The largely untold story of professional baseball umpires, perhaps the most secretive sect in the most sectarian of sports.
New York Times reporter Weber, who initially became interested in umpires when he wrote some articles on the subject, tried entering the umpires’ mysterious world through every wardrobe he could imagine. He attended a five-week umpire training program at one of the two sanctioned schools. He interviewed every umpire who would talk with him; few were candid, some refused, most offered only platitudes. He attended countless games and watched hours of video, especially those with controversial plays (e.g., Robby Alomar spitting on an ump). He spoke with players, managers and owners, some current, some retired. He umpired some amateur games and called some innings at an intrasquad Major League spring-training contest. It was all part of a largely successful attempt to chart one of the last frontiers in sports reporting. One of the author’s most appealing qualities is self-deprecation. He continually makes fun of his clumsiness as an umpire, twice comparing his called-strike gesture to an awkward girl’s ball-throwing motion. His text proceeds somewhat like a baseball game. There is organization, a beginning and an end, but things can drift along for awhile without much apparently happening. Then, suddenly, action erupts, the unexpected occurs and people are screaming. The text evokes a gamut of emotions: hilarity (a pregame encounter at home plate between manager Ralph Houk and umpire Jim Evans); outrage (a crackling chapter on the 1999 umpire labor dispute); excitement (thoughts and worries pinballing around Weber’s head the night before he works behind the plate at spring training); frustration (the refusal of hotheaded, umpire-baiting former manager Earl Weaver to speak on or off the record). It’s educational too. We learn the rules for player-ejection, the history of the rulebook, the choreography required of an umpiring crew as a play unfolds and so much more.
Thorough research, crackerjack reporting, pinpoint control.