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As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires Hardcover – March 17, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In a no-holds-barred insider examination of the private world of baseball umpires, both minor and major leagues, Weber, a New York Times reporter, dives into the rough basic training school for the men who call balls and strikes in this irresistible book. As a 52-year-old student umpire, the author dons the mask and learns the fundamentals, while spending almost three years visiting baseball venues across the country, as well as interviewing former umpires, players and coaches. Many candidates dream of making it to the majors, as about 100,000 amateur baseball umpires call games in the U.S., Weber writes, but only 68 pro umpires make it to the big show. Baseball fans will love the insightful, richly textured account of Weber trying to master the plate stance, monitoring each pitch and maintaining a proper strike zone in a physically demanding occupation. However, his book lifts heads-and-shoulders above other baseball tomes by putting a funny, surprising treasury of anecdotes from the sport at its entertaining core.(Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* t’s a wonder that, given their central role in the game of baseball, from Little Leagues to major leagues, umpires have remained a mystery to fans for so long. New York Times reporter Weber corrects that in this sympathetic, thoughtful, highly engaging account. Weber spent months, including a five-week course at one of two major league–approved umpire schools, talking with dozens of umps as well as the players, managers, owners, and league officials who live with their calls. Out of this exhaustive research, and after strapping on the gear himself, Weber reveals how exceedingly demanding the profession can be. At the same time, he shows how disrespected, if not reviled, umps are by nearly everyone in baseball, though they serve as the last—some might argue, the only—line of defense for the integrity of the game. Weber shares the particulars of umping a game, the torturous path to becoming a major league ump, and some hot-button issues such as the umps’ 1999 strike, instant replay, and the pace of games. And for the starstruck baseball fans among us, there are lots of stories about umps, players, and managers we know. An outstanding book that demands a place on any sports shelf. --Alan Moores
Top customer reviews
The narration read by Charley Steiner was initially "old" sounding to me. I thought it would be boring to listen to this guy all the way through 12 CDs with his broadcaster's voice and tempo. After a very short time, his voice seemed absolutely appropriate and I can't imagine anyone else narrating this book. It fit in very well with the subject matter and worked out just fine for me. As far as the writing, I enjoyed the numerous anecdotes and stories that went along with whatever subject Mr. Weber was covering. Sometimes the content would jump from one thing to another, but it flowed well if you payed attention to the transitions which might be hard to do if you are listening to the book while driving in traffic and are distracted by the knucklehead who just cut you off.
I found the issues discussed in the book to be very interesting and was rarely bored by anything discussed. I think it was particularly necessary to discuss the fact that so few races are represented in the upper levels of professional umpiring as well as the lack of women in the field. The author addresses these issues fairly and with the best candor possible without putting undue blame or justification to the causes. Interviews with umpires of Latin and African decent were thorough and seemed to be honestly presented. The interviews with female umpires showed what a difficult time they had in the field as well as their successes and the source of the difficulties each group had in their climb to professional levels in the field.
Overall, I completely enjoyed the book and the buying experience through Amazon was excellent. I am happy to give 5 stars as a review and hope more authors take up the call to write about professional umpires as well.
This is a thoroughly captivating book about umpires from one of the two sanctioned umpire schools, their relationship with owners, players and their peers. Weber leaves you smelling the hot dogs, beer and grass of the ballpark while he weaves a colorful view of what it is really like to be behind the mask at home plate trying to call a strike on a 100 mph fastball in less than 1/2 second. We see the nuances of proper positioning on the bases to the proper stance behind the plate. You begin to understand the stress of having to be on your game every pitch, every hit and every out -- not even the most important or involved player on the field is that involved in the game. The reality is the only people on the field that need to be on "top of their game" all game are the umpires. In a sport where a .300 BA is good, we expect our umpires to bat 1.000. When they don't, we see that as a failure far more flagrant than the 70% of time are idols fail.
There are other aspects of the history of MLB that Weber captures with great background and detail even most avid fans probably don't know. While I was pretty familiar with the disastrous move by many umpires to follow Richie Phillips lead and resign en masse, Weber shines more information. As an avid baseball fan since my childhood in the 70s, it was fun getting a new perspective on some of the names I remember hearing during the broadcast, people like Nester Chylak.
Weber brings all of this to life in such a compelling and engaging way that by the time I finished, I was hoping to read volume 2. If you are a baseball fan, this is a great read.
Then I picked up this book and all of that changed.
Bruce Weber enters the world of umpires, even to the degree of attending umpire school and umpiring games himself, and invites us to join him. In so doing he introduces us to the distinct culture and ethic of professional umpires with insight and humor. It's an enjoyable and even educational journey into their world
In the process we learn what draws people into the profession, what challenges they must endure to get there, what they think about their sometimes famous blown calls, and what the MLB rulebook really says -- which, in several cases, is not what the commentators have been telling me for the past 30 years.
Perhaps most importantly, Weber treats the umpires he writes about as the human beings they are. As the umpires explain, that's not something they often experience.
The life of a baseball umpire, from their start at a school through their big league career is well documented here; as is the stiffly competitive environment within their profession. Terrific anecdotes pepper the work; a saving grace that adds spice to a narrative pace that can become bland and bog down here and there. A must read for baseball fans; although that target audience is it's only real audience, with maybe a little bleed over to fans of other sports.