More Than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History

By David W. Anderson | Go to book overview
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4 The Men in Blue The Umpires of 1908

Though few in number, the umpires of 1908 had a profound impact on the game of baseball. Like pioneers in other professions, these arbiters helped establish the traditions, rules, and procedures under which participants in the game function today. Also like some pioneers, they caught arrows, in the form of criticism and outright aggression from fans, players, coaches, managers, owners, and sports‐ writers—and, of course, they were not perfect. But they were strong men, even those who weren't successful, because they had to stand up to a great deal of criticism, both justified and unjustified.

Their contribution to the game is fact, but the passage of time has hidden their accomplishments. Not the least of these was the ability to oversee a complex game featuring the bunt, stolen base, and hit and run as common offensive strategy. This talent, exercised both alone and with a partner, required judgment, knowledge of the game, and mental and physical courage.

The umpires of 1908 were among those who had introduced the use of hand signals to communicate calls to a partner, the players, the bench, and the fans. Umpire signals had been in practice prior to the 1908 season, and their use was becoming standard. The Reach and Spalding's guidebooks called the signals the umpire's semaphore system. Signaling strike, safe, and out calls was an important means of

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More Than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History
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