Barber: Umpiring the plate for 20-game loser Brian Kingman

From SABR member Perry Barber at Dishing It on November 26, 2012:

Last month during my road trip throughout the western United States, I had the pleasure of umpiring in Arizona for the MSBL, the Men’s Senior Baseball League World Series. The MSBL World Series is an annual event and one of the largest amateur baseball tournaments in the country; it spans three weeks and features more than three hundred teams from all over the world. Umpires from every corner of the continent flock to Arizona to work it, and I was fortunate to be paired up with some great partners while I was there. Even better for me personally, there were two other women on the roster of umpires, Regina Boyd from Edmonds, Washington and Maggie Santana of Phoenix. Although none of us was assigned to work with the others, we’ll all look forward to changing that status quo in the near future. With several women also playing, perhaps it’s time for the MSBL to reconsider that “M”…

A highlight of the tournament for me was working the plate one afternoon when the SoCal Dodgers were playing the Southern California Fire. The pitchers for both teams were right on the money that day, getting the ball over the plate with dispatch and just generally making it a pleasure for me to be back there. The Dodgers pitcher in particular stood out not just for his athleticism and seemingly effortless ability to pour strikes across the plate – fastballs that painted the corners, curves that dipped into the zone at the last second, changeups that totally screwed up the hitters’ timing – but for his composure and mental focus as well. When he threw, it was as if I became one with the baseball, with the battery, with the game. The zen of baseball is an incredibly soulful experience, and when things flow on the field there’s nothing like the feeling of being one with diamond, with the sky, the grass, the dirt, the sound of ball meeting leather and wood, the smell of sunshine, sweat, and the sweet outdoors. It’s like being one with the cosmos for two or three hours, and it’s the reason I’m still out there after thirty-two seasons. Baseball is my religion, my church, my temple, my holy place, and the pitcher’s mound is the altar before which I pray, the nexus from which all else radiates, the center of the universe for nine innings. …

So it was that I umpired this fantastic game that afternoon, a 2-0 victory for the Dodgers that ended as a two-hit shutout for their pitcher, who went the full nine innings. A plate umpire’s dream. After the game was over, the Dodgers pitcher caught up to me as I was leaving the field and thanked me for “getting” his curve ball. That doesn’t happen too often! “Not many umpires get my curve,” he said, which made me laugh, thinking back to all the times earlier in my career when I’d been angrily accused of not knowing how to call it. I told him I’d been trained at Harry Wendelstedt’s umpire school back in the early 1980s and that it had been a delight to call his pitches. He said his name is Brian Kingman, and when I got home that evening I googled him out of curiosity and learned that he had pitched for the Oakland As and San Francisco Giants. His major league career was brief, lasting only four seasons (including the strike-shortened season of 1981) and part of a fifth, from 1979 through June of 1983, and was terminated by injury and overuse by Oakland manager Billy Martin. It was also punctuated by one of the most startling statistics ever recorded in the annals of modern major league history: in 1980, Brian Kingman lost twenty games for Oakland.

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Originally published: November 26, 2012. Last Updated: November 26, 2012.