This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.
Today’s feature: Former major league umpire John McSherry.
So who was the toughest character to take on a major league umpire?
Redlands Rotary took their opportunity to bring in a guest speaker so far off the radar in early 1981. How about National League umpire John McSherry.
It was McSherry who gave a rib-tickling address to a packed house of Noon Rotarians, jammed into a downtown location not far from City Hall. At the moment, McSherry was working in nearby San Bernardino, training young umpires during the off-season at Little League Western Regional headquarters.
The Bronx, N.Y. native, who began his pro umpiring career in the Carolina League in 1967, told the locals, “Redlands is not to be confused with New York.”
He started umpiring sandlot games there, games sometimes starting at 8:30 a.m.
“The first thing we had to do was go out to center field and wake up the drunks who’d been sleeping there all night.
“They didn’t want to be moved, so they just sort of wandered into the stands and watched the games. During the games, they used to bet their nickels and dimes on whether or not the kids would get a hit.
“If we called a kid out, some of them would lose their money. They wanted to win so they could get an early start on the evening’s festivities.
“And if you did call them out,” he said, “often they would throw the empties.”
He cracked about getting a police escort away from the sandlot field, he said, “and the two teams were on our side.”
It was life as an umpire, he told me, “I figured pro ball wasn’t any tougher than sandlot.”
Upon his visit to Redlands, Cardinals’ pitching great Bob Gibson had just been elected to the Hall of Fame.
“Gibson was excellent,” said McSherry. “The thing that made him so great was how he just moved the game along.
“He just said, ‘gimme the ball, let’s go.’ That guy just had a positive attitude and played to win. He’s definitely a Hall of Famer.”
One of his personal favorites was Gil Hodges, a Dodger legendary who led the Miracle Mets of 1969 to the World Series.
“You know how people get built up sometimes as being an all-around super guy? And then you meet them and none of it’s true.
“Well, Gil Hodges was not like that. He didn’t disappoint me. He was just a super man in everything.”
Major league umpires, at that moment, numbered only 50 to 60. It was tough to move into the major league level.
Toughest part of umpiring, he said, “was the travel. But I like the flying, all the moving around from city to city.”
Umpires like McSherry expect the question, though. Which managers were toughest on the umps. He’s heard the question often.
“I’m glad I wasn’t in the American League. I felt bad for anyone that called Earl Weaver’s games.”
And, he said, “thank goodness Billy Martin wasn’t in the National League, either.”
Truth is, there was the World Series and the All-Star game. McSherry crossed paths with both managers in those classics.
There were no further explanations.
“I’ve got a job to do,” he said, “and so do they.”