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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Planet of the Umps: A Baseball Life from Behind the Plate » User review

Often funny, sometimes bitter retrospective on the life of a major league umpire

  • Feb 27, 2010
There are some points in this book where I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. While you may think that baseball managers and umpires are truly having an argument, there are times when it a choreographed bit of pure entertainment. Baseball has always been different from other sports in that arguing vehemently with umpires is considered an essential part of managing and coaching.
Ken Kaiser was an umpire in professional baseball for thirty-six years, starting in the lowest of the minor leagues and working his way up to the major leagues. Some of his stories about umpiring in the minor leagues are incredible; a few even involve gunfire, some of it by an umpire that had angered the crowd with a call. His stories of clashes between some of the managerial legends such as Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson, Leo Durocher and Lou Pinella are classics. One of my favorites is about Ted Williams when he was a manager; Williams deliberately took a young player to Kaiser and told the player that blaming an umpire for all your failures is not the way to greatness.
Historically, major league baseball has treated the workers very poorly, I sympathize with Kaiser's statements about how badly the umpires were treated but I remember that the players were treated just as poorly if not worse. The reserve clause allowed the players to be traded like cattle, shipped off to another team or dropped from the roster at a moment's notice. Pay scales were ridiculously low and players could be forced to work themselves to the point where they would be prematurely burnt out. A mention of this would have lightened the story considerably.
A former bouncer and professional wrestler, Ken Kaiser tells an often humorous tale of his life and experiences as a baseball umpire. This is a fun book to read even though it ends on a note of understandable bitterness.

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review by . September 29, 2008
Classic baseball autobiography by an umpire who served 13 years in the minors before a 23-year major league run that ended abruptly with the 2002 umpire lockout/strike/resignations that ended badly for some, including Kaiser.    Funny, fast-moving and full of stories, within the genre this is a classic. Kaiser was a high-school graduate (barely--as he said "I didn't know the meaning of the word intimidation. Of course, I didn't know the meaning of a lot of other words either.") …
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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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This very funny memoir offers a hilarious look into life behind the plates by the man who was voted the most colorful umpire in the American League in a 1986 Sporting News poll. After 36 years as a professional umpire, with 23 seasons spent in the major leagues, Kaiser has seen just about everything there is to see in baseball, and he recounts it all-from his early hustling days in the minor leagues, surviving by trading stolen league baseballs for food and gas, to his final days risking (and losing) his six-figure income in the unsuccessful senior umpires' dispute with MLB in 1999, when he was persuaded to resign as a negotiating tactic ("one of the worst decisions made in the whole history of labor negotiations"). But the book's main strength is that Kaiser, writing with Fisher (coauthor of such books as A Lawyer's Life, by Johnnie Cochran), presents in a lively and energetic style at least one great story (and sometimes more) per page, featuring such baseball legends as manager Billy Martin ("I was as unpredictable as he was") and third-baseman George Brett ("who liked to tell me dirty jokes while the pitcher was warming up"). Kaiser offers insights into umping that all baseball fans and potential umpires should memorize: "as an umpire you can't have any favorites. You have to despise every player and manager equally."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 0312304161
ISBN-13: 978-0312304164
Author: Ken Kaiser
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

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