Special to Page 2
Pity the lot of the poor umpire. The fans are always booing you, the players are always showing you up, and let's not even get started on the veterinary bills for the seeing-eye dog. Why, it's enough to make you and your colleagues stage a mass resignation (just for kicks, of course). And it's no wonder that you might be prone to the occasional slightly off-color remark. That's just human, right?
In an attempt to redress this unjust state of affairs, Uni Watch will now give the umps some long-overdue attention, beginning with an observation from eagle-eyed reader Dave Shucosky, who noticed an odd bit of cross-sport synergy during the April 25 Pirates-Astros game: Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez was wearing the National Hockey League logo on his chest protector.
Clear visual evidence is spotty, but you can get a vague sense of what Shucosky is talking about in this photo, where the NHL crest appears as an orange smudge. Was this a show of labor solidarity for the locked-out hockey officials? A subtle plea for the NHL players and owners to get back to the bargaining table? Or maybe just the latest brilliant marketing scheme from the NHL braintrust?
No, no and no. According to MLB spokesman Carmine Tiso, the logo which Marquez has since stopped wearing was in memory of NHL linesman Stephane Provost, who died in a motorcycle accident on April 22. So this is history's second MLB-to-NHL memorial gesture (the first one having been, of course, the "9" sleeve patch that the Expos wore in 2000 in honor of Maurice Richard).
There's also an umpire headwear issue that's arisen over the past few years. To fully appreciate it, bear with Uni Watch for a quick rundown of on-field sombreros: The pitcher, infielders, outfielders, coaches and base umps wear caps; a home-plate ump using a conventional mask also wears a cap, often with a truncated brim; a catcher using a conventional mask wears a backwards helmet (except for the Dodgers' Jason Phillips, who wears his helmet facing forward); a catcher using a hockey-style mask wears a backwards cap; and the batter, baserunners, batboys, ball boys and ball girls wear helmets.
All pretty obvious, right? But here's the payoff: When the plate ump wears a hockey-style mask, he doesn't wear anything beneath it. So if he takes off his mask, he suddenly becomes the only person on the entire field with an uncovered head an unseemly abrogation of the ump's traditional air of formality.
And if you don't think formality matters, think again. As Elizabeth K. Martin notes in her 1997 master's thesis, The Development of Baseball Umpires' Uniforms, 1846-1996 now there's a good use of higher education! umpiring jurisdiction was originally rooted in clothing. The earliest umps in the mid-1800s were usually well-dressed lawyers, doctors or merchants, whose formal apparel marked them as de facto authority figures. Some early photos and illustrations from this period show the umpire wearing long tails, a top hat and a broad-brimmed hat with a duster jacket.