OBSERVATIONS: The day a great umpire died on the field

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave after hiding in the bathroom this afternoon when TV reported a funnel cloud near Hoke Road, a half-mile from my house. Thirty minutes later the sun was shining as if it was the Fourth of July.

—Whenever one of our teams loses a close game, be it baseball, basketball or football, a knee-jerk reaction is to blame an official’s call or non-call. We’re all guilty. Me, too.

Among the many things one can say about former umpire John McSherry, a man who dearly loved his job, was that he was fair to the enth degree. He made all the right calls. He never made the game about him, he never showed up managers or players.

There were nights on the road after a game, at 1 or 2 a.m., when I would run into McSherry in a pizza parlor and we’d sit and talk baseball and share a lot of laughs as he devoured piece after piece of a large deluxe pizza. McSherry had a massive weight problem that he fought all his life. He batted 300 on the scales, not a good number when you don’t have a bat in your hands.

I bring this up after I saw a Facebook post about the day McSherry died of a heart attack while working home plate in Cincinnati on Opening Day, April 1, 1996.

This is from Reds’ catcher Eddie Taubensee, who is one of the nicest and most compassionate human being to walk God’s great earth, as was McSherry.

“Unfortunately, I was the starting catcher that day and the last person John spoke to,” said Taubensee. “He was joking with me before the game that I should call balls and strikes. I said, ‘No way, you can have that job.’

“A few pitches into the game, I turned around after he mumbled something and I said, ‘Are you all right?’ He was trying to get off the field because he knew something was wrong. He thought of what it would look like in front of everyone,” Taubensee added.

McSherry almost made it to gate behind home plate that led to under the stands, but he collapsed on the warning track and died.

“What an honorable man he was,” Taubensee continued. “I will never forget that and I witnessed so many parents talking with their kids explaining life.”

I witnessed it from the press box and saw something that stuck with me forever. It was Ray Knight’s first game as manager of the Reds. He was on the field, hugging and consoling umpire Tom Hallion, who was in tears after watching McSherry collapse.

If there is a daily baseball game in heaven, John McSherry is calling balls and strikes.

—QUOTE: From former volatile manager Leo ‘The Lip’ Durocher: “I’ve never questioned the integrity of an umpire. Their eyesight, yes.” (This comes from a guy who was suspended from the game for associating with unsavory characters.)

—Was former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos praising Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton or blasting Reds owner Bob Castellini? You be the judge.

After he declined his option to stay with the Reds and becoming a free agent, Castellanos signed a $100 million contract that pushed the Phillies beyond the luxury tax threshold.

At his first press conference, Castellanos said, “At the end of the day, baseball comes down to ownership. The owner either want to invest and cares about winning, or doesn’t.”

My opinion? Nick’s finger was pointing directly at Great American Ball Park.

—QUOTE: From Pat Gillick, general manager of four different MLB teams: “No matter how much technology changes scouting, no matter how much free agency and big TV contracts change the business of baseball, I hope and pray that the heart of the game will never change.” (There are some who say MLB no longer has a heart.)

—As if the Cincinnati Reds don’t have enough issues, their training room is filling up faster than a Ben & Jerry’s offering free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.

Pitcher Luis Castillo, scheduled to pitch Opening Day, was shut down this week with shoulder soreness and won’t be ready. Bullpenner Tejay Antone is out for the season, relief pitcher Lucas Sims is out of action.

And this one stings. Pitcher Justin Dunn was part of the controversial trade that sent Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to Seattle. Dunn had shoulder issues last season and still has them. He will miss ‘several months.’ Doesn’t that fall under the category of damaged goods?

In addition, top shortstop prospect Jose Barrero is missing in action after wrist surgery that will lay him to waste for at least six weeks.

—QUOTE: From Peggy Detweiler: “The comeback is always stronger than the setback.” (Not sure who Peggy Detweiler is, those are words for injured players to live by.)

—After saying the dreadful ‘ghost runner’ for extra inning would not be used this season, MLB backtracked and said it will be used for the 2022 season. Where’s ‘Ghostbusters’ when you need them?

At least they are sticking to the elimination of seven-inning doubleheaders and going back to nine innings.

All these back-and-forth maneuverings don’t sit with Arizona pitcher Madison Bumgarner.

“I’m sure we’ll have a different rule in three months or maybe the next year after that,” Bumgarner told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “We’ll just make it up as we go. We’ll see whatever they like, the flavor of the month. Maybe we’ll start playing with a whiffle ball.”

Bumgarner remains miffed that he threw a seven-inning no-hitter last season that isn’t officially recognized because it was a shortened game.

Typical MLB. They impose an absurd rule then penalize a player who does something historic under their rules, but gets no credit for it.

—QUOTE: From former Reds manager Sparky Anderson, after commissioner Bowie Kuhn negated a trade of Vida Blue because it was not in the best interests of baseball: “If I hear Bowie Kuhn say just once more he’s doing something for the betterment of baseball, I’m going to throw-up.” (There is another commissioner, Sparky, who would make you throw up.)

—From Scott Russell and Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee’s eclectic and entertaining book, ‘The Final Odyssey of the Sweet Ride,’ quoting former New York Yankees outfielder and language-breaker Mickey Rivers: “My goals are to hit .300, score 100 runs and remain injury prone.”

3 thoughts on “OBSERVATIONS: The day a great umpire died on the field”

  1. I remember that day well. I recall talking to starting pitcher Pete Schourek who said on one of the pitches prior to McSherry’s collapse Pete had thrown a perfect strike and McSherry had called it a ball. He wondered what was going on. Obviously McSherry was having some issues prior to collapsing.

  2. Yeah – Castellanos layin’ it out straight. At least he’s wearing red. And to see that happen to McSherry that day was terrible.

  3. Hal.
    John McSherry was special. When I was hospitalized one time, the first get well card was from John. He always sent me a Christmas card. We always got together at the Cricket when he was in town, and later tossed a couple more in his room at the Terrace Hilton. He was the only umpire who stayed there instead of the Drawbridge Inn. He admitted to me that he was at least 400 pounds. He was going to see a doctor the next day. It was an off day and we were going to meet later that day. And he picked up every check.

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