Frederick Brocklander

National League Umpire, Who Called Balls And Strikes For Nearly 30 Years, Witnessed Milestones In Sports History

August 21, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Frederick W. "Fred" Brocklander III, a former National League umpire who called balls and strikes in the majors and minors for nearly 30 years, died of complications from a stroke Aug. 13 at a daughter's Severn home.

He was 69.

Born in Baltimore, the son of a city liquor board inspector and a homemaker, he was raised in Highlandtown.

He was a 1958 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School, where he was an outstanding baseball and soccer player. He attended the University of Baltimore.

Mr. Brocklander started his career as a minor leaguer in the Kansas City A's organization in 1962, and after his career as a player ended, he turned to officiating.

He began his officiating career refereeing soccer and basketball games, including Division I college basketball.

After a friend suggested he try umpiring, Mr. Brocklander spent a decade in the minors working in the Carolina, Eastern, Midwest, Pacific Coast and Quebec leagues, until joining the National League in 1979.

While working in the minors and harboring the same hope as the ball players of one day making it to the majors, Mr. Brocklander endured the same privations - the long drives to the next game, sleeping in cheap motels and eating in an endless succession of roadside fast-food joints.

In later years, Mr. Brocklander, who lived in Queens, N.Y., for 20 years before settling in Odenton in 1998, enjoyed reminiscing about his time in the minors.

He recalled games that were postponed because of sudden snowstorms, playing in a ballpark that had once been a prison and being whacked over the head by an elderly umbrella-wielding woman unhappy over the outcome of a game.

One of his favorite stories was about the Midwest League manager who was so incensed at a call that he came out of the dugout and, in the middle of giving Mr. Brocklander a piece of his mind, lost his dentures, which came to rest on home plate.

"I had the mind to take out my handkerchief and pick up his teeth. He just took his teeth and walked away," Mr. Brocklander said in a 1992 interview with Newsday.

He moved up to the National League job during the 1979 umpire strike.

"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," wrote Baltimore Sun sports columnist John Steadman in 1999.

Explaining his work, Mr. Brocklander said he placed an emphasis on being "consistent" in making calls.

Mr. Brocklander umpired the 1984 All-Star Game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, and was umpiring at second base in Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati in 1985 when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's career-hits record.

In 1986, Mr. Brocklander was the home plate umpire when the Mets triumphed over the Astros in a 16-inning victory that clinched the National League championship.

Even though he endured 13 knee operations, he never missed a day's work, even after suffering a broken hand from a foul tip.

He explained in a 1992 interview with The Times-Ledger newspaper that umpiring is "not a vocation conducive to a popularity contest," but added, "I love the game."

He retired in 1991 because of knee and kidney problems.

During his retirement, he coached girls soccer and softball at South River, Wilde Lake and Mount Hebron high schools.

He also officiated basketball, softball and soccer games in Anne Arundel and Howard counties before permanently retiring in 2002.

Mr. Brocklander was a member of the Old Timers Baseball Association of Maryland and had just been elected the organization's president. In 2003, he was elected to its Hall of Fame.

"I loved the guy. He was modest and had a good heart," said Paul J. Dipino, who had been a classmate at Calvert Hall. "Having Freddy as a friend was a real treasure."

Mr. Brocklander devoted his time to fundraising and delivering gifts to patients in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Children's Oncology Center.

When his friend of 40 years, George Henderson, retired Essex Community College baseball coach, was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, Mr. Brocklander did all he could to be supportive.

"For a full year, he sent me inspirational healing cards from St. Jude and St. Paul. He'd call once a week, and he'd call my wife as well," Mr. Henderson said. "He had a special place in his heart for sick kids and friends. He was a special guy."

A memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m. today at Donaldson Funeral Home, 1411 Annapolis Road, Odenton.

Surviving are his wife of 30 years, the former Dorrit Sahlgren; three daughters, Stefanie Soler of Severn, Basila Blanding of Gwynn Oak, and Stephanie Clary of New Freedom, Pa.; a sister, Jane Bowling of Severna Park; and five grandchildren.

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