remuneration. The pay scales for umpires were the same in both leagues. In the early 1900s the annual salary for major league umpires ranged from $1,500 to $2,000; by 1910 the top salary in the National League was $3,000, with only four of the seven umpires earning more than $2,000. Umpires who worked the World Series received $400 until Bill Klem demanded and received $650 in 1917; the next year Klem received $1,000 for the Fall Classic, but the pay for all other umpires remained $650. In 1937 salaries ranged from $4,000 for new umpires to $10,000 for the most veteran arbiters; umpires could expect an extra $2,500 from the World Series. Five years later the pay scale rose to $5,000 and $12,000, but compensation for the Series remained the same. Although the salaries for men at the top of the pay scale seem good for a l54-game, seven-month season, umpires had to pay all their expenses except railroad fares while on the road until 1940, when they received a $750 allowance for travel, a sum that most umpires argued covered only about one-half of their expenses. Moreover, they had to buy and maintain their own clothing and equipment, including ball-strike indicators, masks, and chest protectors. Nonetheless, better pay, working conditions, and status translated into more attractive and thus longer careers; twenty years' service was not uncommon. Consequently, both major leagues established a pension plan for retired umpires, but they were restricted to those who had served more than fifteen years and limited to $100 per year with maximum lifetime benefits of $2,400.
The size of umpiring staffs was also increased. The two-umpire system was the norm during the 1920s, but it became common practice to assign one of the reserve umpires to critical games or series; by 1933 three umpires were assigned routinely to regular-season games. The four-man crew was instituted in 1952. In the World Series the two-man crew, one umpire from each league, was used until 1908, when a pair of two-man teams alternated games. In the third game of the 1909 Series, all four umpires were on the field at the same time, thus establishing the four-umpire tradition that continued through 1946; in 1947 an "alternate" umpire from each league was stationed along a foul line in the outfield, thus creating the current six-umpire crew. Four umpires worked the All-Star Game from 1933 to 1948; the following year it conformed to the World Series format in putting the alternates on the field.
Although major league umpires, save for a few short-lived experiments, wore blue serge suits and officiated according to the same rule book, subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the style and technique of umpiring developed between the two leagues. Inasmuch as league presidents from the beginning hired, assigned, and instructed their umpires, personal preferences were reflected in the umpiring staffs early in the century. Then inter-league chauvinism sustained and accentuated the distinctiveness. Under Ban Johnson's leadership, the American League soon boasted an overall staff that was superior to the National League, just as the Junior Circuit had more star players, stronger teams, and more successful managers during the same period. Because Johnson believed that all of his umpires were good enough to work the World Series, the prestigious (and lucrative) assignment was rotated among his staff, whereas postseason honors in the National League went selectively to the best (or most favored) umpires. In return for backing his umpires to the hilt, Johnson demanded reserve and restraint on the field, whereas National League presidents adopted a more laissez-faire attitude toward their umpires.
As a result, arbiters in the Senior Circuit were far more colorful, pugnacious, and individualistic than their American League counterparts, just as National League players and managers were freer and higher spirited than those in the Junior Circuit. It was a volatile mix, and there were many more rhubarbs, fines, and suspensions in the National League, where arbiters had to be courageous in fending off mean-spirited players and managers. And because Johnson liked his umpires to display a strong physical presence, a preference shared by Tommy Connolly, American League umpires were generally "big" men, whereas most National League arbiters, because of the dominant role of the five-foot-seven-inch Bill Klem, were shorter and slight of build.
More important than general differences in style and appearance were the specific differences in technique between the two leagues. At first umpires in both leagues held large inflated chest protectors in front of their bodies when behind the plate. Consequently, they called balls and strikes by crouching directly behind the catcher and looking over his head. The American League continued to use the "balloon" or "mattress" as favored by Tommy Connolly, but it became de rigueur in the National League to follow Bill Klem's preference for wearing a more compact chest protector under his coat and calling balls and strikes by viewing the plate from just over the catcher's shoulder nearest the batter. Here, form had great effect: the American League umpires became known for calling more "high" strikes and the National League for calling more "low" strikes.
Not as well known as the flamboyant umpires of the formative years, the men who worked between the World Wars were collectively better umpires and included some of the game's greatest arbiters. Along with Emslie, Klem, O'Day, and Rigler, the National League staff boasted George Barr, Lee Ballanfant, Larry Goetz, George Magerkurth, "Uncle Charley" Moran, Ralph "Babe" Pinelli, Ernie Quigley, and John "Beans" Reardon. Joining Connolly and Bill Dinneen in the American League were such luminaries as Harry Geisel, Cal Hubbard, George Moriarty, Bill McGowan, Emmett "Red" Ormsby, and Clarence "Brick" Owens. Perhaps the best was McGowan, who for thirty years received universal praise from his peers and ranks as one of the premier umpires in history.
Sociologically, the umpires of the Golden Age represented both change and continuity. Like their predecessors, the majority hailed from the Northeast, the Midwest, and the South; and many were former athletes for whom umpiring was a way of staying in baseball. Some were ex-major leaguers--Charlie Berry, Bill Dinneen, George Hildebrand, Charlie Moran, George Moriarty, Hank O'Day, Al Orth, Babe Pinelli, George Pipgras, and Eddie Rommel. There were, however, important changes. Ethnically, the umpires reflected a pattern of cultural assimilation similar to that evident in the rosters of players. Initially umpires were overwhelmingly English in origin, but then the Irish by the 1890s and Germans by World War One became conspicuous and were followed by Jews in the 1920s and Italians and Slavs in the 1930s. And where collegian Billy Evans was unique among the mostly unlettered arbiters early in the century, college-educated (or graduated) umpires were increasingly common. Essentially, umpires between the wars had become a reasonable cross section of the white working-class American population.
Spurred by war-induced prosperity, continental expansion, and television revenue, baseball led the transformation of professional sport from a commercial business to an entertainment industry. Moreover, baseball, like all organized sport, felt the impact of the social and cultural changes that swept over America. After World War Two umpiring truly became a profession, and by the end of the 1980s major league umpires were not only far better trained and organized than ever before but also a forceful and independent voice in baseball affairs.
Umpiring, like baseball itself, was enormously popular in the days following World War Two. By 1949 some fifty-nine minor leagues provided extensive on-the-job training for an unprecedented number of aspiring arbiters, but it was the umpire training school that was responsible for postwar umpires being so much better prepared than their predecessors. George Barr of the National League opened the first umpire training school in 1935, and in 1939 Bill McGowan of the American League established a second school. In 1946 Bill McKinley, who attended both the Barr and McGowan schools, became the first graduate of a training school to reach the major leagues. By the mid-1950s training school graduates were common, and by the 1960s it was virtually impossible to become a professional umpire without attending one of several training schools.
The umpire schools had profound effects on umpiring. First, graduates of the training schools were more knowledgeable of rules and more skilled in techniques than the earlier "self-taught" umpires. Second, formal training had the predictable effect of imposing uniformity of style and personality, as students were instructed "by the book" and maverick characters were weeded out. Finally--and most significantly--the umpire school was the catalyst that transformed umpiring from vocation to profession.
The professionalization of umpiring had profound effects. Formalized instruction and systematic career development attracted more middle-class college men, as umpiring was increasingly viewed less as a way of staying in professional sport than as a desirable career choice. And, reflecting the demographic shifts that prompted continental expansion, most umpires, like players, now hailed from the Sun Belt or the Pacific Coast. The lone area in which umpires lagged far behind players in mirroring the social changes of society at large was race. It was not until 1966, twenty years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, that Emmett Ashford joined the American League and became the first black major league umpire. (He was also the first black professional umpire, breaking in with the Southwestern International League in 1951.) In 1973 Art Williams integrated the National League. Despite the strong presence of Latino players since the 1940s, Armando Rodriguez (1974) and Rich Garcia (1975), both in the American League, were the first Hispanic umpires in the majors.
Umpires also adopted a more professional attitude. They candidly admitted errors and portrayed themselves not as omnipotent enforcers of the law who demanded respect but as impartial judges who deserved respect. That umpires were skilled but fallible men became clearly visible in 1956, when Ed Rommel and Frank Umont broke a long-standing taboo by wearing eyeglasses on the field. But the most important effect of growing professionalization was that umpires increasingly viewed themselves as deserving the pay and perquisites of professionals.
In contrast with the strong support from league headquarters for their actions on the field, umpires historically were unable to protect themselves from monetary and personnel injustices because they negotiated individually instead of collectively with the leagues. Umpires repeatedly were dismissed arbitrarily, and in 1953, for the first time in fifteen years, umpires received a modest salary increase--a salary range of $6,000 to $16,000 and an increase in World Series pay to $3,000. Early efforts at organizing were to no avail, and in 1945 Ernie Stewart of the American League was fired for alleged unionizing activity. But in 1963, led by Augie Donatelli, umpires in the Senior Circuit organized the National League Umpires Association, headed by Chicago labor attorney John J. Reynolds. After Reynolds's success in raising salaries, American League umpires became unionists. When Bill Valentine and Al Salerno were dismissed in 1968, allegedly for incompetence but patently for unionizing activities, an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board resulted in umpires in both leagues being organized into the Major League Umpires Association. A one-day strike of the first game of the championship playoffs on October 3, 1970, the first by umpires in major league history, prompted the league presidents to recognize the Association and negotiate a labor contract that set a minimum salary of $11,000 and raised the average salary to $21,000.
Eight years later the Umpires Association made major advances under the new leadership of Richard G. "Richie" Phillips, a Philadelphia lawyer who also represented National Basketball Association referees. A second umpire's strike on August 25, 1978, lasted only one day, owing to a court injunction against the Association, but a third strike from Opening Day to May 18, 1979, won major concessions for the union, including a salary schedule of $22,000 to $55,000, based on years of service; annual no-cut contracts; $77 per diem while traveling; and two weeks' midseason vacation. The aftermath of the prolonged strike, which demonstrated the power of the Association and the inadequacy of replacement umpires, was marked by ill will between the union umpires and "the Class of '79"--the four "scab" umpires retained on each league's staff. A fourth strike of seven of the eight 1984 playoff games was settled by the intercession of new Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who granted the umpires a sizable increase for playoff and World Series games as well as providing that the money go into a pool that would be distributed in part to umpires not working postseason contests. A fifth strike was averted in 1985 when an arbitrator--former President Richard M. Nixon--awarded umpires a 40 percent pay increase for the expanded best-of-seven playoff series. An MLUA strike appeared certain in 1991 until prodding of both sides by Commissioner Fay Vincent produced an eleventh-hour settlement.
The new four-year contract called for a salary scale ranging from $61,000 to $175,000 and a third week of in-season vacation, in exchange for a return to a "merit" instead of "rotation" system for postseason assignments. However, agreement on the pact came too late to avoid using substitute umpires for games on Opening Day.
By the early 1990s the MLUA had transformed the umpiring profession as well as the role of umpires in major league baseball. Although most attention has been focused on contract negotiations, umpires have also successfully used the power of the Association to seek from league presidents and the commissioner the impositions of fines and suspensions on players, managers, and even owners for objectionable conduct and comments.
Most significant, the press and the public increasingly viewed umpires in a critical, even cynical manner. It was charged that umpires, because of the protection afforded by the MLUA, had unilaterally created a strike zone much smaller than that prescribed by the rules, had become belligerent and confrontational in dealing with players and managers, and had assumed too large a role in games through quick ejection and exaggerated motions when making calls. To many, plate umpire Terry Cooney's ejection of Boston Red Sox star pitcher Roger Clemens in the 1990 American League Championship Series symbolized the aggressive action and arrogant attitude of the "new" umpire. That such perceptions did not square with reality was secondary to the fact that umpires no longer enjoyed the unqualified respect of fans and journalists. (On the other hand, admiration for umpires as individuals increased after one of the American League's top arbiters, Steve Palermo, suffered a career-ending gunshot wound in 1991 while attempting to prevent the robbery of two waitresses in a restaurant parking lot.)
The growth and success of the umpire's union was made possible by two factors. First, with the expansion of franchises from the traditional sixteen (8 in each league) to twenty in 1961-1962, twenty-four in 1969, and twenty-six in 1977, umpires became a numerically significant force. Second--and far more important--was television, which not only brought unprecedented publicity to umpires but also generated the enormous revenue that made it possible for major league baseball to meet the monetary demands of umpires as well as players.
Finances aside, television was a mixed blessing for umpires. If heightened visibility underscored the umpire's skill and central role in the game, it also glaringly exposed errors to millions of viewers. The photographer's camera had occasionally exposed an incorrect call, but television's instant replay both emphasized mistakes and encouraged second-guessing. When slow-motion replays began to be shown on scoreboard screens, one crew in 1975 left the field and refused to return until the practice stopped. Television also affected performance and appearance. It had once been axiomatic for umpires to develop a subdued, even somber appearance, and take pride in anonymity. But in the Age of Television, arbiters began to project themselves into leading roles. From the time televised games became popular in the early 1950s, some umpires played to the camera through flamboyant, demonstrative motions when making calls. While a few like Emmett Ashford and Ron Luciano subsequently developed "showboating" to a fine art, umpires no longer shunned the spotlight of publicity; Luciano even parlayed his popularity for comedic calls on the field into a career in the telecast booth and as a writer.
In contrast to increased tolerance regarding on-field behavior, the personal lives of umpires received unprecedented scrutiny. In November 1988 Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, acting on behalf of club owners, released ten-year National League umpire Dave Pallone because of the fear that the arbiter's homosexuality might compromise his on-field performance and baseball's image. NL president Bill White suspended Bob Engel in April 1990 after he was charged with two misdemeanor counts of shoplifting baseball cards; baseball's insistence upon the unquestioned integrity of umpires prompted the twenty-five-year veteran to retire immediately upon his conviction in July. And in 1991 two unidentified umpires, one in each league, were placed on a year's "probation" because of alleged association with bookmakers even though there was no indication that they had ever bet on baseball games.
The physical appearance of umpires was also tailored for the public eye. Increased emphasis was placed on size, as taller and more muscular men were in vogue--perhaps to personify the umpire's authority in an antiauthoritarian age. The American League's adoption of gray slacks in 1968 and maroon blazers in 1971 was part of an effort to project a distinctive "sporty" image, as was the case later when umpires in both leagues began wearing numerals on their sleeves and baseball caps with letters designating league affiliation. Similarly, contact lenses were favored over glasses. By the early 1990s the "casual look" was completed when umpires wore short-sleeved shirts without jackets during hot weather and satin warm-up jackets on cool nights. Contact lenses were favored over glasses until 1991 when Al Clark (AL) and Frank Pulli (NL) wore spectacles while umpiring behind the plate as well as on the bases. In 1988 obese umpires were put on weight-reduction programs during the off season; by 1991 those who failed to lose prescribed poundage were subject to suspension pending compliance. For Gargantuan umpire John McSherry, however, the program was to no avail, and he proved an on-field fatality in 1995.
Aside from the superficialities of cap insignia and jacket color, there was little to distinguish the two umpire staffs in appearance. Training in umpire schools and minor league supervision by the Umpire Development Program had the effect of imposing uniformity of style and technique on umpires and thus on the leagues. Moreover, by the 1970s American League arbiters had adopted the inside chest protector, while the National League mimicked the preference for "big" men. However, a reversal in league images also occurred: just as the players in the Senior Circuit were widely regarded as superior to those in the Junior, National League umpires were similarly perceived as better in the 1960s and 1970s; meanwhile, the American League, with umpires like Ashford and Luciano and fiery managers like Billy Martin and Earl Weaver, became more volatile than the now staid National League.
Despite television exposure, heightened after 1969 by intra-league championship playoffs, umpires as a group were personally more anonymous than before. Exceptions like Luciano notwithstanding, the individuality of umpires was submerged by the four-member crew, the numerical expansion of staffs, the rotation among cities, the standardization of styles and techniques, the decline in the frequency of rhubarbs, and the attempt to project a more staid professional image. Few umpires stood out as demonstrably superior to their colleagues, partly because systematic training and preparation had increased generally the competence of all arbiters and partly because professional basketball and football now offered competition for outstanding officials. Nonetheless, there were some premier umpires in the postwar era, chief among them Nestor Chylak and John Stevens of the American and Al Barlick and Doug Harvey of the National League.
During the course of a century of major league baseball, the umpire became transformed from a despised, untrained, semiprofessional "necessary evil" to a respected, skilled professional who epitomizes the integrity of the game itself. In the process some arbiters became immortalized in record books for notable achievements and distinctions. J.L. Boake umpired the first professional league game (1871), Billy McLean the first National League game (1876), and Tommy Connolly the first American League game (1901). Hank O'Day and Connolly umpired the first modern World Series (1903), while Bill Dinneen, Bill Klem, Bill McGowan, and Cy Rigler worked the first All-Star Game (1933). Bill Klem holds the record for most seasons in the majors (thirty-seven), most World Series (eighteen) and most World Series games (one hundred-eight). Al Barlick and Bill Summers worked the most All-Star Games (seven). Doug Harvey has umpired the most League Championship Series (nine) and LCS games (thirty-eight). George Hildebrand holds the record for most consecutive games umpired (3,510). (Babe Pinelli has claimed that he did not miss a regulation game in his twenty-two-year career.)
Emmett Ashford was the first black professional umpire in both the minor (1951) and major leagues (1966), while Armando Rodriguez (1974) was the first Hispanic umpire in the majors. Bernice Gera was the first female professional umpire (1972), although she worked only one game in the Class A New York-Penn League; Pam Postema's bid to become the first woman to umpire in the major leagues ended in 1989 with her release from the Triple-A Alliance after spending thirteen years in the minors. Evans was the youngest (twenty-two) and Klem the oldest (sixty-eight) to umpire a major league game. Seven umpires are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Jocko Conlan (1974), Tommy Connolly (1953), Bill Klem (1953), Billy Evans (1973), Cal Hubbard (1976), Al Barlick (1989), and Bill McGowan (1992).