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As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires

A journalist explores the world of umpires.

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It is generally accepted that the best umpires are the ones you never notice. Which may explain why, in the vast and ever expanding literature of baseball, very little has been written about umpires.

They are ubiquitous, but invisible, even when in the thick of the action on the field. Where many players are celebrities, as are some managers, broadcasters, and even a handful of executives and coaches, umpires are almost entirely nameless and faceless.

Eight umpires have been enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame. How many fans can name even one?

As Bruce Weber points out in As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, umpires inhabit a parallel universe. On a given play – say a sacrifice bunt with runners on base – they are stationary while the runners and fielders are a frenzy of motion. If the same batter, instead of bunting, hits the ball to the deep outfield, the umpires scramble to get a good look while the players stay put.

Knowledgeable fans analyze, ponder, and consider; umpires are trained not to think, but to react. Players have fans, but umpires are isolated, with no partisans or supporters.

“I feel bad for them,” Jim Leyland, manager of the Detroit Tigers, told Weber. “They’re the only ones in the park who never play a home game.”

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