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Umpires: baseball’s Rodney Dangerfields

By this time next week, the NCAA men’s basketball championship will be decided. Hooray!

I’m not pulling for any team that made the Final Four. I’ve got better things to do, including gearing up for baseball season — the minor leagues and Major League Baseball. Oh, I’ll try to catch as many high-school and college baseball games as possible (which means about two of each this season). Somebody’s got to put the newspaper out.

As much as I enjoy seeing pitchers pitch, catchers catch and batters bat, I receive immense pleasure from harassing umpires. I particularly like sitting behind home plate and providing a running commentary on the home-plate umpire’s performance. I make sure that commentary is loud enough for him — or her — to hear it. I never use profanity during such commentaries. I have better words in my vocabulary that are at my command.

I have, on several occasions, offered to let umpires use my glasses. It seems like there are some umpires who cannot tell the difference between a ball and a strike, whether a runner’s been tagged out at home plate or a ball hit down the line is foul or fair.

On one occasion, a home-plate umpire at a minor-league game at Duncan Park in Spartanburg, S.C., suggested I get my eyes examined. He also told me that if I could do a better job than him, then I was welcome to take his place behind home plate.

When I asked him how much he got paid and he told me, I declined his offer. Now I know why he made such bad calls against the team I was rooting for: he couldn’t afford to visit an eye doctor.

Umpire baiting is, well, a national pastime. Read the fine print on any ticket to any baseball game. Somewhere in that fine print notice is given that the purchaser of said ticket is entitled to harass umpires, and if that notice is not in the fine print, it should be.

In Spain, they bait bulls on holidays. In America, we bait umpires whenever there’s a baseball game being played. Fathers teach their sons how to play baseball; it’s a ritual. They also teach their sons how to bait umpires; it’s a necessity.

In 1910, Harper’s Weekly published “Baiting the Umpire.” George Jean Nathan wrote the piece. It’s proof that umpire baiting is as much a part of baseball as players munching on sunflower seeds.

What’s the best commentary to yell at an umpire?

Well, the website answerbag.com offers these:

  • “Is this your cellphone? It must be yours. It has three missed calls.” (Do this while holding up a cellphone.)
  • “You’re not going to sleep tonight because you have slept all game.”
  • “How do you get that square head in that round mask?”

I came up with this one about 34 years ago: “Hey, ump! The dog catcher just took your seeing-eye dog to the dog pound.”

I’ve never been able to rattle an umpire. Rarely do they respond to my taunts. I have seen a couple of home-plate umpires take off their masks, look at me and smile. I’m sure they are thinking: “Haven’t heard that one before.”

When it comes to getting under an umpire’s skin, like Mighty Casey at the bat, I have struck out. At least I’ve gone down swinging.

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Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. Once, he was talked into serving as home-plate umpire for a women’s softball game. Never again.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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