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Baseball Advertising Trade Cards 3rd edition
Kill the Umpire!

[This information is from pp. 35-37 of Baseball Advertising Trade Cards 3rd edition, copyright 2011 by Frank Keetz and is reproduced here with his permission. No part of this material may be reproduced for commercial purposes without the written consent of the author.]

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Early trade cards depict the evolution of the umpire as well. Originally, a well-dressed umpire sat in a high chair situated to the side of home plate from where he made his decisions. Note cards in sets H 804-3 and H 804-6. Also note the umpire under attack in "Not a Happy Lot" (H 804-3). Eventually, some umpires appear as "scared" in H 804-15B and even "bloodied" in H 804-19.

There could be no higher compliment than to be chosen to an umpire in 1870 since such choice indicated respect, fairness, knowledge and objectivity by one's peers. Originally, baseball had been a children's game — and a gentlemen's game. By the mid-1880s, however, the umpire had become an object of abuse, insults, taunts and vilification. The umpire was not only subjected to derision by players, managers, owners and spectators but had achieved a despised, lowly position in American culture. Harold Seymour wrote, "The umpire shared the same low esteem in our American culture as the mule or the mother-in-law." It became the American tradition to vilify the umpire during the 1870s. And did the players ever vilify the umpires! Umpire-baiting became a constant at most games.

The Villain

Players and managers cursed, spiked, spit on, pushed, even punched umpires. Particularly despicable were players and managers who would provoke a crowd to cover their own mistakes. Newspaper writers frequently stirred up fans with incendiary criticism of umpires which at times received more line space than account of the game itself. Many owners such as Chris Von de Ahe, "boss-president" of the St. Louis Browns, encouraged umpire-baiting. (Von de Ahe also bragged that he made more money selling beer during games than he did from tickets to the games.) Owners knew that umpire-baiting "paid off at the turnstiles." Boos, hissing, catcalls, shrieks, vicious curses and even bricks and bottles often rained from the ballpark seats toward the despised umpire. If the umpire was hit by a painful foul tip, the crowd would laugh and cheer at his misery. Many spectators were merciless. Umpire Bill Evans had his skull fractured when hit by a thrown bottle in St. Louis. David Voigt summarized the umpire's position.

"The umpire emerges as a manufactured villain, 'a villain by necessity' in Shakespeare's words, thrown to ravenous spectators by shrewd owners who encouraged the fans' ritual abuse as a means of abetting the profits of baseball promotion."

Umpiring in the 19th century was an even more difficult task especially so when we realize that there was only one umpire to cover every movement on the field — not two, three, four or six umpires as rules require today. The umpire would have to determine if a long 250 foot line drive hit down the right field foul line was fair or foul and, at the same time, make sure that all base runners touched each base. The John McGraws and King Kellys of the 19th century would often not even come close to touching second base as they short cut the dash from first base to third base or home.


The "umpire problem" was serious in major league ballparks but it was even worse in the minor leagues and at amateur or semi-professional games where "mobbing" could occur. Small or moderate-sized town newspapers are excellent sources for such accounts. "Troy (N.Y.) Defeated, Umpire Mobbed" headlines tell an all too common story concerning Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem when he was working his way through the minor leagues to future fame in the National League.

"Utica defeated Troy 9-1 before Troy's then largest weekday crowd. There had been arguments in the second inning over strikes and balls. When catcher Rafter renewed the arguments near the end of the game, Klem gave him the heave-ho. Soon the crowd became unruly. As the game ended, Klem walked to the park gate but was rushed upon by the crowd of almost one thousand persons. The policemen, led by Sgt. Goerold, had to club their way through that crowd. One fan dealt him (Klem) a blow on the side of the face. Police finally got him to the ticket office and a guard was established about the building.

The crowd lingered outside the field. Threats to kill the umpire were hurled left and right. The mob became more disorderly and police drove them away. After ten minutes delay, Klem left the grounds followed by police guard. 'Hit him!' 'Break his jaw!' howled the crowd as Klem boarded the southbound trolley on River Street. When the trolley started, man and boys hung on both sides of the car and hundreds chased the trolley throwing stones and cans at Klem. A short distance away at Bond Street, fans on the car brought that trolley to a halt by disengaging the wire. The crowd again surrounded the trolley but were held at bay by police. Klem eventually reached his hotel in downtown Troy."

These events in Troy were not Klem's only experience with "mobbing" during that season in the Class "B" New York State League. Few minor league umpires completed an entire season in one league. The New York State League, for example, had 100 umpires in a span of six years. Oftentimes, players would have to rescue the lonely umpire when attacked by the mob. Sometimes, police had to draw guns and, on occasion, fire them above the crowd. Incidentally, the same Klem listed "guts, honesty, common sense, a desire for fair play, and an understanding of human nature as the five traits most important in umpiring." He did not include eyesight!

("Mobbing" with intent to harm also occurred against visiting teams who usually dressed in hotels and traveled to and from ballparks in open carriages. Of course, the players had more safety in numbers than the lonely one umpire. Players also had their bats to fend off attacking crowds after a game. The bats, however, were not too effective against rocks and other flying objects.)

The umpire was the villain, the ultimate villain. Major league umpire Frank "Silk" O'Loughlin explained "the public looks at the umpire in the same way that the gallery gods do the villain in a cheap play." The umpire was a convenient scapegoat in a "thankless job" with hardly any respect during the 19th century.

"Fearless and Impartial"

Yet, as Voigt points out, the umpires "carried the integrity of American baseball on their shoulders." These early umpires stood alone against the often foul-mouthed players and fans as well as the hovering gamblers who then frequented the 19th century sporting events. There has been only one case of umpire dishonesty in major league baseball history. It occurred in 1882 when an umpire conspired with gamblers. Conditions surrounding umpires have improved greatly since 1900. They could get no worse! Despite the 19th century ballpark mayhem and rowdyism, many of these early umpires stood "fearless and impartial," "firm but dignified." They represented law and order. Veteran umpire Tim Hurst also quipped, "You can't beat the hours!"

Baseball advertising trade card: The Umpire Catches It

from Set H 804-19 - View enlarged

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