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Planet of the Umps: A Baseball Life from Behind the Plate Hardcover – April 19, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This very funny memoir offers a hilarious look into life behind the plates by the man who was voted the most colorful umpire in the American League in a 1986 Sporting News poll. After 36 years as a professional umpire, with 23 seasons spent in the major leagues, Kaiser has seen just about everything there is to see in baseball, and he recounts it all-from his early hustling days in the minor leagues, surviving by trading stolen league baseballs for food and gas, to his final days risking (and losing) his six-figure income in the unsuccessful senior umpires' dispute with MLB in 1999, when he was persuaded to resign as a negotiating tactic ("one of the worst decisions made in the whole history of labor negotiations"). But the book's main strength is that Kaiser, writing with Fisher (coauthor of such books as A Lawyer's Life, by Johnnie Cochran), presents in a lively and energetic style at least one great story (and sometimes more) per page, featuring such baseball legends as manager Billy Martin ("I was as unpredictable as he was") and third-baseman George Brett ("who liked to tell me dirty jokes while the pitcher was warming up"). Kaiser offers insights into umping that all baseball fans and potential umpires should memorize: "as an umpire you can't have any favorites. You have to despise every player and manager equally."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Kaiser, a major-league baseball umpire for 23 years, paid his dues in the minor leagues where, he recalls, "everyone was angry." He tells the story of those angry early years and of his career in the big leagues in a manner that is typical of most sports memoirs: anecdotes are loosely organized around topics, but no matter how you slice it, they are still a series of mostly funny stories in which the butt of the joke rotates between umps, players, managers, and even the occasional fan. Among the highlights are accounts of the time Kaiser changed the rules on a baseball-playing Michael Jordan and what happened when his umping partner left his glass eye on a training table. But beyond the humor, Kaiser and coauthor Fisher manage to communicate the commitment to professionalism that umpires bring to the game. An enjoyable insider's view of baseball. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (April 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312304161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312304164
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jason A. Miller VINE VOICE on September 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who read Ron Luciano's hilarious umpiring books about 20 years ago will remember all about Kenny Kaiser. Luciano was the larger-than-life ump (who met a too tragic end) with the penchant for over-the-top calls, and Kaiser the sidekicks featured in several of his anecdotes.
Kaiser's baseball career also met something of a tragic end, and he's been out of the game exactly four years now. "Planet of the Umps" is his own attempt at setting the record straight, describing the horrible conditions that Major League umpires were subject to before the 1970s.
However, if some of the material here seems familiar, it's because... you've read it before. Co-author David Fisher also ghost-wrote the Luciano memoirs. Granted, I haven't read Luciano in a few years, but I recognized at least three stories recycled wholesale from those earlier books. See pages 158, 167 and 172 for the repeat offenders. And, if memory serves me right, the one on 172 actually has a different ending.
"Planet" also suffers from extremely poor editing and fact-checking. Fisher spells several ump names incorrectly (here we read about Lee Wyer, Harry Wendlestat and Dutch Rennart), and, even worse, commits the Cardinal Baseball Sin: He misspells the name Ripken. Come on! The name Ripken appeared in major-league boxscores for 2,632 consecutive games... and also several All-Star games and three playoffs. Why would anyone even think it's spelled "Ripkin"? I'm sorry, but this incorrect spelling crops up so often I'm starting to doubt my own sanity.
Fisher/Kaiser also describe several games precisely as they didn't occur. The last out of Gaylord Perry's 300th career win, remembered on page 97, was not a strikeout.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you have the late Ron Luciano's books (The Umpire Strikes Back" and "Strike Two", you have a lot of the stories that former Major League umpire Ken Kaiser tells in this book. If you can't find Luciano's books (they are long since out of print), these stories are FUNNY and an insightful look into the world of an umpire. Argumentative, intimidating, and expressive is the man known as Ken Kaiser. He was one of the few umnpires to ever make the major league baseball players top 10 list of umpires.. at the same time he was on the BOTTOM 10 list of umpires!! I guess what I'm saying is, you'll either like it, or hate it. I liked it a lot, besides the repeated stories.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Sanchez VINE VOICE on January 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was given this book to read while I was sick in bed. I love baseball, but I probably would not have picked up this book on my own. I was not, however, at all disappointed. Ken Kaiser's book made for a wonderful read. He (or his co-author) correctly understood that this type of autobiography is only of interest as it pertains to the world of baseball, so there is very little about Kaiser's personal life away from the job.
Kaiser's anecdotes are often funny and very revealing of the umpire's job. He dispels many ideas of how an umpire makes certain calls. Much of these myths are voiced by sportscasters/writers who like to sound as if they know the inside scoop of the game including the mind of the umps.
I knew of Kaiser's name when he umpired, but I was mostly neutral about him, unlike my positive thoughts about the delightful Ron Luciano, or the less happy thoughts of someone like Rich Garcia. His stories also make clear that what some believe as the self importance of the current umpires is nothing new to the game, but their working conditions have certainly improved.
The book ends sadly, though, with Kaiser an apparent victim of the Richie Phillips led union. Don't get me wrong, Kaiser is a big fellow and capable of making up his own mind, but the former union's advise was equaled in absurdity by the former air traffic controllers union. The result was predictable and the game is not better off. Kaiser deserves much credit for providing a well articulated defense of the umpire's job, his tributes to Ron Luciano, the Ripkens and his blasts at Earl Weaver, sports journalists, and the baseball hierarchy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Lichtman on December 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The best parts of this book are the stories about what it was like to be a minor league and major league umpire. The worst parts, from my perspective, are in Kaiser's biased views about the umpires' labor problems and the quality of umpiring in the majors. Kaiser goes on at length about how every umpire has his own strike zone, and complains about the attempts to standardize it. While it's true that calling balls and strikes is very difficult and that absolute standardization is probably impossible, it's also true that several umpires' strike zones had gotten completely ridiculous (Eric Gregg would regularly call strikes on pitches several inches outside, for example).
Kaiser says he trusted union head Richie Phillips too much when he agreed to resign along with most other major league umps. The problem wasn't just one of trust - it was one of arrogance. The umpires thought they were bigger than the game, that a mass resignation would force the owners to come crawling. They also failed to consider whom they were dealing with. Sandy Alderson accepted the mass resignation. This is the one time in labor history that a union broke itself. Major League Baseball owners have historically been poor labor negotiators, but they finally ran into a group of people who were worse. Kaiser doesn't face up to any of this, in my opinion. He admits it was a mistake to sign his resignation letter, but apart from that he seems to see himself as a victim.
I think the book is worth reading, as long as one takes some of Kaiser's views with a grain of salt.
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