At the World Series, his opinion on the umpires actually matters

Paul Anthony Arco

The Tampa Bay Rays will be in the World Series.

So will the Philadelphia Phillies.

Larry Young will be, too, in his new role as an umpire supervisor for Major League Baseball.

After a 25-year career as a major league umpire, the Roscoe resident retired this past season because of an injury he suffered a year ago at Wrigley Field. Instead of calling balls and strikes, Young sits high above the field, observing the work of the umpires on the field.

Young’s new job fits him like a glove. His biggest responsibility is to help evaluate baseball’s 68 umpires, 24 of whom worked the playoffs. They are evaluated on mobility, hustle, position and knowledge of the rules on a game-by-game basis. Young will be in Philadelphia later this week monitoring the umpires during the middle of the World Series.

“Baseball has been very good to me,” he said. “I was lucky enough to umpire at the highest level, and now I have a new job that I enjoy.”

Young, 54, started umpiring at an early age. He called his first game at 13 while growing up in nearby Oregon. After attending Oregon High School, he graduated from Rock Valley College and received a degree in Education from Northern Illinois University in 1976. Young has been married to his Joan for 33 years; the couple have two daughters, Darcy and Jessica.

The first stop for Young on his path to the big leagues was umpire school, which is attended by 300 people each year, but only 20 come away with jobs. Young was fortunate enough to be one of the chosen few and he spent four years in the minors before he got his break. His first major league game was in 1983 at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

He worked two All-Star games (1991, 2003), six Division Series, and three League Championship Series. But Young will most remember the two World Series (1996, 2003), especially the games in New York, that he officiated. “I had to pinch myself that I was working behind the plate at Yankee Stadium.”

“Larry was an outstanding umpire,” said Mike Port, vice president of umpire supervising for MLB. “When you saw Larry Young come out onto the field, you knew you were getting a well-officiated game. He was steady, capable and had control of the game.”

Young’s injury took place in July 2007, in Chicago when the Cubs played Arizona. He was working third base when he got hit in the right knee by a sharp line drive off the bat of Arizona outfielder Chris Young.

“The only thing I could do was scream,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of the way.”

It wasn’t the first time Young had been injured on the field. In 2001, he was drilled in the forehead on a throw to first base by Arizona shortstop Jay Bell, in a game at St. Louis. Young was working second base at the time. The errant throw bloodied his face, jacket and pants.

He left the game and was taken to the hospital, where he received 14 stitches.

“It was a fluke play,” Young said.

However, the line drive to Young’s knee was the last straw. His knees were already in bad shape from arthritis. He can’t run and had to wear heavy braces, ice his knees and take medication just to take the field. Doctors told Young that he risked permanent damage if he continued to umpire. That’s when he accepted MLB’s offer to move into a different role.

“He blazed a lot of trails for local officials,” said Dan Manning, a local high school and college official, who’s worked basketball and football for nearly 40 years. “I admire the way he said, ‘That’s enough. I’m not going to embarrass myself or the game.’ It’s hard to walk away at any level. It gets in your blood.”

Young has many favorite memories over his career. He called the game in which Nolan Ryan threw his 5,000th career strikeout. He also worked games when Rafael Palmeiro, Rod Carew and Dave Winfield each got their 3,000th career hits.

Like any umpire, Young had his share of run-ins with managers. His first ejection was Boston’s Ralph Houk. He also had confrontations with Yankee skipper Billy Martin and Baltimore’s Earl Weaver.

Baseball fans tend to think it is language that gets a coach or player ejected from a game.

Young says it’s the length of the conversation that gets him tossed.

“During the course of the argument they start repeating themselves,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘OK, we’ve covered this ground. I’m done. I’m walking away, don’t follow me.’ That’s the line in the sand. When they cross that line, they are subject to ejection. We like to say they ejected themselves.”

One of the more heated arguments Young had was with Lou Piniella last year at Wrigley Field over a batter interference call in a game against St. Louis. It was one of many controversial calls that day for Young and the rest of the umpire crew. Somehow, Piniella managed to avoid being ejected and stayed in the game.

“It’s part of their job, it’s part of my job. The next day, it’s over,” Young said. “Once you realize that 50 percent of the people are going to be mad at you, you get used to it and move on.”

Perhaps the most significant altercation Young had took place two years ago with then-Tampa Bay pitching coach Mike Butcher, who ran onto the field after being ejected by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez in the first inning. Young, the crew chief, ran in from third base to help Marquez.

Butcher accused Young of making contact with him and making derogatory comments about the Tampa Bay organization. Young says that isn’t true.

“I took that personal,” he said. “He lied about what I said. I said something derogatory about him. I shouldn’t have done that. But I never said anything about the organization.”

Young, who was disciplined but never fined or suspended during his career, says MLB officials reviewed the situation but didn’t penalize him for his involvement.

There were certain players who could be difficult as well. The one who stands out is Ricky Henderson, who argued nearly every called strike when he stood in the batter’s box.

“If he didn’t swing, (he thought) it wasn’t a strike,” Young said.

Young’s responsibilities will continue well into the offseason. He will travel to the Caribbean this winter to work with Triple-A umpires, and he will attend an umpire camp in California in January. He is working with instant replay that was launched late this season, and he is the first umpire to serve on MLB’s rules committee.

Even with his busy schedule, Young still finds time to continue his charity work through his foundation, Larry Young and Friends Charities, which raises money for various organizations, including Special Olympics, Hospice and the American Heart Association. He also is involved with UMPS CARE Charities, a nonprofit established by MLB umpires to provide financial, in-kind and emotional support for youth and families in need.

Young is grateful to be given an opportunity that most people could only dream about.

“It’s been a good life,” he said. “I’ve done everything I wanted to do.”

Rockford Register Star