"Two things nobody wants to grow up to be are an umpire and broke. Thanks to my career in baseball I got to be both."For twenty-years as a major league umpire Ken Kaiser ignored the boos and swept the plate. And in his autobiography -- written with David Fisher, who co-authored Ron Luciano's classic bestseller The Umpire Strikes Back -- he brings to life his adventures both on and off the field.This is a hysterical story of baseball from the inside, fair to foul, balls to brawls, strikes to...strikes. From coming up in the minors ("I suspected I might have a problem when I turned on the lights and found my partner's glass eye on the table"), right through his years spent in the big leagues with stars like Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire and Nolan Ryan, Kaiser comes across as a one-of-a-kind, larger-than-his-chest-protector, kind of blue.
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Thomas Dunne Books
June 04, 2003
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Excerpt from Planet of the Umps by Ken Kaiser
TWO things nobody grows up dreaming about being are broke and an umpire. Thanks to baseball, I got to be both. I didn't grow up wanting to be an umpire. I grew up in Rochester, New York. I was a pretty tough kid -- in my senior year in high school my classmates voted me Most Likely to Hold Up a Grocery Store. Some of the people I grew up with are in prison. Throughout my whole life I was always the biggest kid and I was always strong. I didn't work out with weights, I didn't exercise, I was just naturally strong. In high school I probably weighed 260 pounds. I guess I inherited my size and strength from my father and my uncles, who were all big men. I was born in 1945 while my father was serving in the Army. He was a military policeman stationed in North Africa guarding German prisoners. The prisoners loved him -- because his name was Kaiser, they figured he was one of them. My father wasn't much of a drinker, but he celebrated my birth by going into a bar and getting drunk and ending up in a fight with three sailors. For years he didn't finish that story, so one day I asked him about that fight. Naturally I expected him to tell me in detail what he did to those sailors. I liked to imagine him celebrating my birth by beating up three sailors.
Instead he said, "They beat the daylights out of me. What'd you expect? There were three of them."
My father and mother were hardworking people, good people. After the war my father worked as a security guard at Eastman Kodak. For a long time my mom had her own television repair shop, The Tube Center. My parents taught me the difference between right and wrong and to respect and tolerate other people. I got my temper all by myself. I never looked for trouble, but when it showed up I didn't walk away. For a big kid, I was a reasonably good athlete. In baseball I played first base. I could hit the ball a long way, but I didn't hit it that often. Even though I was such a big kid, I didn't play football until my freshman year at Thomas Aquinas High School.
I didn't really want to play football. I didn't particularly like it. But one day in science class the teacher, Father Klein, was demonstrating the strength of a vacuum. He sucked all the air out of a sphere which caused its two halves to lock together. Even a team of horses couldn't pull them apart, he explained. He had each kid in the class come up to the front of the room and try to pull them apart. When my turn came I went up to the front of the room and pulled them apart. I don't know who was more surprised, Father Klein or me. He couldn't believe it. Truthfully, neither could I. "Maybe they're broken," I suggested.