Thursday, June 25, 2009

As They See 'Em

Weber, Bruce. 2009. As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires. New York: Scribner.

As They See 'Em is NY Times writer, Bruce Weber's, exhaustive look at the insular world of umpires, particularly major league umpires. If you've ever vilified an umpire (and who hasn't?), consider Weber's observations about the sport of baseball,

"It is the only sport in which nonplayers are even allowed on the field to dispute with the officials. In any other context, sporting or otherwise, one grown man raging at another in apoplectic frustration, kicking dirt on his shoes, throwing his hat on the ground and stomping on it, would be considered either ridiculous or childish, not to mention grounds for being punched in the nose."

In baseball, it's the norm - not the exception.

"Is there another line of work - prison guard, maybe? - where the workplace is so steeped in hostility? Or where being right is no defense against attack? ...umpires go to work expecting to be derided and disdained."

The best possible day that an umpire can have at work, is one in which he has not been noticed.

Bruce Weber follows the path of umpires from their beginning - at one of two official umpiring schools, through the long and poorly-paying position of minor league umpire, to the pinnacle of the profession - major league baseball. He attended the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, worked in lower-level games (even umpiring a pre-season inter league game), traveled with minor league umpires, and interviewed many aspiring, retired, and active umpires from all levels of baseball.

Baseball politics, rulebook, players and plays - Weber leaves no stone unturned in his quest to present an in-depth, unbiased look at this often maligned profession. If As They See 'Em places umpires in a more favorable light than usual, so be it. No reader will finish this book without a new-found respect for the intricacies and complexities of the umpire's role in America's favorite pastime. Watching a game will never be quite the same.

As a side note, my son's team narrowly lost a tournament game this weekend. Of course, the kids were disappointed, but slightly heartened by the one thing that all players know - 'the ump made some bad calls!' ;-)

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