A good number of the people who work for us here in New York were born in places like Ojus, Fla., and Kingsville, Texas and Grand Forks, N. Dak., but Senior Editor Robert Creamer is an anomaly. He still lives in Tuckahoe, N.Y., a village in suburban Westchester County where he was born and went to high school ("Hear our cry: V-I-C-T-O-R-Y") and got married. "I'm a provincial," says Creamer. "I like Tuckahoe, and I like the people who live there."
On page 70 begins the first of two articles Creamer has written with (and about) Jocko Conlan, the former umpire, who now lives in retirement in Scottsdale, Ariz. These have been excerpted from their book Jocko, which Lippincott is publishing this month. "One of the reasons I enjoyed doing the book," Creamer explains, "is that I felt very much at home with Jocko. He was like someone from Tuckahoe."
Jocko Conlan—John Bertrand Conlan—who umpired in the National League from 1941 to 1965 is also, as Creamer has written, "unique.... He is the umpire. Bernard Berenson used to talk about Man as a Work of Art, the idea that a man himself can create in himself something enduring, that he can become, in effect, a living work of art. What else is Jocko?"
But, says Creamer, putting Jocko down on paper is like taking a photograph of a flower garden with black-and-white film; it's all there, but there's a lot missing. For Jocko Conlan is an actor, a performer. When he tells a story it's a dramatic presentation. Creamer caught Jocko's act for two weeks in a New York hotel room—all 200,000 words of it, of which 75,000 survive in the book. "It was a marvelous experience," Creamer says. "Suddenly he wouldn't even be looking at me. He was totally out of the room. His eyes glinting, his jaw thrust out, the ordinarily soft voice hard, crying out to, say, Leo Durocher: 'Don't come up here! I don't need you! Get out! You're gone!' "
June 25, 1967
It is Jocko's credo that there isn't anybody who knows anything about umpiring except umpires—and this particularly goes for ballplayers. Jocko tells a story about the time Richie Ashburn moaned about one of Jocko's calls behind the plate, so Jocko said he would let Ashburn call the next pitch he received. It was belt-high but about a foot inside. Ashburn looked at it and said, "Strike." True to his word, Jocko put up his right arm and said, "Strike." Then he called time, made a pretext of dusting off the plate and told Ashburn: "Richie, you have just had the only chance a hitter has ever had in the history of baseball to bat and umpire at the same time. And you blew it. That's the last pitch you call. I'm not going to have you louse up my profession."
Which puts us in mind of a story Creamer tells about the time he was 17 and umpiring a sandlot game in Tuckahoe. At the end of the fourth inning the two captains had a conference on the sidelines. As a result, four players walked out to the mound (Creamer was umpiring behind the pitcher), picked Creamer up and carried him off the field. "I still think I was calling them right," Creamer insists.