Today’s special guest is writer Jonathan Weeks to chat with me about his new sports history-biography, The Umpire Was Blind! Controversial Calls by MLB’s Men in Blue.
During his virtual book tour, Jonathan will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, please use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit his other tour stops and enter there, too!
Jonathan Weeks spent most of his life in the Capital District region of New York State. He earned a degree in psychology from SUNY Albany. In 2004, he migrated to Malone, NY. He continues to gripe about the frigid winter temperatures to the present day. He has published several books on the topic of baseball. He would have loved to play professionally, but lacked the talent. He still can’t hit a curve ball or lay off the high heat. In the winter months, he moonlights as a hockey fan.
Welcome, Jonathan. Please share a little bit about your current release.
I’ve written several books on the topic of baseball. This is the first one that focuses almost entirely on umpires. I didn’t realize that there were so many interesting characters until I started doing my research. Tim Hurst was among the most colorful umpires of the early-20th century. Renowned for his nasty temper, he had an unusual way of keeping catchers under control. “Never put a catcher out of a game,” he told a New York Herald reporter. “If the man in back of the bat is sassy and objects to your calling of balls and strikes, keep close behind him while doing your work and kick him every time he reaches out to catch a ball. After about the third kick, he’ll shut up.” Hurst got away with murder for sixteen years, until he finally crossed the line. In 1909, he was fired by American League president Ban Johnson for spitting in the face of Philadelphia Athletics’ infielder Eddie Collins.
What inspired you to write this book?I grew up watching baseball and have seen a lot of bad decisions made by umpires. In 2016, I caught an episode of the HBO series, “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” In this particular installment, a Yale professor named Toby Moskowitz claimed that he had analyzed a million major league pitches over a three and a half year period. The data showed that 30,000 incorrect ball-strike calls are made each season for an overall accuracy rate of about eighty-eight percent. That’s not a very impressive number. I was actually somewhat astounded and decided to explore the topic in greater detail.
Excerpt from The Umpire Was Blind!:
Let’s face it—umpires are only human.
For well over a century, the activities on major league baseball fields have been dramatically affected by the flawed decisions of officials. In late-August of 2008, a rule was implemented by commissioner Bud Selig allowing crew chiefs to call for video reviews on questionable home runs. (Video review had been used just once in the majors prior to then—during the 1999 season.) The rule proved beneficial less than a week later when an apparent homer hit by Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees was disputed by Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. Crew Chief Charlie Reliford examined the footage and allowed the call to stand.
From 2008 through 2010, the use of video replay was invoked more than a hundred times, resulting in several dozen overturned home run calls. After much debate, a new regulation was established in 2014, allowing each manager one official challenge per game with a new one being granted each time a dispute is upheld. In addition to home run calls, managers can now challenge a number of other situations, including fair-foul rulings and fan interference calls.
The use of video replay has served to drastically reduce the number of bitter disputes. John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, remarked: “Gone are the days when a Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, Sparky Anderson or Earl Weaver could combine cathartic exercise with theatrical relief in disputing an umpire’s judgment call. The modern skipper just signals for the replay booth.”
Before the advent of video replay, controversy on the field was common. And the face of baseball history was irrevocably altered by the questionable judgments of umpires on multiple occasions. For instance:
–In 1908, a game-winning hit by Giants infielder Al Bridwell was disallowed, ultimately costing the New Yorkers a pennant.
–In the 1985 World Series, an erroneous decision by umpire Don Denkinger helped the Royals to a championship.
–In 2011, umpire Jim Joyce spoiled what should have been a perfect game for Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga when he blew a call at first base on the final out of the game.
Legendary Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson once quipped: “Many baseball fans look upon an umpire as a sort of necessary evil to the luxury of baseball, like the odor that follows an automobile.” Defending his own limitations as well as those of his peers, hall of fame arbiter, Billy Evans, contended that: “The public wouldn’t like the perfect umpire in every game. It would kill off baseball’s greatest alibi—‘we was robbed.’” At the very least, umpires are an inescapable necessity. And despite their many faults, they have played an integral role in shaping the game’s past
What exciting story are you working on next? Though I’ve written extensively about baseball, I’m also a hockey fan. I have always wanted to write a book about my favorite team—The Boston Bruins. The project is nearing completion and will be released next year through McFarland Publishers. The current working title is Best of the Bruins: Boston’s All-Time Great Hockey Players and Coaches.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote my first short story when I was around nine or ten years-old. Before then, I wrote and illustrated my own comics. I didn’t realize that I had any talent until I got into high school and started getting compliments from my English teachers. I realize now that anyone who writes is technically a writer. But honestly, I didn’t actually feel like a writer until I was holding a copy of my first book in my hands. It was such a proud moment. And it never gets old. I still get really excited when the author copies arrive on my doorstep.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I have a full-time job as a mental health counselor. I write whenever I can. Mornings are usually when the best ideas come to me. I’m an early riser. I get up around 4 or 5 a.m. and start hacking away at the keys while I’m having my first cup of coffee.