Umpires Are Human, Too

This article was written by Jerry Gregory

This article was published in the 1982 Baseball Research Journal


    Umpires have had their share of accidents officiating at major league games. On September 3, 1960, for example, plate umpire Larry Napp was struck three times by vicious foul strikes in a game at Baltimore. It was three times and out as he had to be carried from the field. Charlie Berry took over behind the plate. More recently, on May 30, 1979, at Milwaukee, big Cliff Johnson of the Yankees, running to the plate, slammed into umpire Lou DiMuro and sent him sprawling. The latter was hospitalized with a bruised spine. It is surprising that there have not been more accidents in recent years, considering that the playing field seems to be saturated by “men in blue.”

    In the very early days there was only one umpire per game. Later, two handled the game, and it was in that period when a major accident happened to both umpires in a contest at Pittsburgh on August 20, 1912. There was a doubleheader between the Dodgers and Pirates and shortly after it started, both Charles Owens and William Brennan wound up in St. John’s General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

    Brennan, officiating on the bases, sustained his injury in the bottom of the first with Max Carey on first base. The ground was still wet from an earlier rain, but the young speedster dashed for second on a steal attempt. Brennan ran down to cover the play. Pulling up abruptly on the wet grass near second, Brennan slipped and fell over on his back. He lay there motionless until several players came over. One of his kneecaps had been torn from its position and he was in agony. The Pittsburgh club physician examined him and diagnosed that he was badly hurt. He was carried from the field and taken to the clubhouse for further examination.

    After some delay, Owens, the plate umpire, said he would continue alone and, as no decision was made on Carey’s attempted theft of second, the speedy base runner was ordered back to first.

In the bottom of the second, with Dots Miller at bat, a foul tip smacked umpire Owens right below the chin. The umpire staggered and became sick to his stomach. Miller put his arm around him, but Owens indicated he could walk to the bench. However, he appeared near collapse and the team physician, who was attending Brennan in the clubhouse, was called out to help him. Owens was taken to the same room as Brennan and both were shortly taken to St. John’s General Hospital. Owens’ breast bone appeared to be broken and Brennan had serious damage to his knee and support ligaments.

    After some additional delay in this first game of the twinbill, utility catcher Eddie Phelps of the Dodgers and Pirate pinch hitter Ham Hyatt were pressed into service as umpires. According to the Pittsburgh Post, “They did excellent work. The only sign of displeasure was a dark look cast toward Phelps when he called a strike that greatly displeased Joe Smith of the Pirates.” Phelps and Hyatt also handled the second game, which went smoothly.

    The Pirates notified League President John Heydler of the umpire situation in Pittsburgh and Heydler promptly dispatched two new umps for the next day’s game. Robert Emslie, the league’s emergency umpire, was sent over and James Johnstone, who was officiating in Cincinnati with Mal Eason, was directed to proceed to Pittsburgh also. Why they were willing to take one umpire away from the Cincinnati game to have two in Pittsburgh was not explained, although the presence of the New York Giants in Pittsburgh might have been a factor. After all, Manager John McGraw was a handful for two umpires.

    Fortunately, the injuries to both Brennan and Owens were not as serious as first diagnosed. These umpires also were what a later generation might call “macho types” who didn’t want to admit that they could be hurt. That, plus the fact that the shortage of umpires made them needed, resulted in their early return to officiating in St. Louis on August 26. But don’t forget to enter into the log of National League umpires the names of Eddie Phelps and Ham Hyatt.

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