What sort of men become officials? Who needs it? A study of professional basketball officiating by Henry A. Alker of Cornell University and William F. Straub and John Leary of Ithaca College found that the best officials (as rated by peers and coaches) have a personality profile much like the worst. Almost all officials tested showed a high degree of interpersonal "dominance" and "self-acceptance," and a low degree of "flexibility." Wrote the authors: "The person with high self-acceptance...can keep cool. And in a profession in which a major, if not the major, stress comes from others doubting the worth of one's judgments, self-acceptance is surely a basic asset. Dominance and self-acceptance have elsewhere...been identified as distinctive characteristics of creative individuals, not mediocrities."
A study of pro football officials by Dr. William J. Beausay, a psychologist and an executive director of the Academy for the Psychology of Sports, in Toledo, produced much the same results. Referees were found to be dominant, demanding and self-disciplined, as well as indifferent to pressure—aggressive without being especially competitive. Among American males, they rank only in the 11th percentile in subjectivity, only in the 19th percentile in sympathy, and in the 26th percentile for being "light-hearted." No wonder they're not very happy. "They feel bad," Dr. Beausay says, "because, like athletes, they want to be liked and people won't like them."
The umpire who made the famous call on Fred Merkle was Hank O'Day. The umpire behind the plate when Eddie Gaedel, Bill Veeck's midget, batted was Ed Hurley.
October 11, 1976
Of all officials, basketball referees are virtually the only ones who have become personalities. Football referees are all but anonymous, and while a boxing referee like Ruby Goldstein or a baseball umpire like Bill Klem may become recognized as a name, he rarely becomes established as an individual. Who is the most famous baseball umpire today? Ron Luciano? Probably. Not one fan in a thousand would know who Luciano was if he sat down next to him at a coffee counter. By contrast, any basketball fan would not only recognize Richie Powers or John Vanak or Jake O'Donnell, but would also have a fair knowledge of what the man was like personally from having seen him work on the court. Kids used to do imitations of Mendy Rudolph wiping his brow as surely as they did a Dr. J or an Earl the Pearl.
Rudolph came into prominence at a time when pro basketball had gained a national platform, but colorful characters like Pat Kennedy and Sid Borgia were celebrities long before Mendy ever drew a number in the air. And without doubt no referee anywhere has ever been so well received on and off the court as Charley Eckman. While it seems impossible to attach the word to such a coarse rascal as Eckman, the fact is that he is the one referee in all the world who has become darn near beloved.
At least this is true in his home precincts of Baltimore. Eckman has been honored with three testimonial dinners, and, he explains in his fashion, "They're thinking of giving me a fourth one of the bleeping things." He is the most popular, and unusual, sportscaster in town. Huge billboards displaying his rough countenance dot the choice locations. Eckman is the comforting spokesman for everything from automobiles to restaurants, banks, beer and power tools. He is the most celebrated after-dinner speaker in town. Says one Baltimorean, "If you listed the most famous people who were born here or worked here—Babe Ruth, the Duchess of Windsor, H. L. Mencken, Johnny Unitas, Spiro Agnew, Blaze Starr, John Wilkes Booth—more people in Baltimore would recognize who Cholly is. This has gotta be the nicest town in the world. You know any other would love a referee?"
Eckman has made it as a personality as he did as an official, simply by being himself. "Handling people is three-fourths of refereeing," he says. "All these yo-yos these days take it too seriously." Once, before a tense NIT final at Madison Square Garden, he showed up on the court in dark glasses. College kids would drop by after games they had lost and thank him for a nice fun game. Fred Zollner, president of the Detroit Pistons, made Eckman an NBA coach on the assumption that he knew the players as well as anybody else. "How you gonna get your team up, Coach?" the Boston press asked before a big game with the Celtics. "Raise the urinals," Cholly replied. He won a divisional championship his first season, but 2½ years later Zollner told Eckman he was "going to make a change in your department."
"Fine," said Cholly. Later he said, "Then I realized I was the only so-and-so in my department." So he went back to calling them on the court—and then on the radio. "No TV," he says. "It's not loose enough. All this 'Do this, do that.' And there's too many fags in it, too." Eckman adlibs all his material, obliterates the English language and makes no bones of the fact that he spends most of his days at racetracks and most of his nights in saloons.
"Life's like basketball, better 'n a movie," Cholly said at the track the other day. "If you kick one, admit it and keep moving. Wherever you go, Leader, loosen 'em up right away. When I was reffing, the first thing I wanted was to let 'em all know I was going to be there all night, and they weren't going nowheres without me. Then we had some fun. Let's go first class and have some fun, Leader. First class. First class. I like just to sit down in them big seats in front of the plane and watch all them yo-yos go by back to that cave. My wife Wilma says, 'You used to work for a living.' But what's it cost to say hello, Leader, how ya doin', Coach? Loosen 'em up, Leader." He bought another Scotch and wheeled the four horse.
Not long ago, cherry lights on police cars lit up all over Baltimore. Apparently, a bank robbery was in progress in the middle of the night. Actually, Eckman and one of his sponsors were filming a commercial about their new convenient plastic bank cards. Pistols drawn, the first policemen arrived at the bank in their cruiser and saw Eckman standing in the glare of the TV lights. An officer picked up his mike and, in his best Balleemore accent, called in, "Hey now, it ain't no robb'ry. It's just Cholly Eckman down here playin' wid his card."
The first novel about baseball was The Fairport Nine, written by one Noah Brooks in 1880. Therein is the first reference to a baseball umpire in fiction:
"Just as the White Bears were going to the second inning, great drops of rain began to fall, and the storm which Captain Sam had been dreading all day was upon them. The girls put up their parasols and umbrellas, and expressed their intention to stay and see the game through, rain or shine. But the umpire, Mr. Sylvanus Tilden of North Fair-port, called the game, which was accordingly postponed until the next day."
Chuck Connors, the actor, has two distinctions in sports. He broke the backboard warming up before the first NBA game ever played in Boston, and he figured out how to show up a baseball umpire on the field and get away with it. "Umpires got to be stupid to begin with or they wouldn't be in that job," Connors says. "Even if they're right, they're wrong."
In the summer of 1946, when Connors was playing with Newport News (Va.) in the Piedmont League, Lynchburg loaded the bases with one out. The next Lynchburg batter hit a low line drive that Connors, playing first, snared just off the ground. The runners were all moving, so Connors threw the ball to second to easily double up the runner there and end the inning. Connors and his teammates ran off the field. Unfortunately, the umpire had ruled that the batted ball had hit the ground, so Connors had only gotten the out at second. The three other Lynchburg runners came around to score. "I started screaming my lungs out," Connors says. "I got thrown out of the game. After the game I was still boiling. I made up my mind to get even. I told myself: I'm going to get that guy somehow, someway."
A month later the same umpire was handling a Newport News home game when Connors got his chance for revenge after the umpire called a fourth ball on a batter on the visiting team. Wayne Johnson, the pitcher, and Gil Hodges, the catcher, both blew their tops. Connors saw his opportunity. He came running in from first base, arms waving, and stuck his mouth right up into the umpire's face.
"I started screaming at him—intensely but low," Connors says. " 'Don't listen to the fans,' I told him. 'Don't listen to the ballplayers. You're right! You called that bleeping pitch right.'
"I'm making big gestures, waving my arms, using great muscular animation with my mouth. To anyone in the stands, it has got to look like I'm eating him out. 'In the meantime,' I told him, 'I want to apologize for screaming at you the last time. You were right then. I'm a little egotistical and insecure, and I wanted to make a good play then. You were right.' "
The fans were screaming. The visiting manager came running out of the dugout, yelling at the poor ump that Connors should be thrown out of the game. "By now, his eyes are going blank," Connors says. "He hears what I'm saying, but he also knows what the fans and the other players must be thinking. I just kept pouring it on. 'Don't listen to Johnson. Don't listen to Hodges. You call 'em good. You're the best bleeping umpire in this league. You and I are the only ones around here who know the score.'
"He just stood there," Connors says. "He knew he had been had."
Major league umpires' salaries begin at $16,000 and rise to $40,000. They get $49 a day for hotels, taxis and meals. They work 162 games in 180 days.
Richie Powers has written in his book Overtime!, "In those days I was a better umpire than basketball referee, and by 1961 I had progressed from Class D to the Triple A International League.... In the spring of 1962 I happened to meet two National League umpires, Al Barlick and Ed Vargo...and I asked if they had heard anything about Richie Powers the umpire—off the record, of course. They told me they had heard some talk that Richie Powers was too small to umpire in the major leagues. I wasn't surprised, but I was mad as hell.... It took me a few months to check out the official reports on Richie Powers the umpire. When I found out what Barlick and Vargo had told me...was indeed the opinion of the people who hired major league umpires, I promptly abandoned my umpiring career, midway through the 1962 season."
Jocko Conlan, in his book Jocko: "Tommy," I said, "why didn't you take me up to the American League?"
"I'm sorry, Jocko," Connolly [the supervisor of umpires] said. "The American League thinks you're just a bit too short for an umpire."
"When I think about Connolly and 'short' umpires, it makes me mad. Because the trend is towards big men.... I don't say the tall men aren't good umpires, but I do say the shorter umpire has an advantage on balls and strikes, particularly on the low pitch at the knees, the toughest call in baseball. The big guy has to bend. The short guy is down there...he has the better perspective."
Cheating is apparently widely accepted on the NASCAR circuit. At Daytona several years ago, a stock-car driver named Smokey Yunick brought his vehicle in for inspection. The officials, working diligently that day, even removed Smokey's gas tank in order to measure its capacity, which was limited to 22 gallons. About this time, Smokey started disputing 11 other violations that the inspectors claimed they had already discovered. They would not give in, so Smokey hopped back in his car, slammed the door and squealed out, pointing back over his shoulder at the gas tank, which still lay on the garage floor. "Make it 12," said Smokey.
NFL referee teams always work together as a unit, as do the four-man major league baseball umpiring squads. But NBA referees are switched and work with different colleagues from game to game. "There are too many pitfalls to a pairing system," Mendy Rudolph says. "If you do have bad habits, you never break yourself of them because you're working with the same guy all the time. Also, there's a personality conflict. You got to remember that referees do not spend, as ballplayers do, 41 games at home. They're working 82 games out on the road. So with the 82 plus the traveling, you may be on the road maybe 130 days with the same guy. And unless you really get along with each other you're going to have a lot of friction out there."
A new magazine, Referee, began publication earlier this year. Like Playboy with its rabbit. Referee has a little whistle on each cover. Referee estimates that there are 150,000 amateur officials in the U.S. The magazine's first story in its inaugural issue was on, of all people, Al McGuire, the Marquette basketball coach, who is invariably arguing with officials and once even drew two technicals in an NCAA final.
Chick Lang, general manager of Pimlico: "You see more claims of foul now in the big races. There is a rule against claiming a frivolous foul, but that is hard to prove, so a kid figures he'll take a shot. What's he got to lose?
"Films have helped the young rider. He can see what he's doing wrong. And, you know, it's made all the best jockeys clean. There just aren't any more Frito Banditos. In the old days, before film, a guy like Meade—if he got in front, you couldn't get by him. The last good jock to—if this is the word—enjoy a bad reputation in that respect was Manny Ycaza, and, of course, he was involved in probably the most spectacular modern foul claim, down here in the '62 Preakness, when he was on Ridan and Johnny Rotz was on Greek Money. Greek Money won, but as Rotz was bringing him back, I went out there and I said, 'Hey, don't bring him into the winner's circle yet because Ycaza claimed foul.' And Rotz said, 'You got to be kidding. He was sitting on my lap the last quarter mile.' And, of course, the films backed Rotz up, and they fined Ycaza."
The majority of NBA referees come from north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the state of Ohio. Says John Nucatola, the league's supervisor of officials, "You've got to be tough to take the abuse from the stands. Northeastern people seem to take it better than others, maybe because it seems to be a rougher part of the country and people are exposed more to that kind of pressure in their daily lives."
National Hockey League officials start at $11,500 and can work their way up to $40,000. They also get $24 a day in expenses; the league pays hotel and air fare. They work 80 games. Their ages range from 19 to 40.
Until very recently, the most famous man in baseball with the nickname of "Catfish" was Bill Klem. He was a great horse player, and after quitting baseball in 1928, lost a great sum of money at the track and had to return to umping.
Alex George of Kansas City is a retired official who worked 10 bowl games and six NCAA basketball tournaments. About 20 years ago, he officiated a game between Detroit and Wichita. Detroit, down one point with four seconds to go, had the ball out of bounds. Wichita's arena was then in a tough part of the town, and a lot of the fans had been drinking. George watched one Detroit player throw the ball in to another, who shot. At that moment George looked up and saw that a Wichita fan had thrown an overcoat over the basket. The ball hit the coat and the gun went off.
"I was working with Cliff Ogden, but the call was mine." George says. " 'What are you going to call it, Alex?' he asked me. I told him, 'It's 120 feet to our dressing room, and I'm not going to call it anything until we both get to the door.' When we got there I called it a basket.
"A friend of mine named Joe Peters waited for me outside. We didn't come out for a long time and when we did, Joe said he'd carry my bag to the car. We started off and a woman walked up and looked at Joe and said, 'You worked a beautiful game all right,' and then she began beating him with her umbrella. Joe started to point at me, but before he could say anything, I said, 'That's right, you did work a beautiful game.' After all, he'd already been hit. There was no sense for me to get beaten, too."
Bill Russell, Seattle SuperSonics coach, on the possibility of having women referees in the NBA: "Incompetence should not be confined to one sex."
In the old days, here is what baseball umpires used to do in the off-season: Tim Hurst refereed fights. Bob Emslie was a trapshooter. Scotty Robb ran a printing business. George Moriarty wrote songs. Al Barlick was a coal miner. Frank Dascoli was a Connecticut state trooper. Dolly Stark was the basketball coach at Dartmouth. Bill Grieve was assistant supervisor of recreation in Yonkers. Cy Rigler (who originated the upraised arm for a strike) was a policeman and a fireman. Bill Guthrie was a steam fitter. Jocko Conlan owned a flower shop. Jack Sheridan was an undertaker. The raucous journeyman infielder Germany Schafer used to lead cronies to Sheridan's mortuary and intone in a sepulchral voice through a ventilator, "Your time has come, Jack Sheridan." In a game at Detroit, when Sheridan made a bad call, Schafer turned at the plate and said it again, "Your time has come. Jack Sheridan." Sheridan threw him out of the game.
Nowadays, here is what some baseball umpires do in the off-season: Marty Springstead is a bank teller. Dave Phillips and Doug Harvey referee basketball. Bruce Froemming works in a Milwaukee brewery. Jerry Dale, who has a master's in math, teaches school. Jim Evans and Doug Harvey sell real estate. Larry McCoy is a farmer in Arkansas. Nick Colosi, formerly a ma√Ætre d' at the Copacabana, is a special policeman at Madison Square Garden. Dave Davidson is a probation officer. Nestor Chylak, at 54 the senior umpire in the American League, makes speeches. Dick Stello teaches at umpire's school. Stello is married to a stripper, Chesty Morgan, who boasts a 73-inch bust.
Referee Andy van Hellemond puts applesauce on virtually everything he eats at every meal.
Of the 84 men who were regular NFL officials last year, almost half spent their weekdays as businessmen or salesmen. Another eight were in insurance, but there was only one banker. Twenty-three were employed in education, as either teachers or coaches—or, in some cases, both. Six were involved in social or youth work. Three were lawyers, one was a landscape architect. There were also one pharmacist, one special-apparatus wireman, one airport director, one safety specialist and one baseball minor league general manager.
Arthur Ashe has written in his book Portrait in Motion, "Many Southern Europeans accept cheating as the natural order of things and really cannot comprehend how that philosophy either surprises or offends us. Whitney Reed once told me a story about a time in Rome when a little linesman robbed him blind, eventually costing him the match with his outrageous calls. A few months passed, and at Wimbledon a stranger came up to Whitney and gave him a warm greeting. Whitney had to admit that he didn't recognize the man, whereupon the stranger replied, 'Don't you remember me, Mr. Reed? I'm the linesman from Rome who made all those bad calls that cost you the match.' And he said it just like that, altogether sprightly and amiably."
Russell Baker wrote in The New York Times Magazine, "Not long ago, a New York woman I know awoke one morning and discovered her eyebrows were out. I don't mean they stepped out for a drink before breakfast. Even in New York, eyebrows aren't doing that sort of thing yet.
"What had happened was that this woman's eyebrows had been called out by an umpire of fashion just as definitively as a base runner given the thumb in a close call at home plate. In this case, the umpire was a journal called W which calls balls, strikes and failed slides in the game of high-income chic....
"New York is filled with umpires like this who can settle your hash to the city's complete satisfaction with a whimsical wave of the thumb. Clive Barnes of The New York Times umpires the theater. The New York Review of Books and Commentary umpire liberal intellectual orthodoxy. New York magazine umpires middle-brow chic. Ms. magazine umpires feminism...."
NFL officials make from $325 to $575 a game. All have one-year contracts. Their average age is 47. They are permitted to travel first class and receive $60 per weekend for hotel, meals and incidental expenses. No drinking is allowed from the time an official leaves his home. Their work on the field is rated by the NFL in these areas: 1) judgment, 2) game control, 3) position and coverage, 4) reaction under pressure and 5) decisiveness. An official who enters the league at one position (umpire, line judge, head linesman, back judge or field judge) is almost certain to remain in that position unless he moves up to referee.
The consensus among NHL officials is that almost no serious hockey injuries are caused by fists. Apparently, this is why fights are viewed so casually in the league. Sticks are something else, however, and there is growing sentiment to clear "the stickmen" out of the NHL. One player the referees scrutinize is Steve Durbano of the new Denver team (formerly Kansas City). Durbano will go after anyone. Once he picked a fight with the man who ran his Junior A team in Ontario. The man was his father. In referee's parlance, Durbano "isn't wrapped too tight."
But Dave Schultz, who was recently traded to the Los Angeles Kings from the Philadelphia Flyers and is the best-known tough guy in the league, actually draws the ire of officials more for his tongue than for his "Dave the Hammer" brawls.
From the handbook of the Specialized Umpire Training Course (St. Petersburg, Fla.):
"Welcome to the greatest occupation in the world, that of the Professional Umpire....
FACTS ABOUT UMPIRES
ARE HARD TO BELIEVE
It is estimated that an umpire, in one nine-inning game:
Calls 288 balls and strikes
Calls 64 players safe or out (all bases)
Calls 56 players safe or out (first base)
Gets hit by hit or pitched ball once
Spends $125.10 on personal equipment...
And he is not permitted to make one mistake.
An infielder must play 32 games of errorless fielding to have as many opportunities as an umpire in one game of calling balls and strikes.
A batter must hit safely every time he is at bat in 18‚Öî games to be as good as the umpire is expected to be in his calls at first base in one game."
A few recollections about referees from Bones McKinney, the former Wake Forest coach, who first wore a seat belt on the bench:
"The first time I wore that belt I stayed there for 11 minutes and some seconds. Then my assistant leaned over to me and said, 'Fox [the ref] needs some chewing out.' He hadn't done anything wrong, we just needed a big foul. So I did it, and we got the next shot.
"Once, against Princeton, I scuffed my shoe on the floor, and it flew off and landed at midcourt. And I had to go get it. Princeton is coming on a fast break. And as I got my shoe, my pencil fell out of my pocket. Finally, when I got back to the bench, the referee called a technical. I asked him what for and he told me, and I told him a few words, and he said, I thought you were a preacher.' And so I said, 'Hell, I thought you were a referee, too.' That was two techs.
"Against Kentucky one night we were one point down at halftime, but The Baron [Coach Adolph Rupp of Kentucky] didn't even go with his team to the locker room. He stayed with the officials. We got blown out the second half, and those referees didn't know who we were. When it was over, I started calling the officials Dr. This and Dr. That, and finally the referee says to me, 'Why are you calling me a doctor, Coach? I'm not a doctor.' And I said, 'Well, you certainly did a surgical job on us tonight.'
"What I always wanted was a kid named Homer Smith or Homer Jones. I didn't want him to be a very good player. I just wanted to put him in at the end of the games on the road so I could yell 'Homer! Homer!' at the top of my lungs and the referees couldn't do anything about it."
Perhaps the most inexplicable missed call in sports came at a Rams-Bears game a few years ago when a member of the sideline crew flipped the down marker inadvertently. The error was not noted by the other officials, by the coaches or players, by the press or any of the 80,000 fans. It was caught after the game when someone was going over the play-byplay. The crew was suspended for one game and barred from working playoffs.
In a typical pro basketball game, a referee doing a good job will move about five miles, much of it on the dead run.
American League Umpire Ron Luciano is the most talkative of the species. When Carl Yastrzemski came to the plate in an important pennant-race game in 1975, he didn't want to be distracted by Luciano's usual idle chatter. So, as he stepped in, he said, "I'm fine. My wife's fine. The kids are all fine. It's a nice day. Let me hit in peace."
Criticism of officials appears to be deeper and more widespread than at any time in recent years. In fact, the quality of officiating has probably fallen off, because so many new teams, even new leagues, have been added without adequate programs to develop referees and umpires. Even the best officials seem to stumble upon the profession, rather than point for it.
It seems, however, that the recent violent criticism of officials is far out of proportion to any possible decline in their ability. Dr. Arnold Mandell of the department of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego suggests there are cultural reasons to account for this phenomenon. "Athletics is a conservative culture and lags behind the style of the day," he says, "and it's my theory that what you've got is the back end of the youth movement of the '60s. Now, finally, athletes are getting activist, talking about officials, their rights, contracts—you name it. It's like the college kids a few years ago, when you could take a class in overthrowing the government. Call it a transient wave, an utter disregard for the structure of authority. Athletes were just a little slow coming around."
Adds Dr. Marc Shatz, a clinical psychologist, who has counseled athletes in his Los Angeles office, "Officials obviously represent the law, and when you have the kind of breakdown in respect for those who make and enforce the law as we've had in the last few years, what follows isn't exactly rational. Combine that irrationality with the fact that the athlete needs to act out his aggressive feelings and impulses, and the official has become nothing more than a sacrificial lamb."
Former National League Umpire Chris Pelekoudas made these remarks anent women umpires to Jerome Holtzman of the Chicago Sun-Times:
"A woman's mind isn't trained like ours. She couldn't take those decisions. No way.
"The female mind will not work that fast. The female mind will not have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the guff that these players would give them. And when I say intestinal fortitude, I mean a four-letter word called guts."
Richie Powers says in Overtime!, "I always tell young officials in the NBA that they ought to use polysyllabic words whenever possible during their debates with players and coaches. Polysyllabic words not only command prompt attention but, in the heat of the moment, can often leave people speechless."
Bill Klem was the umpire in a Giant-Phillie game of April 25, 1913. The score was tied 0-0 in the 10th with no one out and Fred Merkle on third for the Giants. Moose McCormick was sent in to pinch-hit for the pitcher, and as he stepped to the plate, Klem turned to announce him to the crowd. Grover Cleveland Alexander, not noticing this, threw a fastball, McCormick lined it safely to left and Merkle trotted home with the winning run. Klem kept on announcing the new batter. McCormick went to the clubhouse, undressed and got in the shower. Klem went after him and told him he had not finished his introduction when McCormick had swung. Therefore the ball had not been in play. Klem returned and finished his introduction. Merkle was sent back to third. McCormick, dried and dressed, returned and swung again. He grounded to first, and the first baseman threw Merkle out at the plate. The game was called after 11 innings on account of darkness. The score was still 0-0.
This is still the only recorded instance in the major leagues of a winning run being nullified because an umpire's back was turned.
About 15 years ago, Gordie Howe skated over to a referee, Frank Udvari, and told him, "Frank, you're the second-best referee in the league." Before Udvari could ask him who the best was, Howe added, "All the rest are tied for No. 1."
Jim Howell, the first black man to officiate an NCAA basketball championship game, quit refereeing in the middle of last season. He had been an official for 13 years and was only 35—at the top of his profession. Howell quit after he worked the Maryland-North Carolina game, which the Tarheels won 95-93. In the last seconds, a Maryland player tripped over a Carolina player on a fast break. No foul was called. Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell charged Howell's partner. The Maryland fans shouted obscenities at the refs.
"The coaches and players, you can control them," Howell says. "You have the technical foul to use. But I was tired of the constant abuse after games. I was afraid I might try to retaliate. Coaches control the crowds, they set the atmosphere. A lot of them seem to think referees are cheating them. No official willfully cheats somebody.
Apparently there was a foul on the last-second play. "We just never saw it," Howell says. "If it happened, it should have been a foul. But even if we missed it, I don't think the world should come to an end."
Howell was one of the U.S. referees who toured China with a U.S. team in 1974. "The Chinese played hard," he says, "but when it was over, they were our friends. It was great. Their motto was 'Friendship first, competition second.' I've become, I guess, disillusioned with sports in the United States."
A year ago, under the urging of Bill Russell, the NBA general managers voted 18-0 for a plan that would have each team contribute money toward sending 10 would-be officials to college every year. The young men would receive officiating instruction during the summer. Some would be cut from the plan if their grades or officiating abilities were not up to par, but at least a few would be able to move into the NBA after graduation.
"Everybody in all sports is always on the officials, but none has a program for developing them," Russell says. "If we spent the same money, percentage-wise, on officials that we do on players, we could develop competent refs, make it where it becomes an honorable profession."
The plan would cost each club less than $5,000 a year. Since it was unanimously approved by the general managers, not one move has been made to implement it.
Some NHL referees did not begin using whistles until the 1930s. Before that, they tinkled bells at offenders.
The honor roll: Umpire Billy McLean was attacked in the Polo Grounds, 1884. Jack Sheridan was beaten unconscious, Milwaukee, 1894. Phil Powers protected himself with a drawn revolver until police arrived, Philadelphia, 1888. Billy Evans had his skull fractured by a thrown bottle in a Detroit-St. Louis game in 1907. Some years later, he was severely thrashed by Ty Cobb in a fight under the grandstand. Tim Hurst once threw a beer mug back at a fan, injured a spectator and was fined $25. John Gaffney could not umpire a Buffalo-New York game in 1884, because one of the players had slugged him the day before in his hotel. In 1938, Charlie Moran was hit by a thrown ball that broke his dental plate. A Western League player named Jim Mertlick was fined $25 for biting Umpire Estie Wells during an argument. Brick Owens was the only umpire Babe Ruth ever punched. In his autobiography, Standing the Gaff, Steamboat Johnson, a famous minor league ump, estimated that during his career 4,000 bottles were thrown at him, with 20 finding the mark.
On the other hand, few messed with Umpire George Magerkurth. Magerkurth—6'3", 250 pounds, known as Meathead; "he had the expression of a stern baby...a remarkable resemblance to President Hoover"—fought professionally, played pro football and was the end man in a minstrel show in Moline, Ill. On June 9, 1925, Magerkurth bopped Billy Webb, manager of Buffalo's International League team, for employing abusive language. After the game, the two men fought, and both were arrested. On April 25, 1927, Magerkurth, then umpiring in the American Association, visited the room of Irv Griffin, the Milwaukee first baseman, and demanded an apology for a name he'd been called. When Griffin was not sufficiently contrite, Magerkurth sent him to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder, which kept Griffin out of baseball for a month. Magerkurth was fined $25 and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The sentence was suspended. On July 16, 1939, when Magerkurth was umpiring in the National League, Billy Jurges of the Giants spit in his face and tried to punch him. Magerkurth slugged Jurges good. Both men drew 10-day suspensions and were fined $150 apiece.
NBA refs earn from $18,000 to $45,000. The 22 men who work full time (82 games) also get $800 a month in expenses for food and hotels. There are also three part-timers who work at least 40 games. The turnover rate is high.
A poll taken by the New York Daily News showed that for every fan who does not want sports disputes settled by instant replays, there are four who do. Younger fans and those who live in the suburbs especially favored replays.
Jocko Conlan, in Jocko, on umpiring:
"You often hear people say that umpiring is a lonely life. It isn't that at all. It's not lonely. You meet lots of fine people. I made friends all over the country that I never would have met if I hadn't been umpiring. But it's an uncomfortable life. In any other business, if you meet somebody and they find out what you do for a living, it's accepted. Nobody thinks much about it one way or the other. But when people find out you're an umpire, they automatically feel they have to criticize you, kiddingly or seriously. You go out and work as hard and as honestly as you can on a ball field, and you're on your way home, or back to your hotel (because you never are home; you're always on the road going from one town to the next), and you find yourself being abused by strangers for doing your job the way you're supposed to do it, criticized by people who don't know the first thing about it."