Brocklander knows umpires can hold a grudge

August 08, 1999|By John Steadman

It's all too familiar to Fred Brocklander, who paid a price enduring personal trauma and suffering indignities of the damned during the first umpires' strike. If you're counting, that was 20 years ago. He had the temerity to cross over the line and some of his contemporaries in black, even to this day, haven't forgiven him.

As he sees what's going on now, it's obvious the ploy to have the umpires resign has backfired on Richie Phillips, head of the association. "It's an odd scenario," Brocklander says. "To me, some of the better umpires are in danger of losing their jobs and some of the not-so-good ones are going to stay."

It's his belief, from experience, that hostility will erupt among the umpires, and he says commissioner Bud Selig is naive to think otherwise. Brocklander, a Calvert Hall graduate living in Odenton with his wife, Dorrit, took an NL job offer in 1979 when the umpires went on strike. He had worked 10 seasons in the Midwest, Carolina, Eastern and Pacific Coast leagues. Some of the veteran umpires, when the walkout was settled, ostracized him. Members of the same crew wouldn't acknowledge he was in the dressing room or on the field. They looked through him as if he were an invisible man. If an argument arose they would, on occasion, watch him take the heat. Let the non-union man suffer without any attempt to lend assistance.

Brocklander never complained because of the sensitive position in which he had placed himself, nor was he afraid to make a tough call. Aside from umpiring, he also refereed basketball and soccer -- in 28 different countries -- and once forfeited an international game to Eintracht when Hakoah refused to line up for a penalty kick.

Brocklander worked 12 seasons in the National League and even after part of the strike turmoil subsided, there were umpires who never accepted him. Obviously, he went about his job and let them be as miserable as they wanted to be, such as Doug Harvey and Jerry Crawford.

He still enjoyed every minute, even if the difficulty of umpiring was compounded by the stance he had taken. "I loved umpiring, but I also loved the game. Not all umpires feel that way. To some it was just a job." As to charges that today's umpires are too aggressive, Brocklander insists that's a fallacy.

"Augie Donatelli, and God rest his soul, was going to make it tough on a player if he even glared at him. Umpires were much tougher 20 years ago. Believe me, I was there."

As to conflicting strike zones, he says: "I called strikes from the top of the knees to the letters. The important thing is to be consistent from the first inning to the last. I called a lot of strikes. Lee Weyer did, too. Now with Randy Marsh and Dutch Rennert, you had to throw the ball through a keyhole. The point is be consistent."

Working until 13 knee operations curtailed his physical range, Brocklander never missed a game with an injury, even when he suffered a broken hand from a foul tip. He says the fastest of all pitchers was J. R. Richard of the Houston Astros. Not Nolan Ryan?

"No, J. R. was that much quicker," and he spread his hands 18 inches to demonstrate the difference. "What a tragedy to have him suffer a stroke so young, only 30. He once got to 105 mph on the speed gun. His slider was exceptional. Hitters didn't dare dig in, not even Pete Rose."

Brocklander puts Steve Carlton in a special class, too. "Amazing ability. On a close pitch that went against him, he never changed expression. Just took the ball and threw it again. I respected him for how he could pitch and his attitude."

Brocklander remembers starting a game between the Phillies and Expos in Montreal in 19 degrees. The temperature was 3 above zero at the end. Carlton beat Steve Rogers in what he recalls as a superb performance. Another time the Phils and Giants, with seven rain delays, finished a game at 3: 58 in the morning. "I called out Pete Rose and he said, `If it wasn't close to 4 a.m., I'd say something about that last pitch.' "

As for catchers, he believes the two best were Johnny Bench and Bob Boone. "When he was catching, Bench wanted every pitch called a strike but when he was batting he wanted every pitch to be a ball. Just human nature, I guess."

Brocklander was umpiring at second base when Rose got the hit that surpassed Ty Cobb. "Pete played as hard as any player I ever saw," he says in tribute.

It's Brocklander's opinion that cable television has put umpires in an unfavorable position. "If I'm a TV director, maybe I'd do the same thing. A confrontation with an umpire is a more attention-getting picture than a strikeout. Which one would you use? Naturally, the argument with the umpire. That's what you see all the time."

Among managers, he puts Jim Leyland, Bill Virdon, Dave Johnson, Whitey Herzog and Felipe Alou in a special category and then adds the name Frank Howard. "I remember when Herzog quit. He mentioned to the umpire crew what he was doing. We all wished him luck. In the clubhouse, he told his players, `I'm tired of baby-sitting you [expletive].'

"I know Frank Howard would make my all-time nice guy team. So would Steve Garvey, Mike Schmidt, Jesse Orosco, Andre Dawson and Rose."

As for chronic complainers, he names Dave Concepcion, Joaquin Andujar, Omar Moreno and Tim Foli. "Now with Foli, if the good Lord said it was a strike, he'd have to disagree."

For Brocklander, baseball and umpiring never comprised a dull day at the office. Exciting and fulfilling.

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