Hagerty: Steamboat Johnson, the most entertaining umpire in minor-league history

From SABR member Tim Hagerty at The Hardball Times on October 3, 2018:

He wiggled his hands when calling strikes, opened boxes of baseballs with his teeth and slid with runners for a closer view. He also umpired more minor league baseball games than anyone in history.

Umpire Harry “Steamboat” Johnson was on the field in ballparks across the country from 1911-1946, and his stories are as great as his nickname.

“He can outsprint any of the players when it comes to making a dash for a base and the gusto with which he brushes off home plate makes you think he is getting paid by the stroke,” the Charlotte Observer observed.

“Steamboat tells the batter to kick dust on the plate so he can have an excuse to dust it off. He usually finishes with his personal touch, a grand flourish which sends the whisk broom sailing,” the Daily News described.

Steamboat’s first professional season was 1911, working Ohio-Pennsylvania League games alone. He’d stand behind home plate until a batter reached base, then reposition himself behind the mound. “It was tough when someone tried to steal when the pitcher was throwing,” Steamboat told The Indianapolis Star.

When fans heckled him from the top row in Youngstown one day, Steamboat called time, ascended up the bleachers in full gear, plopped down next to them and called balls and strikes from the stands.

He bounced around circuits like the New York State League, Three-I League and Western League in succeeding years. He also umpired solo in 1918 for the International League, which cut back on umpires to save money during World War I.

Read the full article here: https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/the-most-entertaining-umpire-in-minor-league-history/

Originally published: October 4, 2018. Last Updated: October 4, 2018.