I just finished Al Clark’s and Dan Schlossberg’s “Called Out But Safe,” A Baseball Umpire’s Journey. What a great book! This book is the insight to a game all of us fans do not now….The Umpire’s game.
When you go to a ballgame, do you ever try to monitor the umpires officiating the game on the field? Or do you see them as just there doing their job? Are they really the monster in the blue making the right call or maybe the wrong call preventing your team from winning the big game? Have you seen the umpires shift on a given play to make the right call, something like outfielder’s on a team that have to shift due to a pull ball hitter to be in a position to make the catch? Do you know the total gear that Umpires wear to protect themselves besides the most notable gear we all see: the Home Plate Umpire? Would you consider second base the hardest base to officiate? Would you believe that umpires have a crew chief on the field? Do you know what process comprises on picking the six umpires who will be calling the World Series? Did you know it is an honor for an umpire to get the call to the World Series to officiate, just as it is an honor for the teams playing in the series and how they got there?
This book answers those questions.
Who are umpires and do you know what they really do??
Before reading this fascinating book, I can honestly say I had no idea. What we see on TV or listen to on the radio or see in the stands is not the whole game by our perception. Our perception is two dimensional. The real perception is by the umpires. They are the ones with 3-D perception who have to be precise in making the right call. They are the ones that know the rules and know how to diffuse situations. When a manager or player gets upset, who are the ones to play peacemakers?…The Umpires? Have you ever thought about that???? Who is going to stop the game due to inclement weather and then tell the teams and the fans when to start again?????? In the words of Al Clark…”They are the Third Team” on the field.
Al Clark was a baseball umpire in the Majors for 26 years and was a very big part of that “Third Team.” Colorful, insightful and a guy who had a passion for the game (but not for any particular team), Al takes us on a journey of a lifetime as a member of the “Third Team,” a journey that we as fans have little knowledge of. His accounts of the game through an umpire’s eyes in this book has enough examples and stories in it to prove that umpires are indeed the “Third Team.”
Oh sure, the book is extremely entertaining and shows the classic battles we love to see as fans between Umpires and Managers. Al shows how angry managers try to combat a call and how they orchestrate adversity to the umpires. From the likes of managers such as: Billy Martin, Earl Weaver, Tommy Lasorda, Bobby Cox, Jim Fergosi, Frank Robinson, Ralph Houk, Lou Pinella, Joe Torre, Tom Kelly, Dick Williams and so much more, Al gives you the call of a lifetime as he analyzes his classic spats with famous baseball managers, players and yes fans. When you read his take on who was a classy guy and argued the call intelligently and those who just liked to yell and who were unprofessional as a manager, Al Clark opens the reader to something we did not see or hear during the game.
While it is the biography of Al Clark, who grew up as a Jewish kid in New Jersey to become the first and only Jewish umpire in the American League, it is also the story of a man who saw baseball as its own religion. He knew that he was in a minority being Jewish, but I think Al does a great job mentioning that his Jewish brethren in the game (whether it was a player, manager, sports writer, etc.) all felt they belonged to a certain club (because there were so few Jewish people around in baseball) due to their heritage and how they contributed positively to the game. Unfortunately, ant- Semitism reared its ugly head when Al was umpiring in the minors, and two former major leaguers playing out their final years in the minors used racial slurs against Al back in the 1970’s. I guess the thing is, even after integration back in the 1940’s, thirty years later this kind of prejudice continued even after the righting the wrong with color, creed and religion.
Al does get into why he was fired after twenty six years and went to jail for four months a few years after leaving the game. Why did this happen? Read the book and find out. A lot of false material has been written about Al and I think it is unfair, especially when you don’t know both sides of the story. As human beings and being fair, we need to hear both sides of the story. Al shows you his story which clarifies the sensationalism of the press when Al was fired and also went to jail.
Al’s book is also a treasure trove of lifetime memories from his many famous games he umpired in such as: Being the home plate umpire for Nolan Ryan’s 300th win or Al umpiring at second base in the Bucky Dent game back in 1978, when little Bucky Dent (who did not have many home runs that year) slugged the ball over the Green Monster of Fenway Park in a deciding post season game tiebreaker as the New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox to advance to the ALCS. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series in 1978.
Al also umpired in the 1983 World Series between Baltimore and Philadelphia, which was a big deal for him since it was his first time umpiring in the World Series. He also made the final call of the earthquake series in 1989 between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s, as the great relief pitcher, Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A’s stepped on the first base bag to get the quick Giant’s base runner, Brett Butler, out to win the series for Oakland in a 4-0 Sweep of the Giants.
This book is more than just a bio of a great umpire and his many memories. It is a history of umpiring from the 1970’s till the early 2000’s. It is also a book not like any other out there, due to seeing the game at a different angle. The book showed me that the umpires have the most difficult job in the game which is: making the right call. They are chastised due to their calls, right or wrong, by everyone on the field and in the eyes of the fans they are the bad guys.
Look folks. If there is one thing I can say about Al’s book is that it does deliver baseball in a different light. We can all read about Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roger Clemens and the list goes on in regards to those who made an impact on the game as PLAYERS and MANGERS. But if you want to read something different, learn something different, see the game as you never saw it before, this book delivers that to you and shows you the umpires’ contributions.
I, personally, am honored that both Al Clark and Dan Schlossberg are members of “The Dugout.” Now, after reading their book, I can honestly say that umpires are extremely overlooked as contributors to the game by both the fans and the press alike. However, when you read this book, you can see how hard the umpire’s job is (even with the new instant replay which forces umpires to be on their “A” game even more) and the contribution they make to the game that us fans don’t see.
Make the right call and buy this book. I couldn’t recommend a better book on the alternative side of baseball. It is eye popping and entertaining. The book gives Umpires their due and also leaves the reader wanting to learn more about the importance of umpiring in baseball.