Joseph Earl Somers, 77, stadium groundskeeper

April 29, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Joseph Earl Somers, a retired Memorial Stadium groundskeeper and softball umpire whose license tag read THE UMP, died of heart disease Monday at St. Agnes HealthCare. The Violetville resident was 77.

Born in Baltimore and raised on North Payson Street, he attended city public schools until the fourth grade and picked up the rest of his education on his own.

As a young man, he played baseball and boxed. He served in the Army from 1946 to 1947 and fought in a lightweight class while stationed in Alaska.

"He was a tough, skinny kid who weighed 105 pounds when he joined the Army," said his son, Danny F. Somers of Westminster.

"After he was discharged, he started playing fast-pitch softball for different teams in Southwest Baltimore and met people from all walks of life. He loved people," the son said.

After the war, he was a shipping clerk at United Beauty Supply Co. in West Baltimore and worked as a Memorial Stadium groundskeeper. He was also a courier for the city Health Department, delivering mail and packages.

He retired about two years ago.

Mr. Somers became an umpire in his late 20s and soon developed a following of spectators who recognized his high-pitched voice and ability to extend his pronunciation of the word "strike."

"He was a showman. When he said `striiiike,' `foul, foul, foul ball' or `you're outta here,' you knew it and so did the crowd," his son said. "People came to Patterson, Latrobe and Carroll parks just to watch him."

Mr. Somers won the name "Earl the Ump" during his 53 years as an umpire for high school and recreational softball. At times, he also officiated football and basketball games.

He was awarded a 50-year service cap from the American Softball Association, of which he was a member.

His son said that Mr. Somers did not remain behind home plate to make his calls, instead running to the various bases to call a play.

He volunteered at softball fund-raising games for area charities, including those for Bea Gaddy, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Afro-American Mrs. Santa fund. He also taught boxing until two years ago in Arbutus and Brooklyn.

"He was a person who gave from the heart," said Ray Banks, a board member of the Leon Day Foundation who plays softball in an over-50 league. "He loved the game and he was unique."

Mr. Somers, who dabbled in local politics, made an unsuccessful bid for a City Council seat in 1979, describing himself to The Evening Sun as a "curbstone politician" who wanted "to rid the city of slum landlords and provide every neighborhood with a senior citizens' program."

"In those days, many corner bars sponsored teams," his son said. "My father's name was well known in Southwest Baltimore. He was not into political power as much as he wanted to bring something to the people who lived here."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Hubbard Funeral Home, 4107 Wilkens Ave.

Survivors also include his wife of 58 years, the former Mary Sheckells; another son, Michael Somers of Tallahassee, Fla.; two daughters, Phyllis Shipley Aiken and Mary Sharp, both of Baltimore; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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