SOMERS, N.Y. – Harvey Friedman is hanging up his clicker after 26 years of umpiring in the Somers men’s softball league.
Good standing among players usually depends on who won and lost, but the affable man in blue’s unique style always had everyone talking.
For example, about five years ago, Friedman called a triple play that had all 20 players doing a double take.
The play went like this: The centerfielder caught a short flyball and the runners on second and third made a break for it. Friedman, stationed at home plate, had a clear view of the second-base runner’s failure to tag.
However, the 83-year-old admitted at his Heritage Hills home, that there was no way to see whether the runner at third tagged on the catch. But he saw the chance for a first and took it.
“You could umpire a long time and never get to call a triple play,” he said, devilishly. “This was my opportunity.”
He made the call but still had enough justification to hold his ground.
“Sometimes, you have to look how far along the runner is at the time and say, ‘No way did he tag,’” Friedman said.
Not long after moving to Somers in 1993, Friedman inquired with the Parks and Recreation Department for a position, was invited to call a few innings, and hired the next week.
Friedman had done some umpiring previously, but his main experience was a lifetime around the game and playing softball into his 50s. The early 1990s also had Friedman taking a buy out from Ciba-Geigy, which left the IT project manager without his normal authority. But the blue uniform gave him back that empowering feeling.
However, his new perch didn’t mean players had no recourse. So, humor became his device to diffuse.
“Check with the pitcher, he’s pretty sure you were out. And, by the way, so does the first basemen,” Friedman relayed a favorite.
On any disputed call, though, Friedman simply did the math.
“My 50 percent approval rating is higher than the president’s,” he joked.
By his own admission, the missed calls were beginning to add up. Bad knees kept him from getting out from behind the plate to make calls, which rarely went unnoticed.
“You don’t like to be told you’re doing a bad job,” he lamented.
Even so, Friedman still had most players welcoming the mainstay. Frequent questions about his health and life provided the proof and were appreciated.
“I’m very emotional that way when people are concerned,” Friedman said.
At the same time, Friedman demonstrated how talking a good game can be just as important as playing one. In the box, he’d ask about your mom, question your fashion sense, or wonder why you were still a Jet fan.
Using his levity, Friedman excelled at defusing tense moments during games at Reis Park. His greatest skill was not calling balls and strikes, but reminding players that sports are about so much more than competition.
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