George Will

A story for Froemming: Rogers Hornsby, who averaged .400 over five years, was facing a rookie pitcher who threw three pitches that he thought were strikes but that the umpire called balls. The rookie shouted a complaint to the umpire, who replied: "Young man, when you throw a strike, Mr. Hornsby will let you know."

So, a question for Froemming: Is it true, as is said, that umpires give great hitters and pitchers the benefit of the doubt on close pitches? "Not one bit," he says.

OK, then, another question: Suppose it is the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of a World Series, two outs, the potential tying run on third, two strikes on a right-handed batter. He starts to swing, tries to stop his bat and the home plate umpire calls the pitch a ball. But the catcher asks the home plate umpire to ask the first base umpire, who has a better vantage point, to say if the batter swung. The home plate umpire accedes to this request. You, Froemming, are at first. You think the batter did swing. But seriously: Are you going to end a seven-game World Series on a check swing appeal call? "Yes."

He might. Consider Sept. 2, 1972, when Froemming was behind the plate and the Cubs' Milt Pappas was one strike from doing what only 15 pitchers have done -- pitch a perfect game, 27 up, 27 down.

With two outs in the ninth, Pappas quickly got an 0-2 count on the 27th batter. Then Froemming called the next three pitches balls. An agitated Pappas started walking toward Froemming, who said to the Cubs' catcher: "Tell him if he gets here, just keep walking" -- to the showers.

Pappas' next pitch was low and outside. One kind of glory was lost. Another kind -- the integrity of rules -- was achieved.

The photographer Edward Steichen said that when God created his brother-in-law, the poet Carl Sandburg, God didn't do anything else that day. When the Intelligent Designer designed Froemming, He spent the rest of the day at a ballpark because He had done a good day's work by producing an archetype: The Umpire.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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