The umpire strikes back

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

Rick Reed began umpiring as a 13-year-old boy in Detroit.

Now 55 years of age and in his 22nd season as a Major League Baseball umpire, he still enjoys going to the park, for you never know what will happen.

Take Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium when he was working first base as an example:

Yankees outfielder Tony Womack dropped down a bunt, Blue Jays pitcher Ted Lilly fielded the ball and fired it to first baseman Eric Hinske for the out.

As Reed was watching the ball beat Womack's right foot to the bag, he was blindsided by Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson, who was racing over to back up the play.

Reed was spun around, winding up on his rear.

"I was concerned about Hudson, but he kept apologizing for getting in my way," Reed said from Minnesota. "I never looked up. Orlando's forehead hit my shoulder."

Umpire supervisor Richie Garcia left a message on Reed's phone:

"You finally get an angle on a play for the first time all day and you get run over," he said. "It's tough to knock guys from Michigan out of the game."

Reed's father, Bob, called from Warren, Mich., and asked: "Why are you running into the second baseman?"

The veteran ump estimates that in his roughly 40 home-plate assignments a season, he makes 150 calls a night. That's 6,000 decisions.

Working third is a lot less stressful. "Maybe one tough call every other game," Reed said. "That's 20 calls."

Umping second, he guesses he makes five to seven calls a game. So, that's 240 calls.

And at first base, if there is a sinkerball pitcher on the mound inducing ground balls, he will handle 20 calls. Add another 800.

So, by Reed's guess -- and our addition -- that's 7,060 calls. And in this his 22nd year, he had made 148,260 fair/foul, ball/strike calls or safe/out rulings by opening day 2005.

And how many out calls has Reed made from the seat of his pants facing the right-field fence?

"Ah, that would have been my first one," he said of the collision.

Hudson said yesterday it was the first time he has run into an umpire and had to leave the game.

"Just from listening to comments between the two (infielders), I guess Hinske's style is not real nimble yet," Reed said. "He was taking bunts on the line, but anything else, he was supposed to stay back and Hudson was charging."

Reed has been hit before in what is supposed to be a non-contact sport. On one occasion, he collided with Greg Colbrunn, who was playing first base for the Florida Marlins in 2001.

"He hesitated, so I thought: 'I'll go first.' Then he started and he hit me on the right side," Reed said. "It was like getting hit in football or hockey."

In 2004, Reed had a bone scan examination and discovered he had been walking around with three broken ribs for four seasons.

The worst player-umpire collision Reed has seen took place in a game between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. Lou Whitaker was on second and Kirk Gibson on first when a blooper was hit over the infield.

Whitaker went half way between third and home and Gibson was all the way to third base. The third base coach sent Whitaker, but held up Gibson.

Home plate ump Larry Barnett went to the third-base side turning his back. He called Whitaker safe as Bosox catcher Rich Gedman missed the tag.

Gibson ran past the stop sign, flattening Barnett.

Ralph Houk was managing the Red Sox and this conversation took place as first base ump Ken Kaiser arrived:

Houk: "Kenny, Kenny, what's the call on Gibson?"

Kaiser: "For crying out loud, our guy is almost dying out here. You're worried about a stupid run?"

Houk: "Sorry. But what's the call?"

Kaiser: "Gibson? Oh, he's safe too."

Barnett was carried off the field, returned and retired in 1999 after 31 seasons. Those umps are a durable lot.


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