Umpires And Close Decisions
Ball-players and Umpires are Regarded by the Fans as Natural
Enemies, and the Fans Are about Right--Types of Arbiters and how the
Players Treat them--"Silk" O'Loughlin, "Hank" O'Day, "Tim" Hurst,
"Bob" Emslie, and Others, and Close Ones they have Called--Also Some
Narrow Escapes which have Followed.
When the Giants were swinging through the West in 1911 on the final trip,
the club played three games in Pittsburg, with the pennant at that time
only a possibility more or less remote. The Pirates still had a chance,
and they were fighting hard for every game, especially as they were
playing on their home grounds.
The first contest of the series was on Saturday afternoon before a crowd
that packed the gigantic stands which surrounded Forbes Field. The throng
wanted to see the Pirates win because they were the Pirates, and the
Giants beaten because they were the Giants, and were sticking their heads
up above the other clubs in the race. I always think of the horse show
when I play in Pittsburg, for they have the diamond horse-shoe of boxes
there, you know. No; I'm wrong--it's at the Metropolitan Opera House they
have the diamond horse-shoe. Any way, the diamond horse-shoe of boxes was
doing business at Forbes Field that Saturday afternoon.
This story is going to be about umpires, but the reader who has never seen
the Forbes Field folks must get the atmosphere before I let the yarn into
the block. Once, on a bright, sunny day there, I muffed fly after fly
because the glint of Sol's rays on the diamonds blinded me. Always now I
wear smoked glasses. "Josh" Devore is so afraid that he will lose social
caste when he goes to Pittsburg that he gets his finger-nails manicured
before he will appear on the field. And the lady who treated him one day
polished them to such an ultimate glossiness that the sun flashed on them,
and he dropped two flies in left field.
"Look here, Josh," warned McGraw after the game, "I hire you to play ball
and not to lead cotillions. Get some pumice stone and rub it on your
finger-nails and cut out those John Drew manicures after this."
This crowd is worse after umpires than the residents of the bleachers. The
game on that Saturday worked out into a pitchers' battle between Marty
O'Toole, the expensive exponent of the spit ball, and "Rube" Marquard, the
great left-hander. Half of "Who's Who in Pittsburg" had already split
white gloves applauding when, along about the fourth or fifth inning, Fred
Clarke got as far as third base with one out. The score was nothing for
either side as yet, and of such a delicate nature was the contest that one
run was likely to decide it.
"Hans" Wagner, the peerless, and the pride of Pittsburg, was at the bat.
He pushed a long fly to Murray in right field, and John caught it and
threw the ball home. Clarke and the ball arrived almost simultaneously.
There was a slide, a jumble of players, and a small cloud of dust blew
away from the home plate.
"Ye're out!" bawled Mr. Brennan, the umpire, jerking his thumb over his
shoulder with a conclusiveness that forbade argument. Clarke jumped up and
stretched his hands four feet apart, for he recognizes no conclusiveness
when "one is called against him."
"Safe! that much!" he shouted in Brennan's ear, showing him the four-foot
margin with his hands.
There was a roar from the diamond horse-shoe that, if it could have been
canned and put on a phonograph, would have made any one his fortune
because it could have been turned on to accompany moving pictures of lions
and other wild beasts to make them realistic.
"Say," said Clarke to Brennan, "I know a pickpocket who looks honest
compared to you, and I'd rather trust my watch to a second-story worker."
Brennan was dusting off the plate and paid no attention to him. But Clarke
continued to snap and bark at the umpire as he brushed himself off,
referring with feeling to Mr. Brennan's immediate family, and weaving into
his talk a sketch of the umpire's ancestors, for Clarke is a great master
of the English language as fed to umpires.
"Mr. Clarke," said Brennan, turning at last, "you were out. Now beat it to
the bench before you beat it to the clubhouse."
Clarke went grumbling and all the afternoon was after Brennan for the
decision, his wrath increasing because the Pirates lost the game finally,
although they would not have won it had they been given that decision. And
the crowd was roaring at Brennan, too, throughout the remainder of the
contest, asking him pointed questions about his habits and what his
regular business was.
It takes a man with nerve to make a decision like that--one that could be
called either way because it was so close--and to make it as he sees it,
which happened in this particular case to be against the home team.
Many times have I, in the excitement of the moment, protested against the
decision of an umpire, but fundamentally I know that the umpires are
honest and are doing their best, as all ball-players are. The umpires make
mistakes and the players make errors. Many arbiters have told me that when
they are working they seldom know what inning it is or how many are out,
and sometimes, in their efforts to concentrate their minds on their
decisions, they say they even forget what clubs are playing and which is
the home team.
The future of the game depends on the umpire, for his honesty must not be
questioned. If there is a breath of suspicion against a man, he is
immediately let go, because constant repetition of such a charge would
result in baseball going the way of horse racing and some other sports. No
scandal can creep in where the umpire is concerned, for the very
popularity of baseball depends on its honesty.
"The only good umpire is a dead umpire," McGraw has declared many times
when he has been disgruntled over some decision.
"I think they're all dead ones in this League," replied Devore one day,
"considering the decisions that they are handing me down there at second
base. Why, I had that bag by three feet and he called me out."
Many baseball fans look upon an umpire as a sort of necessary evil to the
luxury of baseball, like the odor that follows an automobile.
"Kill him! He hasn't got any friends!" is an expression shouted from the
stands time and again during a game.
But I know differently. I have seen umpires with friends. It is true that
most ball-players regard umpires as their natural enemies, as a boy does a
school teacher. But "Bill" Klem has friends because I have seen him with
them, and besides he has a constant companion, which is a calabash pipe.
And "Billy" Evans of the American League has lots of friends. And most all
of the umpires have some one who will speak to them when they are off the
These men in blue travel by themselves, live at obscure hotels apart from
those at which the teams stop, and slip into the ball parks unobtrusively
just before game time. They never make friends with ball-players off the
field for fear that there might be a hint of scandal. Seldom do they take
the same train with a club unless it cannot be avoided. "Hank" O'Day, the
veteran of the National League staff, and Brennan took the same train out
of Chicago with the Giants in the fall of 1911 because we stopped in
Pittsburg for one game, and they had to be there to umpire. It was the
only available means of transportation. But they stayed by themselves in
another Pullman until some one told them "Charley" Faust, the official
jinx-killer of the Giants, was doing his stunt. Then they both came back
into the Giants' car and for the first time in my life I saw "Hank" O'Day
laugh. His face acted as if it wasn't accustomed to the exercise and broke
all in funny new wrinkles, like a glove when you put it on for the first
There are several types of umpires, and ball-players are always studying
the species to find out the best way to treat each man to get the most out
of him. There are autocrats and stubborn ones and good fellows and
weak-kneed ones, almost as many kinds as there are human beings. The
autocrat of the umpire world is "Silk" O'Loughlin, now appearing with a
"There are no close plays," says "Silk." "A man is always out or safe, or
it is a ball or a strike, and the umpire, if he is a good man and knows
his business, is always right. For instance, I am always right."
He refuses to let the players discuss a decision with him, maintaining
that there is never any room for argument. If a man makes any talk with
him, it is quick to the shower bath. "Silk" has a voice of which he is
proud and declares that he shares the honors with Caruso and that it is
only his profession as an umpire that keeps him off the grand-opera
circuit. I have heard a lot of American League ball-players say at various
times that they wished he was on the grand-opera circuit or some more
calorific circuit, but they were mostly prejudiced at those moments by
some sentiments which "Silk" had just voiced in an official capacity.
As is well known in baseball, "Silk" is the inventor of "Strike Tuh!" and
the creased trousers for umpires. I have heard American League players
declare that they are afraid to slide when "Silk" is close down over a
play for fear they will bump up against his trousers and cut themselves.
He is one of the kind of umpires who can go through a game on the hottest
summer day, running about the bases, and still keep his collar unwilted.
At the end he will look as if he were dressed for an afternoon tea.
Always he wears on his right hand, which is his salary or decision wing, a
large diamond that sparkles in the sunlight every time he calls a man
out. Many American League players assert that he would rather call a man
out than safe, so that he can shimmer his "cracked ice," but again they
are usually influenced by circumstances. Such is "Silk," well named.
Corresponding to him in the National League is "Billy" Klem. He always
wears a Norfolk jacket because he thinks it more stylish, and perhaps it
is, and he refuses to don a wind pad. Ever notice him working behind the
bat? But I am going to let you in on a secret. That chest is not all his
own. Beneath his jacket he carries his armor, a protector, and under his
trousers' legs are shin guards. He insists that all players call him "Mr."
He says that he thinks maybe soon his name will be in the social register.
"Larry" Doyle thought that he had received the raw end of a decision at
second base one day. He ran down to first, where Klem had retreated after
he passed his judgment.
"Say, 'Bill,'" exploded "Larry," "that man didn't touch the bag--didn't
come within six feet of it."
"Say, Doyle," replied Klem, "when you talk to me call me 'Mr. Klem.'"
"But, Mr. Klem--" amended "Larry."
Klem hurriedly drew a line with his foot as Doyle approached him
"But if you come over that line, you're out of the game, Mr. Doyle," he
"All right," answered "Larry," letting his pugilistic attitude evaporate
before the abruptness of Klem as the mist does before the classic noonday
sun, "but, Mr. Klem, I only wanted to ask you if that clock in centre
field is right by your watch, because I know everything about you is
"Larry" went back, grinning and considering that he had put one over on
For a long time "Johnny" Evers of the Chicago club declared that Klem owed
him $5 on a bet he had lost to the second baseman and had neglected to
pay. Now John, when he was right, could make almost any umpirical goat
leap from crag to crag and do somersaults en route. He kept pestering Klem
about that measly $5 bet, not in an obtrusive way, you understand, but by
such delicate methods as holding up five fingers when Klem glanced down on
the coaching lines where he was stationed, or by writing a large "5" in
the dirt at the home plate with the butt of his bat as he came up when
Klem was umpiring on balls and strikes, or by counting slowly and casually
up to five and stopping with an abruptness that could not be misconstrued.
One day John let his temper get away from him and bawled Klem out in his
most approved fashion.
"Here's your five, Mr. Evers," said Klem, handing him a five dollar bill,
"and now you are fined $25."
"And it was worth it," answered Evers, "to bawl you out."
Next comes the O'Day type, and there is only one of them, "Hank." He is
the stubborn kind--or perhaps was the stubborn kind, would be better, as
he is now a manager. He is bull-headed. If a manager gets after him for a
decision, he is likely to go up in the air and, not meaning to do it, call
close ones against the club that has made the kick, for it must be
remembered that umpires are only "poor weak mortals after all." O'Day has
to be handled with shock absorbers. McGraw tries to do it, but shock
absorbers do not fit him well, and the first thing that usually occurs is
"Let me do the kicking, boys," McGraw always warns his players before a
contest that O'Day is going to umpire. He does not want to see any of his
men put out of the game.
"Bill" Dahlen always got on O'Day's nerves by calling him "Henry." For
some reason, O'Day does not like the name, and "Bill" Dahlen discovered
long ago the most irritating inflection to give it so that it would rasp
on O'Day's ears. He does not mind "Hank" and is not a "Mister" umpire. But
every time Dahlen would call O'Day "Henry" it was the cold shower and the
civilian's clothes for his.
Dahlen was playing in St. Louis many years ago when the race track was
right opposite the ball park. "Bill" had a preference in one of the later
races one day and was anxious to get across the street and make a little
bet. He had obtained a leave of absence on two preceding days by calling
O'Day "Henry" and had lost money on the horses he had selected as fleet of
foot. But this last time he had a "sure thing" and was banking on some
positive information which had been slipped to him by a friend of the
friend of the man who owned the winner, and "Bill" wanted to be there.
Along about the fifth inning, "Bill" figured that it was time for him to
get a start, so he walked up to O'Day and said:
"Henry, do you know who won the first race?"
"No, and you won't either, Mr. Dahlen," answered "Hank." "You are fined
$25, and you stay here and play the game out."
Some one had tipped "Hank" off. And the saddest part of the story is that
"Bill's" horse walked home, and he could not get a bet down on him.
"First time it ever failed to work," groaned "Bill" in the hotel that
night, "and I said 'Henry' in my meanest way, too."
Most clubs try to keep an umpire from feeling hostile toward the team
because, even if he means to see a play right, he is likely to call a
close one against his enemies, not intending to be dishonest. It would
simply mean that you would not get any close ones from him, and the close
ones count. Some umpires can be reasoned with, and a good fair protest
will often make a man think perhaps he has called it wrong, and he will
give you the edge on the next decision. A player must understand an umpire
to know how to approach him to the best advantage. O'Day cannot be
reasoned with. It is as dangerous to argue with him as it is to try to
ascertain how much gasoline is in the tank of an automobile by sticking
down the lighted end of a cigar or a cigarette.
Emslie will listen to a reasonable argument. He is one of the finest
umpires that ever broke into the League, I think. He is a good fellow. Far
be it from me to be disloyal to my manager, for I think that he is the
greatest that ever won a pennant, but Emslie put one over on McGraw in
1911 when it was being said that Emslie was getting so old he could not
see a play.
"I'll bet," said McGraw to him one day after he had called one against the
Giants, "that I can put a baseball and an orange on second base, and you
can't tell the difference standing at the home plate, Bob."
Emslie made no reply right then, but when the eye test for umpires was
established by Mr. Lynch, the president of the League, "Bob" passed it at
the head of the list and then turned around and went up to Chatham in
Ontario, Canada, and made a high score with the rifle in a shooting match
up there. After he had done that, he was umpiring at the Polo Grounds one
"Want to take me on for a shooting go, John?" he asked McGraw as he passed
"No, Bob, you're all right. I give it to you," answered McGraw, who had
long forgotten his slur on Emslie's eyesight.
Emslie is the sort of umpire who rules by the bond of good fellowship
rather than by the voice of authority. "Old Bob" has one "groove" and it
is a personal matter about which he is very sensitive. He is under cover.
It is no secret, or I would not give way on him. But that luxuriant growth
of hair, apparent, comes off at night like his collar and necktie. It used
to be quite the fad in the League to "josh" "Bob" about his wig, but that
pastime has sort of died out now because he has proven himself to be such
a good fellow.
I had to laugh to myself, and not boisterously, in the season of 1911 when
Mr. Lynch appointed "Jack" Doyle, formerly a first baseman and a
hot-headed player, an umpire and scheduled him to work with Emslie. I
remembered the time several seasons ago when Doyle took offence at one of
"Bob's" decisions and wrestled him all over the infield trying to get his
wig off and show him up before the crowd. And then Emslie and he worked
together like Damon and Pythias. This business makes strange bed-fellows.
Emslie was umpiring in New York one day in the season of 1909, when the
Giants were playing St. Louis. A wild pitch hit Emslie over the heart and
he wilted down, unconscious. The players gathered around him, and
Bresnahan, who was catching for St. Louis at the time, started to help
"Bob." Suddenly the old umpire came to and began to fight off his
first-aid-to-the-injured corps. No one could understand his attitude as he
struggled to his feet and strolled away by himself, staggering a little
and apparently dizzy. At last he came back and gamely finished the
business of the day. I never knew why he fought with the men who were
trying to help him until several weeks later, when we were playing in
Pittsburg. As I came out from under the stand on my way to the bench,
Emslie happened to be making his entrance at the same time.
"Say, Matty," he asked me, "that time in New York did my wig come off? Did
Bresnahan take my wig off?"
"No, Bob," I replied, "he was only trying to help you."
"I thought maybe he took it off while I was down and out and showed me up
before the crowd," he apologized.
"Listen, Bob," I said. "I don't believe there is a player in either League
who would do that, and, if any youngster tried it now, he would probably
"I'm glad to hear you say that, Matty," answered the old man, as he picked
up his wind pad and prepared to go to work. And he called more bad ones on
me that day than he ever had in his life before, but I never mentioned the
wig to him.
Most umpires declare they have off days just like players, when they know
that they are making mistakes and cannot help it. If a pitcher of Mordecai
Brown's kind, who depends largely on his control for his effectiveness,
happens to run up against an umpire with a bad day, he might just as well
go back to the bench. Brown is a great man to work the corners of the
plate, and if the umpire is missing strikes, he is forced to lay the ball
over and then the batters whang it out. Johnstone had an off day in
Chicago in 1911, when Brown was working.
"What's the use of my tryin' to pitch, Jim," said Brown, throwing down his
glove and walking to the bench disgusted, "if you don't know a strike when
you see one?"
Sometimes an umpire who has been good will go into a long slump when he
cannot call things right and knows it. Men like that get as discouraged as
a pitcher who goes bad. There used to be one in the National League who
was a pretty fair umpire when he started and seemed to be getting along
fine until he hit one of those slumps. Then he began calling everything
wrong and knew it. At last he quit, and the next time I saw him was in
Philadelphia in the 1911 world's series. He was a policeman.
"Hello, Matty," he shouted at me as we were going into Shibe Park for the
first game there. "I can call you by your first name now," and he waved
his hand real friendly. The last conversation I had with that fellow,
unless my recollection fails me entirely, was anything but friendly.
Umpires have told me that sometimes they see a play one way and call it
another, and, as soon as the decision is announced, they realize that
they have called it wrong. This malady has put more than one umpire out. A
man on the National League staff has informed me since, that he called a
hit fair that was palpably two feet foul in one of the most important
games ever played in baseball, when he saw the ball strike on foul ground.
"I couldn't help saying 'Fair ball,'" declared this man, and he is one of
the best in the National League. "Luckily," he added, "the team against
which the decision went won the game."
Many players assert that arbiters hold a personal grudge against certain
men who have put up too strenuous kicks, and for that reason the wise ones
are careful how they talk to umpires of this sort. Fred Tenney has said
for a long time that Mr. Klem gives him a shade the worst of it on all
close ones because he had a run in with that umpire one day when they came
to blows. Tenney is a great man to pick out the good ones when at the bat,
and Fred says that if he is up with a three and two count on him now, Klem
is likely to call the next one a strike if it is close, not because he is
dishonest, but because he has a certain personal prejudice which he
cannot overcome. And the funny part about it is that Tenney does not hold
this up against Klem.
Humorous incidents are always occurring in connection with umpires. We
were playing in Boston one day a few years ago, and the score was 3 to 0
against the Giants in the ninth inning. Becker knocked a home run with two
men on the bases, and it tied the count. With men on first and third bases
and one out in the last half of the ninth, a Boston batter tapped one to
Merkle which I thought he trapped, but Johnstone, the umpire, said he
caught it on the fly. It was simplicity itself to double the runner up off
first base who also thought Merkle had trapped the ball and had started
for second. That retired the side, and we won the game in the twelfth
inning, whereas Boston would have taken it in the ninth if Johnstone had
said the ball was trapped instead of caught on the fly.
It was a very hot day, and those extra three innings in the box knocked me
out. I was sick for a week with stomach trouble afterwards and could not
pitch in Chicago, where we made our next stop. That was a case of where a
decision in my favor "made me sick."
"Tim" Hurst, the old American League umpire, was one of the most
picturesque judges that ever spun an indicator. He was the sort who would
take a player at his word and fight him blow for blow. "Tim" was umpiring
in Baltimore in the old days when there was a runner on first base.
"The man started to steal," says "Tim." He was telling the story only the
other day in McGraw's billiard room in New York, and it is better every
time he does it. "As he left the bag he spiked the first baseman and that
player attempted to trip him. The second baseman blocked the runner and,
in sliding into the bag, the latter tried to spike 'Hugh' Jennings, who
was playing shortstop and covering, while Jennings sat on him to knock the
wind out. The batter hit Robinson, who was catching, on the hands with his
bat so that he couldn't throw, and 'Robbie' trod on my toes with his
spikes and shoved his glove into my face so that I couldn't see to give
the decision. It was one of the hardest that I have ever been called upon
"What did you do?" I asked him.
"I punched 'Robbie' in the ribs, called it a foul and sent the runner
back," replied "Tim."
Next: The Game That Cost A Pennant
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