Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nasty Little Ump

The first two chapters of Cellar Dwellers are dedicated to the topic of nineteenth century baseball--a wild and lawless era. Historian Bill James once described the tactics of the 1800's as "violent" and "criminal." Connie Mack astutely observed that: "Baseball historians dwell considerably on the 'days of violence.' These days make exciting reading, but it should be considered in proper perspective that during these same times there was violence everywhere. It was an age of violence."

During Mack's so-called "age of violence," even the umpires were nasty. Among the nastiest was Tim Hurst, whom I mentioned in an earlier post. Though he stood only 5-foot-5 and carried the nickname "Tiny Tim," he instilled fear in the hearts of players and managers. Among the most ill-tempered arbiters in history, Hurst once knocked New York Highlanders' manager Clark Griffith out cold during a heated debate. During an 1895 contest, a foul tip shattered Hurst's mask, driving a wire into his forehead and hitting an artery. To Hurst, it was merely a flesh wound. He remained in the game.

Hurst's first experience as an official happened by coincidence. While attending a Southern League championship game, he volunteered his services after one of the umpires suddenly quit. In the game's final inning, the freshly recruited Hurst called one of the home team's players out on a close play at the plate. The run would have tied the score and, realizing the call might be controversial, he allegedly pulled a pistol from his pocket. As the story goes, the play went uncontested.

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