I would like to make a statement," said Frank Dascoli, rising to his full height of 6 feet 3 inches. Dascoli, a fierce-looking man, well over 200 pounds, with thinning black hair, dark eyes and heavy brows, began pacing the floor, his long, thick forefinger waggling in the air as he spoke. Mr. Dascoli is an umpire.
"You can quote me on this. Your magazine has been very unfair to me in the past. During the Bobby Bragan incident two years ago, you made me look like the villain. No one came to me and asked for my side of the story. Then you printed that umpires' score card showing how many players we'd thrown out of games.
"Now write this down," Dascoli shouted. "Baseball is a professional business. Men make their living at it. Naturally they'll react to an adverse decision. But profane language, showmanship and overprotesting I will not condone. Absolutely not! Strict control of the game, that is 65% of umpiring. Ballplayers respect an umpire who has control of the game. Once a player knows who is boss out there, there's no trouble."
Dascoli's voice was now a roar. "I'm going to tell you something," he went on. "The names at the top of that score card of yours are the guys who are working. The others are just along for the ride. If Bill Klem were around, he'd lead that list. That's why that score card of yours is unfair. You realize this now."
April 13, 1959
Having finished for the moment, Dascoli sank down in his chair and took a deep breath through tightly clenched teeth. Then he smiled and said softly, "We don't like to eject players. We only wait to use it in the final analysis."
Dascoli's dedication to "control of the game" has made him a controversial figure. Bobby Bragan, who once offered Dascoli and his team of umpires a sip of orange soda during a game, complained that Dascoli was quick to anger, especially in his case. Others agree. "He's looking for trouble," complains one general manager. Says another critic, "Frank Dascoli has no sense of humor about the job. It's all meat and potatoes to him. He is that master of the majestic thumb-out. He looks like he was posing for a statue. He seems ready, willing, even anxious, to throw you out."
Because his style is flamboyant, Dascoli takes an unmerciful riding from the dugout. Hot dog, showboat, rabbit ears and hi ho Silver are some of the more gentle—and printable-barbs yelled his way.
Hi ho Silver stems from a story that Dascoli, at a party Leo Durocher gave in Arizona a few years ago, spent 20 minutes trying to persuade Gary Cooper to give him a part in his next western. He failed.
Eddie Mathews, Milwaukee's third baseman, tells of the 1957 All-Star Game, when Dascoli was working third base. After a particularly bad call at the plate, Dascoli was heard to announce, "Well, they can't all be Dascolis."
The very mention of Dascoli's name brought one National League publicity man to his feet.
"Look," he said, "I'm Dascoli." He then took a stance behind an imaginary catcher, called an elaborate strike, and began pulling at his sleeves and looking behind him to where the box seats would be. "That's Dascoli," he said. "Always tugging at those sleeves, striking the pose, looking around to see who's looking at him. You should have seen him in Los Angeles last year with all those movie stars around." There was a pause, and then the man added, "He's a hell of an umpire, though."
Ballplayers judge umpires, for the most part, on their work around home plate, and it is here that Dascoli excels. His movements are graceful, made with artistry. As he sets himself for the pitch, he crouches forward at a 45° angle, one leg bent, the other dragged out behind him. One hand rests on each knee. His head is almost parallel with the catcher's ("You want the glove?" catchers have asked him) so that he is never blocked out. As the pitch comes in Dascoli shifts his weight back, weaving with the ball, following it into the catcher's glove. Then he makes his decision.
"Dascoli calls a consistently good game," says one National League player. "Some umpires call consistently bad games, but even that is better than umpires who vary. Then you don't know what to expect. But Dascoli is always good. In fact, the best."
A pitcher's wife adds this thought: "When my husband is pitching, I always listen closely to who's umpiring the plate. If it's Dascoli I know we're in good hands."
Frank Dascoli was born in Canterbury, Conn. in 1913, the second of three sons of Michael and Mary Dascoli. When Frank was 4 the family moved to nearby Danielson, where Michael Dascoli began work in a shoeshop. He is still there today, the town cobbler for over 40 years.
As his sons grew up Michael Dascoli taught them to be gentlemen.
"He was strict," Frank recalls. "He taught us to respect teachers, policemen and our elders. We had to address anyone older than ourselves as mister. If we didn't, we were whipped.
"I can remember when I bought my first felt hat. My father went along with me and helped me pick it out. Then he gave me a 30-minute lecture on when to remove it."
After high school and a year at prep school, Frank began doing recreational work around the Danielson area. Part of the work included umpiring high school and sandlot games at $1 a game. Frank cannot remember throwing anyone out in those days. Although he enjoyed umpiring then, he gave no thought to making it his profession.
During World War II Frank was in the Coast Guard, stationed in New England. There were plenty of baseball games, and Frank umpired them. It was then that he decided to follow umpiring as a career.
He was discharged in 1945, too late for the baseball season. He returned to recreational work. Early in 1946 Dascoli mailed out letters to several minor league presidents. Did they need an umpire, inexperienced but enthusiastic? Yes, said the Eastern Shore League, and Frank went to work for them at $185 a month, plus $75 a month living expenses.
Dascoli went up the ladder two rungs at a time. From the Eastern Shore, a Class D league, he went, that first season of 1946, to the Canadian-American League, Class C. The following season he was promoted to the International League, Triple-A.
It was in the spring of 1948 that Dascoli met Larry Goetz, the veteran National League umpire. Frank was ordered to report to Ciudad Trujillo, where the Dodgers were training, to work exhibition games. It was suggested that he look up Goetz, who was also there.
"It was the turning point," says Dascoli. "I paged Goetz, he greeted me and insisted I stay at the same hotel. Then we started talking about umpiring."
At breakfast and at dinner Goetz lectured the young umpire. They took long walks in the warm spring evenings, down to the sea and back, going over the day's work and what Dascoli had done wrong. Goetz told him about positioning and timing, told him that he shouldn't make his call too soon. He made Frank move up closer to the catcher and altered his way of calling balls and strikes, which he considered too showy.
As far as Dascoli is concerned, there was never an umpire like Goetz. "He taught me more in one month than I had learned in two years. He was a man of great principle. He refused to umpire All-Star Games because we don't get paid. He was right. We should get paid. After all, it's work. But refusing to work the games got him in trouble with Warren Giles, president of the National League. They'll tell you he retired, but they made him resign."
Dascoli returned to Triple-A, but on July 4, 1948 he was promoted to the National League.
"Someone got hurt—I forget who—and I was told to report to Shibe Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies were playing a double-header against the Boston Braves. I worked at third base and was scared as hell. Luckily I was with Goetz. I didn't have a tough call all day."
One afternoon, three years later, Dascoli did have a tough call. He made it, and the people of Brooklyn may never forget it.
It was September 27, 1951, and the Dodgers were playing the Braves in Boston. Late in the game Dascoli called a sliding Brave safe at the plate. Roy Campanella, the catcher, whirled in rage and slammed his mask to the ground. As it hit, Dascoli threw Campanella out of the game. Dodgers charged the plate and surrounded Dascoli. There was a pennant at stake, and the Dodgers were incensed that as important a player as Campanella should be thrown out. Finally the game was continued and the Dodgers lost by that one run. In the ninth inning, with a runner on second, Campanella would have been up. The defeat dropped the Dodger lead to half a game over the New York Giants, who eventually beat them on Bobby Thomson's home run.
Today Frank Dascoli regards that play as his biggest. "It made my career," he says. "It showed that under pressure I could control the game. Campanella violated a rule and I had to remove him. And when the bench started to get out of hand, I cleared them out, too."
Every year, when the season is over, Frank Dascoli returns to Daniel-son, where he is the town's leading celebrity and, at 45, its most eligible bachelor. On a stroll along the main street he is greeted by everyone, old ladies and high school boys, town selectmen and the traffic cop. Frank returns all greetings cordially.
Each winter Dascoli talks baseball at a luncheon with a group of high-ranking Hartford businessmen whom he has met through his old friend Lyonel Putnam. This year the lunch was held at the Hartford Club in February. Dascoli made the 40-minute drive to Hartford and met Mr. Putnam, a wiry man in his 50s with bright red cheeks and sparkling eyes, in his office at Putnam & Co.
"Just let me get my hat and coat," said Putnam, jumping up from his desk. "We can walk to the club."
"Lyonel has been a good friend," Frank explained. "He's tipped me off on some good investments. Lyonel's from Danielson. Went to Yale."
Lyonel Putnam returned, hat in hand. "Ready?" he asked. Dascoli followed Putnam out.
At the Hartford Club Frank shed his coat and galoshes. He looked about him, at the soft leather couches and easy chairs, the mahogany woodwork and heavy carpets.
"Nice, isn't it?" he whispered. "I'm not a member here, but I have access."
Upstairs, in one of the private eating rooms, the businessmen gathered, dressed in dark suits and vests. Dascoli shook hands with each. He was wearing a pale blue suit with a two-and-a-half-dollar gold piece in the lapel, an initialed white shirt and a red tie. On his hand he wore the walnut-sized World Series ring, a souvenir of 1953.
Lyonel Putnam produced a watch from his vest pocket, clicked it open and glanced at it.
"We might as well start," he said.
For the next hour and 20 minutes, while the businessmen ate their crab meat, lobster and chocolate ice cream, Frank Dascoli discussed baseball. He leaned back in his chair. He leaned forward. Sometimes, for emphasis, he rammed his large forefinger into the white tablecloth. His voice grew as the minutes passed. Occasionally there would be a question: "How good is George Witt?" or "How is Frank Robinson's arm?" But mostly they remained silent and listened, fascinated, like boy scouts before the scoutmaster. Dascoli dominated the room.
Finally, Lyonel Putnam produced his watch and said, "Gentlemen, it's time to return to work." The businessmen shook hands with Frank and left. "That was a lot of fun," said Putnam. "You know, we all look forward to this every year. Thank you." Putnam departed.
Readying to leave, Frank Dascoli pointed to where the businessmen had been sitting. "They're pretty good Joes, aren't they? You know, I've been in their homes."
Downstairs, Dascoli took one more look around the club, then pushed outside into the cold.
The following day Frank Dascoli was in his father's shoeshop in Danielson. On one wall was a sequence shot of the disputed Campanella play.
"You'll notice," pointed out Frank, "that the throw is off to the right. Campy had to reach out and then back." Dascoli laughed. "My mother doesn't understand baseball. The day after that play she said to someone, 'I don't know what Frank did, but it must have been something wonderful. His picture has been in all the papers.'
"I'll tell you how tough a job an umpire has. When I got back home that year a guy comes up to me and says, 'Frank, you blew that call. I saw it. I was 10 feet away.' I asked the guy how he could have been sitting 10 feet away when the box seats were at least 40 feet away? 'I was watching on television,' the guy says."
Dascoli put on his overcoat. "Come on," he said, "I'll show you around the town and introduce you to some people. Don't worry about your car. The police chief is a friend of mine."
Frank stopped in front of an old building. "I want you to meet Bob Payne, Superintendent of Schools."
Payne, a slight-looking man with glasses, was glad to see Frank. For five minutes they discussed the old days at Killingly High. Payne was in the class below Frank and recalled the thrill of traveling to Storrs, Conn, to watch Frank and Tony Dascoli win the state basketball championship for Killingly.
As Dascoli rose to leave Bob Payne announced suddenly, "I would like to say something. This great honor that has come to Frank has not affected him one bit up here." He touched his head. Dascoli beamed. "Thank you for those words, Bob," he said.
In his car Frank toured the Connecticut countryside and then headed back home. On the way he passed some of the town's finer houses.
"We used to live in a nice house," he said. "Then the family deteriorated all at once. Mike, my younger brother, went into the Air Force; Tony got married; I went into baseball. Now my father, mother and I live in an apartment."
At the Dascolis' apartment Mrs. Dascoli was preparing dinner. Frank, sitting in his room, thumbed through the National League Umpire's Handbook. On the cover was a motto: "Quick to think, slow to anger." Inside there was another: "Keep the game, the players and YOURSELF UNDER CONTROL."
On the bureau were some autographed baseballs. There were pictures on the walls: Frank making a call, Frank with players, Frank with other umpires. There was one showing a youthful Frank standing next to a car bearing the Connecticut license plate: UMP.
"I got those plates on my car when I first became a major league umpire," he explained. "But I had to get rid of them. Kids kept dropping dirt and pebbles down my gas tank.
"The umpire's job is tough enough, but what makes it even harder is the basic lack of respect for authority that exists in the world today. Take teachers. When I was a kid, if there was trouble between the teacher and the pupil the parent backed up the teacher. Today he backs up his kid. 'It can't be my kid's fault,' he says. No respect for authority. People don't respect policemen or even, in many places, the government. So when they come out to the ball park, why should they respect the umpire?
"The booing and abuse used to get me down. It's no fun having people laugh when you get hit by a line drive or a foul tip. It's discouraging to have guys yelling at you for nine innings. But you get so you can take it.
"I know they make fun of me. They think I'm a showboat. Well, when I'm on the field, I don't care what they call me just as long as they add, 'But he's a good umpire.' "