Baseball Umpires Call Games 'As They See 'Em' One call from an umpire can make or break a baseball game. Bruce Weber spent time learning how to call balls and strikes for his book, As They See 'Em. He also interviewed dozens of professional umpires about their craft.
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Baseball Umpires Call Games 'As They See 'Em'

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Baseball Umpires Call Games 'As They See 'Em'

Baseball Umpires Call Games 'As They See 'Em'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's amazing that you can be a lifelong baseball fan and not know the first thing, literally, the first thing about being an umpire. The observation comes from Bruce Weber, who wrote a couple of stories on the men in blue for the New York Times, and then spent much of three years learning - from umpire school in Florida to the World Series - about an underpaid, underappreciated, misrepresented and much misunderstood profession that is both romanticized and reviled.

So today we want to hear from the umpires in our audience. What don't we understand about your job? Tell us your story. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us at You can also join the conversation on our Web site, go to, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, guilt ethics and vulture consumers. But first, Bruce Weber joins us from our bureau in New York. His book is called "As They See 'Em: A fan's travel in the land of umpires." And thanks very much, for coming in today.

Mr. BRUCE WEBER (Author): Hi, Neal. It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And when you write that we don't understand the first thing, about being an umpire - what is that first thing?

Mr. WEBER: The first thing is able to yank off your mask, without upsetting your hat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And this is important. Why?

Mr. WEBER: Well, umpires are - need to maintain their authority on the field - it's actually the most delicate and difficult thing that they do. And if you pull off your mask and your hat slides over your face or it falls in the dirt, you kind of look like a schmo. And it's looking like a schmo is something that an umpire can't afford.

CONAN: And interesting that's the first thing you're taught in umpire school.

Mr. WEBER: Correct.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You attended umpire school. There are two qualified umpire schools. And that's where all the professional umpires come from, or at least for the minor leagues and the major leagues, eventually. And it was an interesting process, one that began by understanding that the field from an umpire's point of view, is very different than the field that the fan sees.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah that's true. Ah, first of all, it's a lot bigger.

Mr. WEBER: Once you're down on the field, the distances between bases, the distance from the infield to the outfield fence, the distance from the pitcher's mound to the plate, seems really large - particularly when you realize it's your responsibility to see all of it and to maintain the sort of understanding of what's going on, on every square inch of it, while the game is in play. I think fans, particularly those who are used to watching on TV, tend to think of a baseball field as the size of a TV.

CONAN: Umm-hmm. And to think of a baseball game, as a narrative story that unfolds slowly, chapter by chapter. And you write that umpires have to understand it, not as a story, but as a series of discreet moments.

Mr. WEBER: That's right. One of the things that happens in umpire school, is they sort of breakdown your - the way you look at a baseball game. They kind of deconstruct it. Because we all show up in umpire school as amateurs that has essentially fans, people who think of a ballgame as a story, with a beginning and a middle and an end. And heroes and suspense, I mean, if you're lucky.

CONAN: Umm-hmm.

Mr. WEBER: And umm - but an umpire can't really - can't afford to get caught up in the drama, can't afford to get caught up in characters. I mean a pitcher is supposed to be a pitcher and a hitter is supposed to be a hitter. So the umpire needs to - first of all, needs to be taught to see a game as a series of discreet episodes, you know - a pitch, a swing, a foul ball, a base hit, a line drive that either lands on the foul - that lands either fair or foul, a base hit, a slide at second - each moment that requires an umpire's adjudication has to be treated exactly the same way as the one before and the one after.

CONAN: And there's a telling moment that you describe in the book. And I don't think, it's the first time the story has been told, but - umpire asked after a game, was that the greatest catch you've ever seen out there in centerfield, when he pulled that home run back over the fence? And the umpire says…

Mr. WEBER: I don't know, I didn't see it. I was watching to make sure the runner touched first base.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Which is the umpire's job. Again, we don't see the game the same way they do. And this is, you describe, a separate culture. You describe it at one point as a cult that operates in plain sight.

Mr. WEBER: Well, it certainly seems to be true, that nobody knows anything about the umpires - what they do or who they are. I think, maybe in the past, some of the names would have been more familiar. I mean, those kind of sonorous names like Nestor Chylak and Jim Honochick and Augie Donatelli, but these days there's a kind of uniform anonymity and, you know, if you go to a ball game and people are yelling at the umpires they don't call him by name, they call them blue. They say you're blind, blue. Hey blue, you're missing a good game.

And yet everybody is aware of their presence. Everybody knows the umpires are out there. So yeah, there is this kind mystery to their collective, and yet they operate in plain sight. And one of the things that I thought was interesting when I started to write the book, was that - was how little actually attention from writers they had actually gotten. Because you would think that this kind of anonymity and this kind of secrecy, even though they're right in front of us, you would have think - that all by itself would have created a kind of interest.

CONAN: We want to hear from the umpires in our audience today. What is it we don't get about your curious and cult like job and language? Give us a call 800-989-8255 email us We'll start with Cody(ph). Cody calling us from Wichita.

CODY (Caller): Hi How is it going?

CONAN: All right. How are you today?

CODY: Good. I'm umpire for the YMCA here in Wichita.

CONAN: Hmm-hmm.

CODY: I do the little league games. And for me, the biggest challenges, is just kind of, letting the kids - helping the kids pay attention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CODY: They get, you know, they get easily distracted out there in the outfield - and these are six or seven year old kids. You know, it's basically - I think my biggest challenge is just teaching them the game of baseball in general.

CONAN: And is that as you say it's - as the authority figure on the field, the only one who's actually on the field, you have a unique role to play.

CODY: Right, right. And I mean - I'm constantly - we've now - the way we set it up we've also got a coach out there but so I got a kind of maintain a balance of keeping the coaches kind out of the way of the kids.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And the parents too.

CODY: Right, right (unintelligible).

Mr. WEBER: Oh, it's probably the biggest trouble.

CONAN: I wonder - Bruce Weber writes in his book that umpires are very conscious of the way they stand and the way they present themselves on the field, and of course they're very conscious too of I guess the most dramatic moment that all of us associating with umpires - calling somebody out or safe. Could you, Cody, give us an example of, do you practice your out call?

CODY: Yeah, yeah I kind of developed it over the season. It's basically the only call I really use. We give them six pitches and we don't really have strikes and what have you, so…

CONAN: Would you let it hear your out call.

Mr. WEBER: Let's hear it.

CODY: Sure, sure. Out!

CONAN: That's pretty good. That's very authoritative. I'm sure all the…

CODY: Thank you.

CONAN: … six years old are appropriately impressed.

CODY: Yeah they can hear it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much.

CODY: Thank you.

CONAN: And good luck with the parents.

CODY: All right.

CONAN: Bye, bye.

CODY: Have a good day.

CONAN: You too. Now let's go next to this is Rich. Rich with us from Charlotte.

RICH (Caller): Hi. How are you all?

CONAN: Oh good.

RICH: What's your question?

CONAN: The question is what don't we get about your job as an umpire?

RICH: Well, umpires really don't care about the outcome of the game. We really don't care about the score. A lot of people think we're partial or have an agenda, but we're just trying to make the best possible decision at the time and get good position. That's really what we're trying to do?

CONAN: And where do you work, Rich?

RICH: Charlotte, North Carolina.

CONAN: At what level?

RICH: I've worked all the way from Little League to high school.

CONAN: And there's a big difference between the little kids we were just talking about and high school kids who are starting to see Cooperstown in their future.

RICH: Absolutely. Well, the size of the field makes a big difference too. With the high school boys, you have a lot more territory to cover, and with a two-man system, you have a lot of responsibility, a lot of - just you have to be a lot of different places. You can't get to every position you'd like to.

CONAN: The two-man system. Bruce Weber, one of the things you learn in umpire school is in fact that at the levels that Rich is talking about, at high school, there are two umpires. When you get to higher levels of the game, up to AA in minor league ball, there are three umpires, and there aren't four until you get to the big leagues.

Mr. WEBER: That's correct, and I think some fans think that it's terrifically easy because they only have - in the big leagues because they have, you know, only one base to cover, but as your listeners who are umpires will tell you, that's not entirely the case. You cover the whole field.

RICH: You have to move about. When a - trouble ball goes to the outfield, somebody has to go out. Then everybody else has to take a new responsibility.

Mr. WEBER: That's right.

RICH: There's a pattern that everybody follows, and hopefully you know what your partner is going to do so you don't end up at the same place both of you or nobody ends up at one place.

Mr. WEBER: In many ways, that's what umpire training is about. It's about that choreography so that you're not - so that the two of you are not ready to make the same call on the same runner at second base while everybody else is running around the bases.

RICH: That's happened to me, where I've called somebody safe and my partner's standing six feet away calling him out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICH: It's very embarrassing.

CONAN: Time for a conference.

RICH: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. Rich, thanks very much for the call.

RICH: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. The worst thing, you say, Bruce Weber, that can happen to you as an umpire is to look down, see the ball on the ground and not know how it got there.

Mr. WEBER: That's pretty bad. I mean, I can think of a couple of worse things, like being knocked out by a foul tip.

CONAN: Sure, yeah.

Mr. WEBER: But the idea that a player has dropped the ball and you don't know whether he had possession before he dropped the ball or whether he simply dropped it, whether he made a tag first, or whether he didn't, or whether a force play was made or not, it's an agonizing moment when something happens where - that's going to affect your decision, and you simply haven't seen it.

CONAN: And one of the things the mentors at the baseball umpire school says, well if you're totally up the creek, say one or the other. Fifty percent, you're going to get it right.

Mr. WEBER: You've got - right. You've got half a chance, but you know, whatever you call, make sure that everybody thinks you absolutely believe it.

CONAN: Coming across, that presence, that control of the game, the command.

Mr. WEBER: That's exactly right. I mean, you can't afford to yield up your authority over the game simply for the sake of one call. It's much better to get that call egregiously wrong and have somebody have somebody have a screaming fight with you and then walk off the field and let the game continue with yourself still in control of it than it is to say, oops, you know, I blew that. Let's - you know, let me change my mind, and then everything you decide for the rest of the game is called into question.

CONAN: Yeah, there's the famous call you describe in the book that a lot of young umpires use, stree(ph) ball.

Mr. WEBER: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Bruce Weber is with us. The name of his book is "As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travel in the Land of Umpires." If you're an umpire, call and tell us what we don't get about your unusual job: 800-989-8255. Email Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Bruce Weber writes in his book: Just about the first thing they teach you at umpire school is how to yank your mask off without upsetting your hat.

As we described earlier in the program, umpires place great stock in their appearance, and if you're trying to make a call or follow a play with your hat askew or caught in your mask straps or, the worst, spilled in the dirt, you look foolish, inept, exactly the image you don't want the ballplayers, the managers and the coaches or the fans to have of you.

Bruce Weber's book is titled "As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travel in the Land of Umpires." You can read an excerpt at our Web site. Go to Click on TALK OF THE NATION. We want to hear from the umpires in the audience today. What don't we understand about your job? 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's see if we can go now to - this is Francis(ph), Francis with us from Salisbury in Maryland.

FRANCIS (Caller): Hello.


FRANCIS: My question, or my comment, is the difficulty, as you're umpiring for younger people, usually it's, you know, kids, and as an adult, you know, younger men, they're smaller, the strike zone is smaller, and it's hard to be consistent for them. That's the most difficult part of umpiring, I think, is to match the size of the strike zone with the size of the people.

CONAN: That's an interesting observation. There's a minor league team there in Salisbury, the Delmarva Shorebirds. I take it that you're not an umpire in that league.

FRANCIS: Oh no, no, I'm not that good.

CONAN: What league, you're talking about little leagues?

FRANCIS: The oldest I've done is JV in high school.

CONAN: JV in high school, and again, that self-conscious part of the game, you practiced your out call?

FRANCIS: Well, yeah.

CONAN: 'Cause you wanted to make sure you knew how to do it.


CONAN: Let's hear it.

FRANCIS: Well, for an emphatic out, and you do get caught up in the game, no matter what no one else says. The best out I got is: You're out of here.

CONAN: That's not bad. I like that. I like that. Thank you very much, Francis.

FRANCIS: Take care.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to Ron(ph), Ron in St. Louis.

RON (Caller): Hello, Neal. I'm not an umpire, but I'm a fan. And I've always wanted to know what umpires did when they had to use the restroom.

CONAN: Well Bruce Weber, is this one of the issues you plumb, you'll excuse the expression, in your book?

Mr. WEBER: Well, I can't say I spend an entire chapter on it, but I think that most umpires have - do have digestive-problem stories, but I think in a pinch, most teams will forego their animosity at the umpire and allow him to use the restroom in the clubhouse.

RON: That's nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: One of the distinctions between AAA fields and lower in the minors is that there is actually a bathroom in the dugout.

Mr. WEBER: Right.

RON: Good. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thank you, Ron, appreciate it. It was fascinating to - I spent parts of three seasons and all of a fourth doing play-by-play in minor league baseball. And reading your book reminded me why I vowed after a year, full season in minor league baseball, why I would never eat another hot dog again.

Mr. WEBER: There are a lot of hot dogs consumed on the road in minor league baseball by everyone who is involved in the game. I think it does sort of keep the Oscar Meyer Company in business.

CONAN: And it does keep body and soul together - sort of.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: Or occasionally, anyway.

CONAN: Let's get Mike(ph) on the line, Mike calling us from Tucson.

MIKE (Caller): Hey.

CONAN: Hi, Mike.

MIKE: I was an umpire for about, you know, three weeks, in Little League. I'll tell you, I'm serious about this now. You know, I'm 55, and I do have ADD. They gave me Ritalin for a while, but you know, it takes absolute concentration. And your guest sounds mentally normal, but I'm wondering…

CONAN: Well, read the book. You'll find out different.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIKE: But really, I'm wondering how he can do it because so many times I was standing there, everybody's looking at me, and I don't know what to say because I was thinking about something else or watching a butterfly. It really must take, to be good at it, an ability to focus completely on what it is you have to be looking at.

Mr. WEBER: Well, first let me say that with all due respect, it sounds like you weren't really suited for the job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIKE: That's possible. That's possible.

Mr. WEBER: But you're quite right. Concentration and the ability to concentrate is a requirement of the job. And as most umpires will tell you, the game tends to focus their concentration.

MIKE: But they don't test you for that, do they? I mean…

Mr. WEBER: Well no, but I mean, when you are sort of monitored in school and when you are working in the professional leagues, and you're being supervised, if your attention wanders periodically, you're not going to last very long.

MIKE: Hey, one more thing. I can tell by the sound of the guys who are yelling out after a great play, you know, at first or whatever, that they are enjoying that. And I cannot believe that if you're a human being, you are able to separate your own empathy for one or the other player or team in making a call.

Mr. WEBER: Well, I guess I probably won't be able to persuade you otherwise, but when you're on the field, and you are engaged in trying to make the right call, knowing that you got the call right is what makes them happy. That's what you're sensing. These guys, when they are in position to make a call on a banger at first base…

CONAN: A very close play, yeah.

Mr. WEBER: A bang-bang call, and they see it perfectly, they know they've seen it, they know it's really close, and they get a chance to go - and demonstrate for the entire stadium that they are on top of the action, and they are in control, and no matter how many people are booing, that's what gets an umpire off.

MIKE: (Unintelligible).

CONAN: Mike, let me interrupt just for a moment because Bruce Weber, you describe a moment in a game that you were umpiring when there's a line drive down the foul line. And it's as if everything slow down for you, and it's the moment you're in perfect position and make the absolutely right call.

Mr. WEBER: Right, and there's this - there was this instant, this was in one of the very first games I umpired, and I realized oh, okay. Now I know why these guys do it. It's, you know, the line drive down the left-field line. I came out from behind the plate and straddled the line. I saw it land perfectly. It was a - you know, it was not a difficult call, but it was a close one. Runners are rounding the bases, and everybody's screaming. And when the ball lands, for just a split second there is just a kind of hiccup in the atmosphere.

You know, everybody looks at the umpire: the coaches, the players, the people and the fans. And I remember this absolutely. I held up my hands and went, foul ball. And then the game went back to normal, and I thought - you know, and everybody went back, but I thought for that moment, just for that moment, I thought this game is mine, baby.

MIKE: (Unintelligible). Like, I remember lying about calls just because I felt sorry for the little kid who'd never gotten a hit before. I'm serious.

Mr. WEBER: Well, I don't blame you for that. I mean, umpiring does have context.

MIKE: But that's what I mean. But don't you have guys that you like and guys you can't stand, and doesn't that influence you?

Mr. WEBER: I would say that yes, you have guys you like and guys you guys you can't stand, and no, it shouldn't influence you.

CONAN: Mike?

MIKE: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. In fact, the context you were talking about was a game, again, involving younger kids that was, what, 20 to nothing at some point and called somebody out at first base when they were clearly safe by, you know, a step and a half. And some people would say you always make the correct call no matter what. On the other hand, hey, you know, there's a point. Let's get this game over with.

Mr. WEBER: Well, there's that, you know, but there's also - you know, the point I was making there that there is - an umpire's call is within the context not just of the game but in - to some degree in the context of a larger world. And, you know, in the book I go on to compare that particular situation to what they call the neighborhood play.

CONAN: That's at second base, where on a double play, the shortstop is in the neighborhood of second base to avoid getting killed by the sliding runner.

Mr. WEBER: Exactly, when he receives the ball. The umpires will generally give the shortstop a little bit of slack on that particular play precisely so he doesn't have to stand there and wait for the ball and get bowled over by the runner because he's not in a position to defend himself.

Is - as the rules are defined specifically, is the neighborhood play, should the neighborhood play be called an out? No, it shouldn't, but as baseball has evolved, and I think properly, it is called an out.

CONAN: One of the things you write about a lot in your book is the culture of umpires, which is a very masculine, sort of middle-American, conservative, almost vanished world in some respects.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah, I would say. I think it's - it's representative of a larger population within the, you know, within the country, I think. But you know, there's a kind of floor-of-the-factory feel within, you know, umpire culture. Very hard-working, proud, blue-collar men who, you know, are really proud of what they do, and their values are, you know, old-fashioned.

CONAN: Even though some of them had been to college, some of them considered going on to law school. A lot of different kinds of people…

Mr. WEBER: Right.

CONAN: But that's the dominant culture.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah. And I will say that that's evolving a little bit. Twenty years ago there were far fewer college graduates in the umpire ranks than they are now.

CONAN: Let's get Elizabeth on the line. Elizabeth calling us from Harpers Wood in Michigan.

ELIZABETH (Caller): Yeah. Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead.

ELIZABETH: Mr. Weber, I read your book last week and I really loved it. I enjoyed it a lot.

Mr. WEBER: Great. Thank you.

ELIZABETH: So it was so great to hear that you were going to be on the show today. And I had a question about women umpires. And I know you had a section in your book about a woman - I think her name was Ria Cortesio…

Mr. WEBER: Yeah.

ELIZABETH: And you seem to sort of imply that she was eventually out of Minor League Baseball because she was a woman.

Mr. WEBER: I think that's true.

ELIZABETH: Do you think it's possible there would ever be a woman umpire in major leagues? Or do you think it's just not going to happen?

Mr. WEBER: Well, all I can say is that it's not going to happen anytime soon because Ria was the last woman umpire in baseball, and there are now none.

So if to go through the ordinary channels, if a young woman were to go to umpire school this coming January and get a job at the lowest level of the minor leagues and proceed up the ladder as quickly as it was possible to proceed, it would be eight or 10 years before she would get to the major leagues. So it isn't going to happen soon.

CONAN: And the way you describe the umpire's reaction to her was, well, I don't think hostile is too strong a word.

Mr. WEBER: It's not too strong a word. It was hostile.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: It's a very masculine culture. And in fact, this was the one thing that's surprised me about a lot of these guys who I really did grow to like because they seem to have a real blind spot when it came to women as possible umpires.

CONAN: Hmm. Elizabeth, thanks very much.

ELIZABETH: Thank you.

CONAN: Wait a minute. Before you go, might you consider going to umpire school?

ELIZABETH: I thought about it. I have kids on Little League and I've been - I don't think - I think I'm too old, you know, to start that now. But I've been watching my kids in Little League this year and it's a lot of fun to see what the umpires do. And I think I might be interested in trying doing like some of the local leagues.

CONAN: I don't think you need to go to the Florida camps to be an umpire at Little League.

ELIZABETH: Probably not. But it would be fun to explore.

Mr. WEBER: Wouldn't hurt.


CONAN: Thanks for the call, Elizabeth.

Here's an email from Mason in Kalamazoo. I get paid to ump beer leagues, softball games, and though those are fun, there is much more conflict in those games. What those players failed to realize is that, first of all, I haven't been drinking when I'm officiating and also that I am genuinely unbiased. I know a lot of the players, but I really don't care who wins. That last part in capital letters.

All I care about is making the best calls. Just because a classmate of mine is on the team that's playing does not mean I'm skewing my calls in their favor. The alcohol does not help in these cases, when combined with testosterone-driven competition, as it causes severe irrationality and anger. Well…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: Well, I would say beer is the keyword there.

CONAN: I suspect you're right.

CONAN: Bruce Weber is our guest. His book is called "As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get Ken on the line. Ken with us from Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

KEN (Caller): Hi. How are you? This is a wonderful show. I'm really enjoying it.

CONAN: Oh, thanks.

KEN: I'm a collegiate fast pitch softball umpire. And the thing I wanted to point out that people just don't get about umpiring is the intricacy of what we call mechanics, which is positioning. And one of your previous callers mentioned this. I also work high school games in which we only have two umpires.

And a couple of years ago, a partner and I, we're in the parking lot, getting ready for what turned out to be a very big high school game here between two very powerful teams, traditional rivals. And as we always do pre-game, we sat down and we talked how we're going to cover the infield fly, how we're going to go for help on check swing, who is going to cover second base, third base in certain situations.

And there was a fan who had pulled up in the parking lot, was watching us, respectful distance away. He got more and more curious the more we talked. And finally he closed the door of the car. He walked over to us as the crowd was gathering, and said, I'm so impressed with you guys. And we both look at him and said, why? - we do this before every game. And then he said, I thought all that umpires did before a game was to talk about which team they were going to give the shaft to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEN: And in fact, what we really care about is our game, getting our game right. And that's something that Mr. Weber made very, very clear. It's an extraordinary thing - you work on your game. You want to get that call right.

And when people ask me, do you favor one team over another, I always tell them, I'm not that smart. In the heat of the moment I'm trying to get position. I'm working for the ball, the tag, the position of the base, the runner. And to be perfectly honest, I can't remember which team the call is going against because all I care about is the call itself.

Mr. WEBER: And I think that's a good point, that it's - really, the game tends to move pretty quickly. And if you're wondering, you know, sorry, which team is up right now, which way is my call supposed to go, it doesn't work that way.

CONAN: Ken, give us your strike three call.

KEN: Are you ready?


KEN: (Screams)

CONAN: Great. That's a good one. Thank you, Ken.

KEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

And let's see if we can get one more caller in before we have to go. And we'll go to Ed. Ed's calling us from Sarasota, Florida.

ED (Caller): Hey. As a kid, I was inspired to try umpiring by seeing a movie by - that starred William Bendix, I think.

Mr. WEBER: It was called "Kill the Umpire."

ED: Yeah. And I grew up spending a lot of time at Wrigley Field when the Cubs were pretty bad. So I got very intrigued with guys named Augie and shag.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ED: And that caused me to want to go into umpiring as a kid, umpiring for other kids, 16, 17-year-old for me, little kid, Little Leaguers. What are some of the stories on what inspired the big league umpires to get into it, if you have one or two?

Mr. WEBER: Sure. Mike Winters told me a story that I just love. He said that his favorite teacher in high school - actually, maybe it wasn't in high school - maybe it was junior high school - had a ball and strike indicator that he used to carry around with him and used it for something in class. He had no idea what - I don't remember what it was for. But Mike became obsessed with the ball and strike indicator. And one day at the end of the school year, he stole it.


Mr. WEBER: And he said to justify that act, he became - he got interested in umpiring. And he says - he did tell me that he still has it.

CONAN: But he never calls it a clicker.

Mr. WEBER: He never calls it a clicker.

ED: It's funny. I just thought that the idea of it, here was a guy out there who prevented chaos from occurring, because that's how that movie flowed.

Mr. WEBER: Right.

ED: William Bendix was a ballplayer who couldn't play any longer, is my recollection, and he saw some kids arguing and fighting. And he said, you know, we got to get in here. And that's supposedly how that character got interest in getting into it.

CONAN: Don't forget, William Bendix also played Babe Ruth and that he used to play minor league ball before…

Mr. WEBER: He used to play minor league ball, that's right.

CONAN: …before he got into the acting gig. Bruce Weber, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. WEBER: It was my pleasure, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Bruce Weber joined us from our bureau in New York. His book, "As They See 'Em." There's an excerpt from the book at our Web site.

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