The Secret Lives of 8 Baseball Umpires

by Robert Schnakenberg

The job of a major league umpire has surprisingly few written requirements. If you have good reflexes and decent vision, possess a high school diploma or G.E.D., and can maintain a "reasonable body weight"—whatever that means—you can enroll in one of the umpiring schools overseen by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation, the governing body responsible for the training, evaluation, and promotion of all professional baseball umpires. The rest is up to you.

While most umpires prefer to remain anonymous arbiters of baseball's rules, their inner lives hidden behind facemasks and cumbersome chest protectors, some aren't cut out for la vida incognito. Over the decades, a few members of the Blue Fraternity have, by choice or circumstance, risen in prominence to become household names—or, at least, fit subjects for the scrutiny of Internet listmakers like Robert Schnakenberg, author of The Underground Baseball Encyclopedia. Here's his skinny on eight umps whose secret lives merit closer examination.

1. Dick Stello

One of the last men in blue to wear a jacket-and-tie to the ballpark every day, Stello survived a Dickensian upbringing to become one of the most popular National League umpires of the 1960s and 70s. He lived in an orphanage until he was 12 years old, then was dispatched to the care of foster parents, a kindly French couple who lived on a farm in rural Massachusetts. A loner who had difficulty making long-term connections with other people, he initially gravitated toward a career in show business, working as a nightclub comic in the 1950s before strapping on the chest protector. Apparently the allure of burlesque entertainment never quite left him. In 1974, Stello married Liliana Wilczkowska, a Polish stripper better known by her stage name "Chesty Morgan" and celebrated worldwide for her 73FF breasts. ("She defies medical science!" boasted one nightclub promoter.)

Stello became Chesty's manager, although he soon grew weary of the attention it brought him. Sportswriters joked that the ump would have no trouble calling chest-high strikes now that he was married to a stripper. Their union ended in divorce in 1979. Stello's life ended just eight years later in a gruesome auto accident in Lakeland, Florida.

Did He Write a Book?
Sadly, no, although he is featured prominently in The Best Seat in Baseball, But You Have to Stand!: The Game as Umpires See It by Lee Gutkind

2. Ken Kaiser

Renowned for his inertia, Kaiser was one of the new breed of morbidly obese umps who came up through the ranks in the 1980s and 90s. Officially listed at 288 pounds—a weight that most observers considered woefully underreported—Kaiser put his girth to good use in the off-season. Before he made the majors, he worked winters as a barroom bouncer, repo man, and, most notably, as a black-hooded, axe-wielding professional wrestler known as "The Hatchet." After undergoing training with the likes of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Mad Dog Vashon, Kaiser began traveling the circuit as a body-slamming bad guy for hire. He grappled with such legends as Haystacks Calhoun, Andre the Giant, and Dino Bravo, pocketing as little as $25 a match for his exertions. Wisely, Kaiser insisted on donning an executioner's mask for the gig, out of fear that public exposure would put the kibosh on his umpiring career.

Only once did he come close to having his secret life revealed. Fellow ump Eric Gregg happened to be sitting ringside at a match in Philadelphia, during which Kaiser's mask was accidentally ripped off his face. After receiving his major league call-up in 1982, Kaiser forswore the squared circle—although he did return to the ring once more for charity. He mud-wrestled two female behemoths billing themselves as the Gonzo Sisters. After surviving their famed "Smother Hold"—in which his head was buried in the vast expanse of the Sisters' breasts—Kaiser managed to pin one on top of the other and claim the match.

Did He Write a Book?
Why, yes. Planet of the Umps: A Baseball Life from Behind the Plate was published in 2003.

3. Terry Tata

Life on the road presents the same temptations and pitfalls for umpires as it does for players. Witness the curious case of Terry Tata, a highly-regarded National League ump who did little to court controversy over the course of a 26-year career—on the field, anyway. The stepson of another longtime man in blue, Augie Guglielmo, Tata earned the everlasting respect of his colleagues for declining the league's invitation to cross the picket line during a 1970 umpire's strike. Away from the diamond, Tata had a taste for the high life. That caught up with him on the night of June 22, 1993, when he was drugged and robbed by a female con artist in his room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Burlingame, California.

According to published reports, hours after working second base in that evening's game between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, Tata invited a woman he had met in the hotel bar up to his room for a little red wine and light conversation. She slipped a tranquilizer into his glass and made off Tata's Rolex watch, a gold bracelet, two World Series rings, and $500 in cash. Tata managed to elude the sting of bad publicity, but he could not escape the wrath of Bud Selig six years later, when the baseball commissioner muscled him out for helping to organize an ill-fated mass resignation by disgruntled umpires in September of 1999.

Did he write a book?
No, but with a name like Tata, he would have no shortage of cute titles to choose from.

4. Ron Luciano

A colorful American League ump who wrote a string of whimsically titled bestsellers about life in the majors, Ron Luciano was the face of his profession for many baseball fans of the 1970s and 80s. The 6'4", 280-pound upstate New York native was a former All-America offensive tackle who blocked for Jim Brown at Syracuse. Drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1959, he bounced around the NFL before finishing up his career in the AFL with the Buffalo Bills. In 1964, Luciano turned to umpiring to satisfy his athletic jones. He graduated to the big leagues in 1969 and began carving out a reputation as one of the game's most articulate, and eccentric, men in blue.

An avid bird watcher, Luciano spent much of his down time on the road up on the roof of his hotel with a pair of binoculars—to the point where his fellow umps briefly suspected him of being a peeping tom. He became famous for his confrontations with managers—particularly the Baltimore Orioles' Earl Weaver, whom he once threw out of both games of a doubleheader. But Luciano's clownish public face masked considerable private pain. Friends knew him as an introverted loner who cared little for baseball and rarely watched a game he wasn't working. After retiring from the diamond in 1980, Luciano descended deeper and deeper into depression. On the afternoon of January 18, 1995, he entered the garage of his home in the village of Endicott, New York. He placed a black hose over the exhaust pipe of his brown Cadillac, keyed the ignition, rolled up the windows, and climbed into the car. A handyman found his body a few hours later.

Did he write a book?
Yes, five of them. The Umpire Strikes Back, Strike Two, The Fall of the Roman Umpire, Remembrance of Swings Past, and Baseball Lite.

5. Eric Gregg

John McSherry, a 400-pound mountain of a man who literally dropped dead of a heart attack on the diamond, may have been the unhealthiest umpire in major league history. The dangerously adipose Eric Gregg was a close second. In fact, his prodigious carriage tended to overshadow his real historical achievement as the only the third African-American umpire in major league history. Often called "Rerun" or "The Plump Ump," Gregg weighed 357 pounds at his heaviest, and was regularly subjected to taunts from fans and players alike. Major League officials were so concerned about Gregg's weight that they ordered him to go to a fat farm in the off-season. But it was Gregg's erratic performance behind the mask that would prove his undoing.

Notorious for his galactically wide strike zone, Gregg had a poor reputation within the umpiring community. He was also easily distracted. During one critical game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1979, Gregg was forced to admit he was too busy watching Mary Sue Styles, the Phillies' nubile young ball girl, to tell whether a game-changing home run was fair or foul. After being forced out of the game by commissioner Bud Selig in 1999, Gregg enjoyed a lucrative second career as commissioner of The Wing Bowl, an annual chicken wing eating contest sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating. He died of a stroke in 2007.

Did he write a book?
Yes, the appropriately titled Working the Plate in 1990.

6. Dave Pallone

If only Dave Pallone could be remembered solely for being the major leagues' first publicly acknowledged gay umpire, he'd probably be a lot better off. But his story is more complicated than that. Pallone was one of eight minor league men in blue to cross the picket line during the 1979 umpires' strike, making him a pariah in the close-knit umpiring community. His nine-year career in the Show would be marked by controversy, invariably attributable to Pallone's abrasive personality. He picked fights with players, including a running feud with Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds, whom he accused of repeatedly spitting on him. When fans would taunt him between innings, Pallone would mimic their gestures back at them—a habit that did little to endear him to players or patrons alike.

Rumors about his homosexuality were rampant in major league clubhouses, supplying the subtext to Pallone's infamous finger-jabbing shoving match with Reds star Pete Rose in May of 1988. That altercation precipitated a near-riot at Riverfront Stadium and earned Rose a 30-day suspension. But Pallone likely would have survived to jab another day had he not had his sexual orientation and off-field proclivities exposed by the New York Post in a front-page newspaper article that September. Even more damaging than the involuntary outing, Pallone was linked to, but never charged in, a case involving a teenage sex ring being run out of a friend's house in upstate New York, prompting his firing by commissioner Bart Giamatti in the off-season.

Did he write a book?
Yes, his 1990 tell-all Behind the Mask is considered the Ball Four of major league umpire memoirs. In it, Pallone reveals that he had an affair with a prominent major league star and "brief encounters with a few [other] ballplayers."

7. Pam Postema

Pioneering female umpire Pam Postema was on the fast track to the majors when her career path was derailed by the untimely death of her most powerful patron. The first woman to officiate in a professional baseball game, Postema overcame enormous resistance from fellow umpires and many players to rise through the ranks of the minors. Houston Astros hurler Bob Knepper famously dismissed her candidacy for a big league promotion, saying: "I don't think a woman should be an umpire. There are some things that men shouldn't do and some things that a woman shouldn't do. I think umpiring is one of them." Major League Baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti believed in her, however, and was on the verge of awarding her a big-league promotion when he keeled over and died of a heart attack in September of 1989. Postema's hopes for making the Show died with him. After leaving the game, Postema filed a sexual discrimination suit against Major League Baseball, telling the press: "I believe I belong in the major leagues. If it weren't for the fact that I'm a woman, I would be there right now." The two sides eventually settled out of court. She later worked as a truck driver for Federal Express and a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.

Did she write a book?
Yes, the delightfully bitter You've Got to Have Balls to Make It in This League, published in 1992. Sample passage: "Almost all of the people in the baseball community don't want anyone interrupting their little male-dominated way of life. They want big, fat male umpires. They want those macho, tobacco-chewing, sleazy sort of borderline alcoholics."

8. Joe West

"Publicity hound" isn't a term you normally hear applied to major league umpires, who generally hew to the belief that if nobody's talking about you you must be doing your job correctly. But Cowboy Joe West, as he prefers to style himself, is no ordinary umpire. In fact, he's the worst umpire in America, if you believe a poll conducted by Baseball America magazine. Surveys of major league players also routinely rank West among the game's worst officials, which is why it's so important for the imperious North Carolina native to have outside interests. West's include country music, which he has performed with the likes of Merle Haggard, Mickey Gilley, and Box Car Willie. He has recorded two CDs of C&W standards and originals, Blue Cowboy and Diamond Dreams, which he sells on his official website

Always keen to diversify, West also holds the patent on one of the game's most popular chest protectors, the so-called "West Vest," and markets a line of umpiring equipment endorsed by Major League Baseball. Of course, we only know about any of this thanks to the diligent efforts of West's publicist—yes, publicist—Marty Martel of Tennessee's Midnight Special Productions, who once aptly described his client as "one of the most unique individuals in the professional sports world."

Did he write a book?
Not yet, but you know it's coming.

You can pick up a copy of The Underground Baseball Encyclopedia on Amazon. Learn more about the book (and baseball) on the Encyclopedia's Facebook page. Author Robert Schnakenberg also writes about the nexus of history and popular culture at his blog Historical Meet-Ups.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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