A few weeks back the Cape League awarded umpire John Leeds the Curly Clement Award, the league's top recognition for officiating. According to the League press release:
During this past summer, Leeds umpired in over 20 Cape League games, including Game 1 of the Cape League championship series at Bourne, which was called an official game in the sixth inning because of fog.
You will recall that some questioned the judgment to call the game, but in the end his decision was determined to be in the best interest of player safety on both sides.
I'll admit that I am a fan of umpiring, which puts me in a small and rarified (vilified?) class of baseball fans. I often find myself watching the positioning of umpires and how they go about their business. The Major Leagues have 4 umps on the field, Single-A has just two and I believe the Cape League has 3 on the field.
A new and completely fascinating book on umpiring by Bruce Weber of The New York Times, "As They See 'Em" (Scribner), paints an intimate and insightful portrait of umpires at every level. Weber takes time off from his desk job at the Times to become an umpire. He goes through one of the two MLB-sanctioned umpiring schools, PBUC ("peabuck"), and eventually umpires a few professional games. He comes to learn how physically and intellectually challenging the profession is.
Weber's journey through umpire training is not easy for him personally. Professionally, I think it may be the best book ever written about the role of umpiring. If you get the book, read pages 29-30 to get a truthful and poetic version of what umpiring is all about. Also take the umpiring quiz and see how you do.
My take-aways are that umpires are deeply unrecognized in every possible way, yet they are deeply knowledgeable and correct in their calls much more often than not.
"I'd never looked at the game from that angle before," Hall of Famer Robin Yount told the writer. "I'd see the play differently from the umpire, but then I'd go in the clubhouse and watch the tape and I'd be surprised that almost all the time they were right."
I am glad the Cape League recognizes excellence in umpiring. I hope it also maintains excellence in umpiring. One of the most valuable components of the Cape League's success is its ability to attract scouts and to compile credible stats for players at this level. Stats are only as good as the playing and the umpiring.
A few years ago the league announced a long-term deal with CBUAO (College Baseball Umpire Assignment Organization). This is one of the most important partnerships the Cape League has.
For those not familiar with the origins of the Clement Award, here is a little background. Robert "Curly" Clement worked as a Cape league umpire over four decades and was inducted into the CCBL Hall of Fame in 2002. He umpired 16 NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals, several ECAC Division I Baseball Championships and two NCAA College World Series during his career.
Affectionately known as the "Candy Man," for his propensity of passing out candy to players, coaches and field managers during on-field disputes, Clement’s final Cape League appearance was working home plate at the 2000 CCBL All-Star Game. He passed away in 2006 after a long illness.
Previous Clement Award winners include Harry Greer (2008), Tim Carey (2007), Peter Hall (2006), Jim McNally (2005) and Walter Bentson (2004).