Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 39.
- Review Date: 2009-01-12
- Reviewer: Staff
In a no-holds-barred insider examination of the private world of baseball umpires, both minor and major leagues, Weber, a New York Times reporter, dives into the rough basic training school for the men who call balls and strikes in this irresistible book. As a 52-year-old student umpire, the author dons the mask and learns the fundamentals, while spending almost three years visiting baseball venues across the country, as well as interviewing former umpires, players and coaches. Many candidates dream of making it to the majors, as about 100,000 amateur baseball umpires call games in the U.S., Weber writes, but only 68 pro umpires make it to the big show. Baseball fans will love the insightful, richly textured account of Weber trying to master the plate stance, monitoring each pitch and maintaining a proper strike zone in a physically demanding occupation. However, his book lifts heads-and-shoulders above other baseball tomes by putting a funny, surprising treasury of anecdotes from the sport at its entertaining core.(Mar.)
Calling the shots
Bruce Weber's As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires might be the most original piece of reportage on the baseball front in years. While so much of the baseball literature is invested in the achievements of the players, Weber goes anotherand totally refreshingroute, getting the inside dope on the lives and careers of umpires. Seemingly taken for granted and tolerated as a necessary evil, umpires are a critical part of the game, yet the culture and economics of the profession, as Weber so keenly chronicles, are generally second-rate. While players routinely become millionaires, most umpires spend their lives in the minor leagues, with slim chances for advancement to the major leagues. They suffer years of unglamorous travel with no guarantee of financial payoff, all the while enduring verbal abuse from fans, players and managers, as well as the indifference of league executives who hire and fire them. The umpire's life is a solitary one, and as part of his homework, Weber actually enrolls in a noted umpiring school, gains some hard-won expertise, and travels to Podunks across America watching his newfound brethren at work. Later, Weber pulls a Plimpton-like, fantasy-fulfillment stint as third-base ump at a major league exhibition game. Throughout, the author charts umpiring history, profiles some of the legendary practitioners, explains recent labor disputes and attempts to clarify some famous on-the-field incidents, whenever possible conducting firsthand interviews to get the stories behind the controversial calls.