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The Strange History of 'Gentlemen' Baseball Umpires

When Umpire Were Gentlemen

Believe it or not, there was a time when the umpire of a base ball (yes, two words back then) game, was not only a gentleman, but was accorded all the courtesies of such status, including not being paid for his services because, well...a gentleman would never ask to be paid for the honor which rested heavy on his shoulders.

The first officially recognized base ball game took place in 1845, and was umpired by a lawyer, William R. Wheaton. From that period until after the Civil War, baseball as we know it, was considered a gentleman's game, and of course, gentleman would never squabble, so they appointed a referee to oversee the process of play, and ensure it was strictly by the book. It's even recorded in the records of the Knickerbocker Club, which laid down the requirement that their president "shall appoint an Umpire, who shall keep the game in a book provided for that purpose, and note all violations of the Bylaws and Rules."

As the sport developed, and teams began engaging in matches, three officials were brought in, to include an umpire from each team, plus a referee to tip the scales when there was a difference of opinion. Gentlemen all, they attended their games in Prince Albert coats, top hats, and could often be seen sitting on stools along the first base line.

After the Civil War, dress became more casual, but the pay was the same - nothing. Umpires were still volunteers, apparently supposed to accept the honor in lieu of cash. However, by 1878 the National League of professional base ball clubs, ordered that a home team must pay the umpire $5 per game. The next year, a group of 20 men was appointed by the National League President, to serve as the "pool" from which a team could choose their umpire.
 






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