Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again”
The line from the 1980 Willie Nelson classic On the Road Again, originally recorded in 1965 by Bob Dylan, especially resonates with me this time of year. Bernie, Kevin, and myself are just a week away from our third annual baseball road trip. Few, if any, days go by throughout the year without us talking baseball. Our love of the game led to the creation of our annual baseball road trip, which is now a fixture on the calendar.
The first year we met in Pittsburgh, as it was a good meeting place between Cincinnati and Washington D.C. We watched the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Mets on a Sunday night and then the Diamondbacks on a Monday day game. We played catch in a parking lot across the Allegheny River from the Park and had a full baseball weekend. What could be better than watching baseball at PNC Park and playing catch with friends.
Our first baseball road trip was to Pittsburgh, this year we head to Colorado. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Last year, Kevin bailed on the road trip for an extended scouting trip in New Zealand. Bernie and I solidified the tradition without him with a true road trip. We met up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he was for work and drove to Lansing. We played catch in Adado Riverfront Park before watching the Lansing Lugnuts take on the Dayton Dragons. The next day we drove to Detroit to see the Tigers play the Minnesota Twins. We tried both American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit’s ongoing Coney battle. The Fort Wayne TinCaps followed the next day, as they took on the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our final stop on our four games, four teams, in four days trip was to see the South Bend Cubs play the Lake County Captains on Mr. Rogers Day. Bernie has the jersey to prove it.
Bernie had the winning bid for the Mr. Rogers jersey worn by South Bends winning pitcher, Enrique De Los Rios. (The Winning Run/ BL)
Each trip means exploring a new city or two. Sampling the local culture and food scene. Indulging in baseball for a few days. Simply it is hanging out with friends. This year is no different. Kevin is back and the three of us are meeting to explore Denver and watch the Colorado Rockies host the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game series. This is the furthest our road trip has taken us from home, and for me it comes just a month before becoming a first time Dad. One last trip before Fatherhood truly begins. What better way to send it than with friends, at a baseball game, inside a Major League park I have never seen a game at before. I just can’t wait to get on the road again.
Umpires have a difficult job. When they do their job well, the fans and players forget about them. When they make a mistake, whether actual or perceived, then they’re no longer invisible but rather the epicenter for the eruption of jeers and insults. The men, and women, in blue do not have many fans beyond close family and friends. Umpires do not become famous for their great calls but, they can become infamous for their misses. So why would anyone want to enter into a world where little recognition and glory could come from their efforts? The only rational reason is for love of the game, and that is why I have entered this crazy world.
I am umpiring. Obviously, I am not remotely in the same class as Jim Joyce, Dale Scott, Fieldin Culbreth, or the rest of the umpires who work Major League games every night. However, I am doing it and trying to get better at it. The odds are stacked that I will never make it to the Majors, but it still keeps me around the game I love. That is enough to keep me coming back for more.
The game moves fast, umpires have to move faster. (www.10news.com)
Recreation League Slow Pitch Softball is my current assignment. I am under no illusion that this qualifies as real baseball umpiring. It is a great training ground to work on the basics and find my way through some of the problems an umpire faces in almost every game. The extra pay also helps, using slow pitch softball to finance my baseball addiction means double the fun. As I umpire more games I plan to use some of the money I earn to buy equipment and move on to actual baseball. It is a process, one that takes some time as there is so much to learn. As an added bonus, I am also developing a decent tan, decent for me anyways. What better way to get rid of the stress in life than going outside and being on the diamond.
As I am new to Cincinnati, making friends and finding a team to play on was challenging. The greater challenge though was the expense of paying to play baseball or softball. While not absurdly expensive, it is still difficult to justify such an expense while trying to get my finances in better shape. Umpiring allows me to go to the field several nights a week and be part of many games each night. I have always been one that shows up to games early and stays well beyond the final out, or stays at the field practicing hitting and fielding until physically exhausted. A single game each week was not going to satisfy my appetite. While different than playing, umpiring allows me to consume more. I see more, learn more, laugh more, and honestly am happier.
Not everyone will always agree with your calls. (Greg Fiume/ Getty Images)
Umpiring has been filled with surprises, both good and bad. First, the good. Every pitch requires your focus so you stay on your competitive edge from when the teams meet to when they shake hands. When playing you get to take a break while on offense, unless you’re at bat. Every pitch is followed by a sequence of calls. Did the pitcher balk? Was it a strike or ball? Was the ball fair or foul? Was the runner safe or out? What’s the best position to make the potential calls in this situation? Crouching behind home plate to call balls and strikes, racing down to first to make a call on a ball in play (I work as a one man umpiring crew, every call is mine). Every pitch feels like competition. I either get the call right or wrong. In an evening, I can work 21 innings or more. After the games have finished for the night, it is the one or two mistakes I made I dwell on. Those plays repeat again and again in my head, not the dozens of other correct calls. The competition against myself is real. The teams are playing to win. I work hard to make sure their play decides who wins and losses, not my calls.
Another surprise is how fast the game can move and how you do not have time to think. Two seconds is not a long time in normal life, but it can seem like forever waiting on an umpire to make a call. As an umpire you have to make the call quickly, yet be sure you are right. See it, call it, no thinking. You also have to watch the game away from the baseball. A ball gets hit into the gap in the outfield, nearly everyone is watching the outfielders chase the ball. Not Umpires. They are making sure the runner is touching the bases, the defense is not obstructing the runner, and getting themselves into the proper position to make any potential call as the runner advances around the bases. So much of the game happens away from the ball, and yet many people never see it as they are watching where the ball went.
Nothing feels better than knowing you called a good game. (www.gammonsdaily.com)
There have also been a few bad surprises. These have been more brutally honest moments than bad surprises, as anyone could have seen them coming. Every umpire makes mistakes. Miss a call or make a call incorrectly. I have missed a call or two on bang bang plays at first. There is no instant replay. I am getting better at remembering where runners are before every pitch, so as to ensure force plays do or do not exist. Nothing confuses teams more than calling a runner safe at home due to no tag being applied when the bases were loaded when the ball was put into play. Fortunately I realized my mistake and quickly corrected it. Again there is a reason you sharpen your skills first in beer league softball and not Major League games.
The most lasting surprise has been the physical soreness. I keep myself in good physical shape, but umpiring is putting that to the test. The physical soreness has made me reassess my physical training. Crouching, running, twisting, and turning for over three hours at a time takes a toll. Taking care to stretch and strengthen my back and legs has helped to maintain my focus from the first batter of the evening through to the last. Umpiring can be a grind, but every batter deserves a good strike zone and every runner deserves an accurate call.
I do not know how long I will umpire or how high up the ladder I will go. Slow Pitch Softball may not be the most glamorous umpiring job in the world, but I love it. There are few places in this world that I would rather be on a warm evening that a baseball diamond, with the lights buzzing high above the field. Baseball is baseball, no matter if it is Fenway Park in October, a high school diamond in Texas, or a recreation field on the banks of the Ohio River filled with players who want nothing more than to play ball with their friends, runs the bases, and have a good laugh.
Winter has always been difficult for me. To begin with, I have never liked the cold; I would rather be in shorts than bundled up. Growing up in Georgia, winter did not mean playing in the snow, it meant the weather was cold and everything outside was dead. There was little reason to go outside, unless you were going somewhere, nothing fun or exciting was happening. Cooped up inside, day after day, there comes a point where you no longer want to read, watch TV, do pushups and sit-ups, or sleep. All you want to do is go outside and not be cold. I searched more deeply into any kind of baseball as the slow crawl through winter carried on. Welcoming any distraction, I dissected every ounce of baseball news. Rumors about a signing, even a trade for low-level prospects, became increasingly interesting. Winter has been, and will continue to be, miserable.
I moved away from Georgia, first to the New York City area, and now to Cincinnati. The snow in New York was fun. I made up for those lost years of sledding and playing in the snow. Any time I can play in the snow, or at the beach, I turn into a 5 year old. Life is too short not to act like a kid whenever you can. Once the snow is no longer falling and the ice slick forms, playtime is over. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a kid or a grown-up playing pretend. Then I want the snow to melt away quickly. Not lingering for months turning into a disgusting sludge. I love to play in the snow, but there is a point where I want it gone so I can play in the grass again.
Baseball is beautiful. (The Winning Run)
As this winter has been much less snowy than the past few, I once again find myself ready for winter to fade away. The ground is not covered with snow this year and only serves to remind me of the winters when I was a kid. Some days you look outside and the sky says it is a beautiful day for baseball, but the thermometer smacks you back to reality.
Late January and early February are the most difficult time for me. I become the most restless this time of year. I have been inside far more than I want, and yet the weather keeps me inside against my wishes. I want to hear the crack of the bat and the sound of gloves popping. I want baseball news that is more than transactions. I want to go outside and hit a baseball myself without my hands screaming at me from the bitter cold. In short, I am ready for spring and for baseball.
Pete Rose. Just the mention of his name can flood the minds of baseball fans with memories of Charlie Hustle. Sprinting to first after drawing a walk. Sliding head first into third. Colliding with Ray Fossee during the 1970 All-Star game. Standing on first trying to hold back tears after passing Ty Cobb for the all time hits record. Shoving Umpire Dave Pallone during an argument. Commissioner Bart Giamatti announcing Rose has been banned from baseball for life. Being interviewed by Jim Gray during the All Century Team ceremony and avoiding all discussion of his ban from baseball. Everyone of these memories and countless others are how we remember Pete Rose, but the good is overshadowed by the bad. Pete Rose was and continues to be banned from baseball for betting on games he managed.
Baseball, and those who run it, have long been concerned about keeping the integrity of the game intact. They have gone through gambling scandals, recreational drug using players, racist and insensitive players, owners, and executives, steroid and performance-enhancing drug using players, and numerous other unsavory episodes throughout baseball’s history. However, the one which has the greatest ability to damage baseball is gambling. Fans want the games to be played on the level with everyone trying to win. Fans often do not care what a player thinks about different issues, nor do steroid using players do so to lose the game. They are seeking an advantage over their opponent. If you take away the belief that everyone is playing to win, then you could reasonably see the death of any sport, including baseball.
Baseball’s first Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, understood this in the years following the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Gambling could destroy baseball and something had to be done. In 1927, after several more isolated occurrences of gambling in baseball, Landis created Rule 21 in 1927. Section D of Major League Baseball Rule 21 states:
- Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year.
- Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.
It is plain and simple, you do not have to translate the rule from legalese to understand that if you bet on baseball you will be suspended for a minimum of one year, if you bet on your own team, even to win, then you are gone forever. Not just for life, forever. Or as Michael “Squints” Palledorous from The Sandlot would say, “Forever. FOREVER. FOR-EV-ER. F-O-R-E.-V-E-R!”
The latest round of attention on Pete Rose and his banishment from baseball is from the book by Kostya Kennedy, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. Sports Illustrated has an excerpt from the book in its March 10th edition. We are also approaching the 25th Anniversary of Sports Illustrated reporting that Rose bet on baseball, which the magazine first reported on March 21, 1989. The question of whether it is time to reexamine the ban on Pete Rose is posed in the except. Rose remains extremely popular in Cincinnati and with his former teammates. Fans flock to see him and to get his autograph at shows. Portions of the media, including baseball fanatic and ESPN’s Keith Olbermann support the reinstatement of Rose. While I enjoy listening to Olbermann talk about baseball and its history I could not disagree with him more that Rose deserves to be reinstated.
Rose should remain banned from baseball for his transgressions, as there are some violations of the rules which deserve a death penalty of sorts. Yes, America is the land of second opportunities but Rose chose to abuse his second chance. Rose broke the rules, much like the performance-enhancing drug users I have referenced in previous here. The difference is Rose sought to alter the game through means which had been against the rules of baseball for 36 years prior to his first appearance. The performance-enhancing drug users were going around baseball’s lack of drug testing and enforcement to gain an advantage. Once the rules changed, only then the rules were reflective of creating a level playing field based upon what a player could and could not consume.
Gambling was and is forbidden by Major League Baseball and yet Rose chose to ignore the rules. He had opportunities to come clean long before he did, but never did. He could have admitted what he did to then Commissioner Bart Giamatti and pleaded for mercy. I am in no way suggesting that admitting he had bet on baseball, specifically on Reds games, would have softened the penalty levied against him by the Commissioner. I would suggest however that being honest and forth coming could have changed the hearts and minds people over the last 25 years and potentially allowed for Bart Giamatti in the weeks after handing down the ban, or his successor Fay Vincent, or Bud Selig, or the next Commissioner of Baseball to alter the punishment. The truth could have set Rose free. He could have been credited with good behavior and had his sentence commuted to time served. Instead he continued to lie and to profess his innocence against the charges against him until he released his autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, in 2004. Even his confession was unbecoming a player of his stature. Rose tried to stick it to Major League Baseball as he was making money on his confession through the sale of his book, instead of coming to Major League Baseball to beg for mercy. He never faced the truth until it was also a way for him to benefit from it. I have no issue with people making money off of their accomplishments, such as former Presidents writing books about their time in office or entertainers selling their memorabilia to the highest bidder. The problem with Rose is that he could have made money off of his accomplishments and come clean, but he chose to do them both at the same time. To say the least this is in poor taste. This raises the question: are you confessing because you are ready to tell the truth or because you want the book to sell more copies?
If Bud Selig or any future Commissioner decides that Pete Rose should be allowed back into baseball and is removed from the permanently ineligible list I believe it would do two things. It would set an extremely bad precedent and it would also be unfair to the other individuals on the permanently ineligible list. Why should Pete Rose be allowed back in and not the others. Allowing Rose back into baseball would enable people in the future to cite his reinstatement as the precedent for reducing their penalties. Imagine if Rose had been reinstated three years ago. Would Alex Rodriguez been able to point to Rose and argue that his season long suspension should be reduced to 100 games? Would Ryan Braun been able to argue that his first failed test should not count against him because he had not been previously warned not break the rules? The what ifs are too great. The reinstatement of Rose has the potential to allow the worst of baseball to remain in the game and to continue robbing the game of its integrity and the fans of their belief in the sport.
George Bechtel, Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols, Bill Craver, Dick Higham, Jack O’Connor, Harry Howell, Horace Fogel, Hal Chase, Heinie Zimmerman, Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, Lefty Williams, Joe Gedeon, Gene Paulette, Benny Kauff, Lee Magee, Phil Douglas, Jimmy O’Connell, and William Cox. These are the 26 men who for various reasons ranging from gambling, to jumping between teams before free agency, to car theft are on the permanently ineligible list for Major League Baseball. Pete Rose is #27. If you reinstate only Rose, then I fully expect an explanation as to why he received special treatment. Is it because he is the only living member of this exclusive “club”? If you allow Rose back in for time served then the rest of these men should have been reinstated a long time ago. William Cox is the only person to be banned since 1925 besides Rose. If reinstatement is to happen then you cannot pick and choose. Baseball would be at best hypocritical to allow Rose in while keeping another one of the games great hitter, Shoeless Joe Jackson, out of the game. I firmly believe that Jackson’s banishment should be reexamined as there is sufficient evidence that suggests he was not a part of the Black Sox Scandal. It is impossible to know for certain, however I do know that the cries for letting Rose back in should fall on deaf ears so long as there is not a serious consideration of allowing the rest of the banned players, an umpire, and an owner back in. They should all be in or all be out, not split up. None of those who were thrown out for betting on baseball were breaking the rules, they are the reason the rule was put into place. They were thrown out because they broke the trust between players and fans about playing to win every game. Rose does not have that argument, as the rule was in place long before he got to the Majors and he still chose to ignore it.
Rose is banned from baseball but he is still getting along fine. He is a constant presence in Cooperstown during the Hall of Fame inductions each summer. The Hall of Fame in which his accomplishments are recorded, but which he will never become a member. He makes a good living doing public appearances and signing autographs, and so long as he pays his taxes he has little to worry about financially. The realization that time is no longer on his side and the ban from the game he love has teeth is becoming, I believe, more painful every year. His ban does have some holes in it. He has been allowed back on the field for being a part of the All Century Team and on the anniversary of breaking Ty Cobb’s hits record. He was on hand when his son, Pete Rose Jr. made his Major League debut. Rose has not been totally thrown out in the cold. He is close enough to the proverbial fire to feel a little of its warmth but not close enough to bask in its glow, and for me this is as close as he should ever get.
Rose broke a single rule of baseball. The impact which his transgressions could have on the entire game warranted the measures Commissioner Giamatti took and all subsequent Commissioners have upheld. What Pete Rose accomplished on the field should be celebrated by those who love baseball, but he should also serve as a warning. No one, regardless how great they are, is bigger than the game. There is no dilemma about Pete Rose for me. He is and should remained banned from baseball. His gambling could have fractured the foundation upon which the game has been built upon for over 100 years. Everyone is playing to win. He should not receive special treatment while the other members of the permanently ineligible list are ignored. Major League Baseball cannot pick and chose who they will and will not reinstate. You either reinstate them all or you leave them as they are, banned. Pete Rose made his mistakes and now he has to pay the price, the only living member of a club no one wants to join.