This article was written by Stanley Grosshandler
This article was published in the 1980 Baseball Research Journal
The 1979 edition of the Baseball Research Journal contains a well researched article by Larry Gerlach focusing on those long-overlooked cornerstones of the game, the umpires. “Umpire Honor Rolls” points out that only a small percentage of the long service umpires, or even those who served 5-10 years, had significant backgrounds as major league players. Starting with Hank O’Day, the umps making the most significant contribution as major league players included Bill Dinneen, Al Orth, George Moriarty, Eddie Rommel, George Pipgras, Charlie Berry and Lon Warneke. O’Day and Moriarty were two who interrupted their umpiring careers to manage big league teams.
Several umpires had interesting backgrounds in sports other than baseball, some as active participants and others as coaches or officials. A number of these fall in the competing sport of football, and Charlie Berry comes to mind because of his dual capacity of baseball player and official and football player and official.
Berry, playing for Lafayette, was the left end on the last All-American football team picked by Walter Camp in 1924. Following the pattern of most college stars of that period, Berry selected baseball over football and joined the Philadelphia A’s in 1925. One look at the A’s backstop, a fellow by the name of Cochrane, and even the second stringer, Cy Perkins, convinced Berry that his future was elsewhere.
At the end of the 1925 season, Berry and teammate Walter French, who also chose baseball with the A’s after football stardom at Army, joined the Pottsville Maroons of the National Football League. There they helped lead the team to an outstanding 10-2 season. In fact, Berry led the league in scoring with 74 points. He played one more season on the gridiron and then concentrated on baseball.
Berry was a catcher with the Boston Red Sox from 1928 to 1931, the latter season being his best as he hit .283 in 111 games. He then spent two seasons with the White Sox before going back to the A’s where he finished his playing career and remained as a coach until 1940.
He umpired in the American League from 1942 to 1962 and officiated in five World Series. He was also a head linesman in the NFL and officiated in 12 championship games. In 1958 Berry was not only an umpire in the World Series but the head linesman in the NFL title game. This was the sudden death contest won by the Baltimore Colts over the New York Giants which did much to enhance the popularity of pro football.
Charles Moran, a National League umpire from 1917 to 1939, also had a distinguished career in football. He obtained his college degree at the University of Tennessee, where he was an all-around athlete. He played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1903 and 1908 and in 1905-06 played halfback for the Massillon Tigers in the loosely organized pro football organization prior to the NFL. However, it was as a gridiron coach where “Uncle Charlie” was to gain his greatest acclaim. Coaching at Texas A&M from 1909 to 1914, he started a football program that brought the Aggies into national prominence. He also coached at Carlisle, Catawba, Bucknell, and Nashville College, but it was at Centre College of Danville, Kentucky where Moran became one of football’s legends.
Arriving at the small school in 1919, he not only was head football coach, but trainer, equipment man, and grounds keeper. To his great fortune, two youngsters from Texas, Bo McMillin and Red Weaver, reported to his first team. Both were to become All-Americans as the club posted a 9-0 record. Two years later, with McMillin still at quarterback, the Centre Colonels performed an almost impossible feat by defeating the mighty Harvard team. It was the first time Harvard had been beaten in three years. It had been Uncle Charlie’s habit to lead his team in prayer prior to a game and when the press found this out Centre became known as the “Praying Colonels.” Immediately their fame spread from coast to coast.
Moran also gave the pro game a shot, coaching the Frankford Yellowjackets, predecessors of the Philadelphia Eagles, for the 1927 season. Those were the days when there was still a general line of demarcation between the baseball and football seasons.
Moran’s star pupil, Bo McMillin, went on to become one of football’s greatest coaches. While at Centenary College, Bo discovered a young 250-pound giant named Cal Hubbard, When Bo switched to Geneva College, he persuaded his prize player to move with him. The latter proceeded to tear up the small college circuit.
Upon graduation Hubbard joined the New York football Giants in 1927. He later played with some great Green Bay teams and spent a year in Pittsburgh before retiring in 1936. Playing all line positions and linebacker, Hubbard was voted into both the College and Professional Football Halls of Fame.
Cal became an American League umpire in 1936. He served until 1951 when he became Chief of Umpires, a post he held until he retired in 1969. In 1976 he was enshrined at Cooperstown, the only man ever to be elected to three major Halls of Fame.
Hank Soar, an AL ump from 1950 to 1973, was an outstanding halfback for the New York Giants from 1937 to 1946. Coming out of Providence College, Hank played both ways for some great Giant teams. He played in five NFL championship games, scoring the winning touchdown in the 1938 game against the Green Bay Packers. He was considered by Coach Steve Owen as his “coach” on the field.
Soar’s career also included a brief fling at basketball as he was the head coach of the Providence Steamrollers of the NBA for part of the 1947-48 season.
An umpire in five World Series, Soar received his biggest thrill in the 1956 World Series as he was stationed at first while Don Larsen worked on his perfect game. “I only had one tough call that day,” Hank recalled. “Jackie Robinson hit a ball in the second inning that hit third baseman Andy Carey on the chest and bounded over to Gil McDougald at short who threw the runner out. It was close, but there was no doubt in my mind that Jackie was out, and no one complained.”
One of Soar’s teammates with the football Giants was Frank Umont, who played guard and tackle 1943-45, which included the championship team of 1944. Umont was one of those rare NFL players who had not attended college. He was an AL umpire from 1954 to 1973 and was one of the first umpires to serve in the Championship Series when it was started in 1969.
Bill Stewart umpired in the National League from 1933 to 1954 and this included four World Series. It was he who called Phil Masi safe at second base in the famous Feller-to-Boudreau pickoff play in the 1948 Series between the Braves and Indians. During the winter Bill served nine years as a referee in the National Hockey League. In 1937 Bill became coach of the Chicago Black Hawks and finished the 1937-38 season with a 14-34 record – yet they won the Stanley Cup! That’s worse (or better) than the New York Mets winning the 1973 NL pennant with an 82-79 record. Stewart also spent seven winters as hockey coach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
George Magerkurth was a well recognized umpire in the NL from 1929 to 1947. He was recognized primarily because of his size, being 6-3 and weighing 225 pounds, and because of his pugnacious nature. He had played football with the Moline Indians before World War I and also had some 70 professional boxing matches before turning to umpiring in 1922. He was known to have “a short fuse” and had run-ins with many managers and players from John McGraw (who he thumbed in his first game in the Polo Grounds in 1929) to Leo Durocher. His background as a boxer didn’t seem to deter his adversaries, including the spectators, who engaged him in physical combat.
Magerkurth’s jousts with Durocher and the Dodgers were legendary. Brooklyn baseball historian Tom Knight indicates that during the l940s “Mage” became the most hated man in Brooklyn. Police escorts out of the ballpark were not uncommon for him. In the Dodger victory parade after they won the pennant in 1941, some fans carried a coffin down Fulton Street with “Magerkurth” printed on the sides of the box. However, when the umpire, 75 and long retired, came back to New York for an old timers’ game in 1964, there was no police escort and no hostility. Some 35,000 fans cheered him when he was introduced. It was a happy ending for the former prize fighter, who died two years later.