Friday, August 2, 2013

When Umps Go Bad

Throughout its history, major league baseball has relied on umpires to keep the game honest. Unfortunately, not all arbiters have been especially honest themselves. Al Clark worked in the American League from 1976 to 1999 then served in both leagues over the next two seasons. During his long tenure, he called more than 3,000 games, including 2 World Series, 2 All-Star Games and 5 American League Championship Series. In 2001, Clark got himself into hot water when he downgraded his first class airline tickets to economy class and pocketed the funds for unapproved personal travel. When Commissioner Bud Selig got wind of the scam, he served Clark with walking papers.

Three years later, the plot thickened as Clark pleaded guilty in US district Court to a mail fraud charge. Between 1995 and 1998, Clark had conspired with memorabilia dealer Richard Graessle Jr. to sell baseballs allegedly used in historic games. "Rubbed up" by the hucksters to give them a weathered appearance, very few had actually seen major league action. Among the games included in the scam were Dwight Gooden's 1996 no-hitter, Nolan Ryan's 300th victory and the 1978 AL East tie-breaker between the Yankees and Red Sox. Each ball came with a bogus certificate of authenticity signed by Clark himself. Several carried a price tag as high as $2,000. The 56 year-old Clark was sentenced to four months in prison and four months house arrest.

"There is something sacrosanct in this country about baseball and the special place in history some of its players hold," prosecuting attorney Christopher J. Christie said. "Mr. Clark knew that when he committed his fraud. Now a different umpire was making the call and Mr. Clark has been called out on strikes."

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