- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

Normally, I have nothing but the greatest respect for Fay Vincent, baseball’s last real commissioner before the dunderheads who run the sport chose Bud Selig to be their personal lapdog in 1992. But now Vincent has struck out with a silly idea that gained exposure this week on the op-ed page of the New York Times, of all places.

Vincent, who served as commish from 1989 to 1992, delivered a nice tribute to game officials of all stripes, then added that “no major sport takes the time to pat officials on the back, to recognize the fine ones who do their jobs well and with the devotion we fans have come to expect.”

No argument there. But when Vincent suggested the best umpires should be hailed and honored for their work by receiving sort of an MVO (Most Valuable Official) Award, he clearly was out of his pea-pickin’ mind.

For one thing, how would the winners be determined? Does anybody think a ballplayer would vote for an ump who rang him up at bat or ran him out at the drop of an obscenity?

Should sportswriters and sportscasters vote as we do for the game’s major playing awards? Forget it — most of us don’t have a clue about the men in blue.

Sure, every umpire sometimes blows a call. But it happens so rarely that such examples obviously are an aberration.

Secondly, game officials are supposed to be part of the background and usually are — until, and if, something goes wrong. They are not meant to be singled out, for better or worse, and the ones who are usually don’t last long.

Did somebody mention Ron Luciano and Emmett Ashford, two “colorful” arbiters who frequently managed to steal the spotlight for themselves rather than doing their duty competently and quietly? Somebody should.

The patron saint of umpires is Bill Klem, who worked in the National League from 1905 to 1941 and insisted, while tapping his heart, “I never missed one — here.”

Most fans never knew old Bill was around. He would listen to the complaints of assorted managers and players for what he deemed a proper period, then turn his back and walk away. Anybody who followed got an immediate invitation to the showers and possibly a fine from the league office.

Klem’s behavior contrasted sharply with the flamboyance demonstrated by the likes of Luciano, Ashford and some of today’s guys who apparently think the paying customers come to see them perform.

Think about that the next time you see an umpire call a third strike with a dramatically exaggerated gesture. Or when an ump rips off his mask and gives as good as he gets when a players yowls loud and long.

It’s not supposed to be that way, guys. When a game official goes bonkers, we all lose because these people are supposed to keep their heads while all around them are losing theirs.

For sure, officials have a tough road to follow. When a player is called out on strikes or commits a stupid foul, his first instinct is to blame the offending ump or ref — customarily with an expression so pained you would think the guy had stolen the bread and butter from his children’s mouths.

And the coaches are worse. Maryland’s Gary Williams is considered a nice fellow away from the court, but you probably won’t find any zebras inviting him to dinner any time soon. Gary and most of his peers spend considerable sideline time trying to intimidate the refs; it’s part of their game plan, if not a particularly attractive part.

Fay Vincent cites the abuse heaped on his father, a former official in the NFL and elsewhere, as a reason he thinks umpires and referees should be hailed. I’ll go along with that, but the best way to do it is by bestowing the respect such people deserve. That beats a trophy or plaque any day.

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