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As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires Hardcover – March 17, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
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From Booklist

*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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743294114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743294119
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By James Buberger on March 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For starters, I have personally never before issued a five-star rating to a non-fiction work, saving those for the Grishams and Browns of the literary world (pedestrian, I realize). I could not, however, pass up the opportunity to do so on this occasion.

As a typical fan, there is only so much that I care to know about the umpires' side of the baseball equation (just as Weber depicts in the book). Thus, it was with a bit of hesitation that I ordered this volume.

I had to take a deep breath when, early on, Weber delved into the history of umpiring and even the origin of the word. I was thinking "boy, this is not going to go well." I am happy to report that, due to Weber's research and writing style, I not only survived the history lesson but thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

Weber grabbed me right from the opening pages, taking a mundane topic (the umpire's cap), and turning it into an enjoyable narrative delivered in an amusing and colorful way. Already, I loved this guy's humor and repeated self-flagellation.

Throughout the book, Weber shares stories of all levels of umpires and the job itself. While it is clear that he respects the job that umpires do and, in most cases, the umpires themselves, this is not a gushing, starry-eyed love story. The reader is treated to warts and all.

Especially interesting to me, having never thought about it or been aware of it, is the consistently contentious relationship between the umpires and management, be it in the majors or throughout the minor league system. As a diehard fan, I cannot imagine myself ever feeling sympathetic towards the umps, but I am so glad that I now know more about how they got to where they are, and some of the things that they have to deal with it that most of us don't see.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have followed baseball closely for over five decades, yet, paradoxically, have never particularly thought about the umpires. They are just there, more or less invisible until they make a controversial call. Yes, I've enjoyed the varied styles of plate umpires and how they call strikes. But it's never crossed my mind how incredibly difficult and technical their jobs are.

Weber does a magnificent job of explicating the details of the umpire's job. I guess I understood the principle that being in the right position to make a call is crucial, but I've never worked through the details of how the right position is determined, and how the umpiring crew (anywhere from 2 to 6, depending on the level of the teams and the time of year) coordinates all of this. It comes across in Weber's account as almost like a dance as the umpires rotate into position to cover the various contingencies based on the game circumstance (runners, number of outs) and, crucially, where the ball is hit. In the era of slow-mo instant replay, it's all the more incredible to me how often the umpires get their calls right. Yes, there are famous gaffes (e.g., Denkinger's call in game 6 of the 85 World Series between the Cardinals and Royals). But under a kind of scrutiny that I don't think any of the rest of us could endure, they are mostly right, even in the toughest of situations.

I also had not understood very well the path from minor league to major league umpiring. It's a long and frustrating path, and there are only a tiny number who make it. Attending umpire school is almost mandatory (and Weber goes to school, and gives us a great account). It takes on the order of a decade in the minor leagues to even get a chance, and even then, few are chosen.
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Format: Hardcover
As an amateur umpire interested in the history and inner workings of professional umpiring I have read everything written about and by umpires. Weber's book is more than just a bunch of old umpires telling war stories. He delves into the inner sanctum of the profession. Extremely well researched book. He has talked to all of the living people he needed to talk to other than Bud Selig, who doesn't have time for umpires. I attended the same umpire school as Weber several years prior, and was also the oldest student in class. His description of the day to day activities of umpire school are right on. He takes you on the "long road" from the minor leagues to the majors and documents the hardships of that road with a professional writers expertise. More importantly, he tells the story of the men who are the best in the world at what they do, how under appreciated they are and what a thankless job they have. This book is a MUST reading for anyone considering a career in umpiring as well as the fan who hasn't given much thought to the men in blue (or I guess black today).
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Format: Hardcover
Everything you ever wanted, needed or thought you needed to know about umpiring is in this book.

Bruce Weber takes you into this bazaar world and through the mask gives you a look at a job that nobody should want.

You go to school to learn how to walk on a field where nobody likes you, cares for you and even has the right to insult you and everything about your family.

You have no home. You travel sometimes in terrible conditions just to put on that uniform and equipment walk out on the field and get treated worse than Rodney Dangerfield. And you get to do this night after night.

It takes years to make it if at all. The wages are at poverty level until you reach the top, and that can take years and years.

Half way through the book I was depressed. I thought car sales, insurance, even pool cleaning would be better than this.

I encontered these creatures in my prior life and they are an odd group.

I remember a summer night in 1965 when the announcer for the Austin Braves left his microphone on between innings and attacked a previous call made by a young Bruce Froemming. Froemming immediately ran everybody in the press box and locked it up. Who would have thought that Bruce Froemmin all 5'6'' or so would go on to become the most senior of umpires. He was in control. He walked on that field like the sheriff in an old western town.

I love the stories of the Earl Weavers and others and would have like more of that than the technical side of the game. But overall I enjoyed learning more about these people that come from somewhere and decide to take on this awesome responsibility. I just question why?
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