Tyler was the real Mr. Oriole, the true Iron Man to those he worked with

Umpires attendant had one of the best seats in the house for 51 years

February 11, 2011|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles' Ernie Tyler never thought of himself as special. He once described himself as "the little old guy who runs back and forth getting the foul balls."

But he was more than that, said Orioles' players and managers whose lives he touched in his 51 years as umpires attendant for the club.

Tyler, 86, died Thursday of complications from a brain tumor.

"Ernie was a wonderful man who will bypass everything and go straight to heaven," said Andy Etchebarren, former Orioles catcher. "I'm sure Ernie is already rubbing up baseballs for (former 20-game winners) Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson, who are getting ready to pitch up there."

For more than half a century, Tyler toiled at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards, tending umpires' needs, safeguarding game balls and flagging down fouls that fell behind the plate.

"Everything Ernie did, he did with a smile on his face," Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson said. "We've lost someone who loved this team more than anyone. He was Mr. Oriole."

Tyler's work ethic was incomparable, players said. Between 1960 and 2007, he worked 3,769 consecutive home games, a streak that ended only when Tyler was asked by Cal Ripken, Jr. to attend the Iron Man's Hall of Fame induction.

"If Ernie wasn't there when you got to the ballpark, then something was wrong in the world," said Ray Miller, onetime Orioles' manager and pitching coach. "You'd marvel at him, flying across the field at his age and giving balls to the umpire every night.

"His exuberance was something to behold. He was the pulse of everything orange and black."

Tyler likely went to his grave with enough baseball secrets to write a book, Miller said.

"He was privy to all sorts of private conversations of players and umpires, but he never violated anyone's trust," Miller said. "He knew baseball, too. If I'd had my eye on a young pitcher, I'd ask Ernie, 'What do you think of this kid?' If he nodded yes, then I always knew I had a gem."

Tyler, who'd beaten liver cancer and hernia surgery in recent years, worked until the Orioles' next-to-last game last season. Complaining of dizziness at work, he was whisked to the hospital, where doctors discovered the brain tumor.

"Things will never be the same," said Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher who knew Tyler for 46 years. "How many guys do you know who walk into a room and light it up? Either Ernie truly enjoyed what he did, or he was the world's greatest actor."

Part of Tyler's job was the rub every game ball with a special mud that removes the shine and makes it easier to grip. It's estimated that he serviced more than 350,000 balls during his career.

Players said they'll miss watching Tyler scuttle out during games to replenish the umpire's stock.

"He had that funny, side-to-side trot when he ran up to home plate," said Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager. "Did he get along better with umpires than I did ? I would think so, yes."

Tyler retrieved foul balls with a flair all his own, Mike Boddicker said.

"His hands were like meat hooks," said Boddicker, the Orioles' last 20-game winner. " 'Mr. T' would give you that jog, back to the screen, then scoop up the ball in one motion and trot back. He did it that way to the end, last year."

There wasn't a crisis for which Tyler wasn't prepared, Boog Powell said.

"I'll never forget the night in the 1960s that I came up to bat with a swarm of bees around my head," said Powell, the big first baseman. "The bees were so bad that I couldn't hit. But there was Ernie, carrying the can of bug spray he kept next to his baseballs. He sprayed it all over me as everybody laughed.

" 'Leave it to Ernie,' they said. 'Don't worry about a thing.' "

Tyler's passing saddened umpires too.

"A huge piece of history is gone," said Rich Garcia, an American League umpire from 1975 -1999. "Ernie's professionalism was unparalleled. He gave us someone to talk to between innings, who understood the game."

During the 1996 playoffs, when 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the right field wall at Yankee Stadium and grabbed Derek Jeter's fly ball, Garcia was the umpire who ruled it a home run. In the aftermath, everyone in Baltimore wanted his head except Tyler, Garcia said.

"I felt bad about missing the call," the umpire said. "But Ernie let me know that, hey, these things happen and we're all in this game together. That made me feel better. Ernie Tyler's professionalism was such that you couldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole."

Dave Trembley recalled a game during which Tyler was honored by the club.

"They introduced Ernie, and put his face on the JumboTron," the former Orioles manager said. "I went over and thanked him, and he said, 'No, thank you, Dave. It's been my pleasure to do this all these years.' "

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