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New book fosters greater appreciation for plight of MLB umpires

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Numerous interviews from Bill Nowlin’s Working a “Perfect Game” detail challenges of umpiring and what it takes to reach the major leagues.

Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP via Getty Images

Just released to the public on Wednesday in print and e-book form, Working a “Perfect Game” by Bill Nowlin vividly details what it’s like to umpire at baseball’s highest level and what it takes to get there. While umps will never be sympathetic figures in the eyes of partisan fans, readers will gain a newfound respect for everything they endure outside of the games themselves.

For the majority of Nowlin’s interviewees, they recall getting the itch to umpire as early as their teenage years. But this route to The Show proves to be almost as competitive as it is for players. The select few you get “hired” by Major League Baseball full time typically don’t earn that job security until their 30s or 40s after numerous years climbing the minor league ladder and several more shuttling back and forth between Triple-A and MLB as fill-ins.

As you might imagine, the topic of instant replay comes up in plenty of Nowlin’s conversations. Greg Gibson was working second base on May 31, 1999 for a Marlins-Cardinals matchup that utilized replay to address a disputed call for the first time in league history. Here is his unique perspective on that Cliff Floyd batted ball:

It was Frank (Pulli)’s call. It was Frank’s call all the way. But Cliff got to second base and he talked to me. Cliff and I had known each other since A ball. Cliff and I had been together for eight years, every level up through.

Cliff ran to Frank and Frank called it a home run. So we huddled. Frank was big on seniority and Greg Bonin had the plate. He said, “What have you got, Peewee?” “Ah, I don’t know, Frank.” Ed Rapuano was at first base. “What have you got, Eddie Rap?” “I don’t know, Frank. I’m not real sure, Frank.” Frank called me Hoot. Hoot Gibson. Frank had a big Italian...”Hoot, what have you got?” I said, “The ball hit the wall, Frank.” “What?” I said, “The ball hit the wall, Frank.” He said, “Where?” I said, “What do you want me to do, go out there and climb it?” I remember it like it was yesterday. I said, “What do you want me to do, go out there and draw you a big X on the scoreboard?” I said, “It hit the scoreboard.”

He said, “There’s only one way to fix this. And, with that, he turned and he started walking toward the Marlins dugout, with Greg Bonin. And I looked at Eddie Rap and I said, “Is he going to do what I think he’s going to do?” And Rap said back to me, “Like you’re going to stop him?” (laughs)

So Frank goes to the Marlins’ first-base dugout and he literally asks one of the technicians to turn the camera and around and give him the look. Well, some photographer is trying to take pictures of the whole thing. Greg Bonin grabs the guy’s camera and slams it to the ground. Breaks this guy’s real expensive camera. Anyway, it was just a mess, the whole thing was just a mess. That was the first use of instant replay.

John Boles was sick and not there. Fredi González was the bench coach and actually the fill-in manager for the Marlins. And I had gone through the minor leagues with Fredi as a manager. So we’re getting ready to go and Fredi comes out and goes, “I want to protest. I want to play this game under protest.” We huddle again and Frank looks at me and he goes, “You’re the rules guy. What have you got?” “There’s nothing to cover this.” I said, “Frank, you’re using technology. There’s nothing to cover this.” Anyway, Frank marks up the protest. We can’t even get off the field. Runge was the supervisor. This was back and I was the only guy who had a cellphone. The first year I had a cellphone. Let’s just say it was a major, major, major...it was a big deal.

Umps who called the balls and strikes for the Aníbal Sánchez (Jeff Kellogg), Henderson Alvarez (Ron Kulpa) and Edinson Vólquez (Bill Miller) no-hitters also participated in the book.

With MLB’s return more than a month away—and potentially much longer—Working a “Perfect Game” can help fill the void.