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Bruce Weber: How To 'See 'Em' Like A Pro

In his new book As They See 'Em, the journalist provides an insider's perspective on the dedicated umpires who face angry fans, disgruntled coaches and poor pay for the game they love.




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Other segments from the episode on April 9, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 9, 2009: Interview with Bruce Weber; Review of a new recording by trombonist Roswell Rudd "Trombone tribe;" Review of the film "Let the right one in."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Bruce Weber: How To 'See 'Em' Like A Pro


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

Spring is here, and it’s time for baseball, a game where imperfection is the
norm. No team wins every game. A pitcher who wins two-thirds of his starts is a
star, and a player who gets a hit a third of the time can win a batting title.

But there’s one guy on the field who we expect to perform with perfection every
day: the umpire. He has to discern which of 300 pitches, thrown at blazing
speed, are balls and strikes, and make split-second calls on close plays, all
the while enduring abuse from players, managers and especially fans.

New York Times writer Bruce Weber says the experience has made umpires an
usually isolated and circumscribed group, sort of the like the inhabitants of a
remote country that few people have ever visited.

To understand their world, Weber went to umpiring school, called games himself,
and interviewed dozens of present and former umps, as well as players, managers
and baseball executives. The result is his new book, “As They See 'Em: A Fan's
Travels In The Land Of Umpires.”

Bruce Weber, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, I thought I would begin by asking
you to recount an observation I thought was just fascinating. Early in the
book, you note that Major League umpires were aware that players were on
steroids, years before it became public. How did they know?

Mr. BRUCE WEBER (Author, “As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels In The Land Of
Umpires”): Oh, I think they could tell by their behavior. I think one of the
ways in which an umpire explained this to me, was - he said, sure we knew, but
we couldn’t really do anything about it because we had been told it wasn’t our

And the guy said, if I went up to the manager of a team and said hey, you know,
your third baseman is so high, he’s frothing at the mouth, he’d have told me
look, you stick to your job, and I’ll run my team.

DAVIES: But they were seeing guys frothing at the mouth? They were more short-
tempered or what?

Mr. WEBER: Well, I think it was a little – that was a little bit of hyperbole,
I think, but yes, they could tell. I mean, the jitteriness, the anger. I mean,
there’s a lot of hostility on a ball field in general, and umpires are quite
attuned to it. So if the level is cranked up more than normal, believe me they

DAVIES: For your journey into the world of umpiring, of course you talked to
lots and lots of umpires - big league, minor league, all levels - but you also
went to umpiring school. And there, you note, learned that a lot of things that
look easy and routine to people watching the game actually isn’t so easy and
routine. And among the simplest things, like taking your mask off. What’s hard
about that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: Well, actually taking it off is not so hard. It’s keeping your hat
on that’s hard. The umpire wears a hat under his mask, and it has a little bill
on it, and you have to clear the bill before you pull it off, and there is
actually a lesson in umpire school in this.

And the reason you have such a lesson is so that you don’t end up looking like
a jerk when your hat comes off when you’re trying to call a play, or if it tips
or – you don’t want it tipping in your eyes.

The umpire is a figure of authority on the field, and he is in such a tough
spot most of the time that anything that he does that might bring ridicule upon
him is something to be avoided, and that’s the whole reason of learning to take
your mask off without upsetting your hat.

DAVIES: So for example, ball’s hit to left field, you have to jump out in front
of the plate or go to a base and be ready to make the call.

Mr. WEBER: Correct.

DAVIES: You pull your mask off, and instead, you’ve got this cap hanging at a
cock-eyed angle over your eye. Not what you want, right?

Mr. WEBER: Correct, or if it falls off and lands on the baseline, and you’ve
got this stripe of lime on your hat that you won’t be able to get off for the
rest of the game.

DAVIES: You know, people who watch the game a lot know that players rotate
positions. They know that a pitcher, when a ball’s hit to the outfield, will
run to backup third or backup home.

But I don’t know that a lot of people realize that the umpires are doing the
same thing, that when there is a play at the plate, it’s actually not the home-
plate umpire making the call, it’s the guy from first base because everybody’s

Mr. WEBER: Well in that particular circumstance, yes. I mean, they don’t rotate
on every play. The thing that I think most people don’t get about umpiring is
that learning to be the home-plate umpire is in many ways a lot like learning
to be a catcher, or learning to be a first-base umpire is a lot like learning
to be a first baseman.

Any time a ball is hit, any time there is a play, you have responsibilities.
You have to be able to read the play and react with baseball instincts and get
to the place that you need to be in order to do what you need to do. It’s the
same for an umpire as it is for a fielder.

DAVIES: And it doesn’t necessarily mean following the ball. It means getting
into a position where you will see the play as it unfolds. So you have to
anticipate the play, right?

Mr. WEBER: That’s correct. That’s correct. I mean, in fact, one of the things
that – one of the reasons that ballplayers don’t necessarily make good umpires
is that the instincts turn out to be different.

A player’s instinct is generally to run towards the ball. You’re taught that as
a player from, you know, you’re – you first play Little League. But an umpire
almost never runs toward the ball as though he’s going to make a play on it.
He’s running toward the place he needs to be in order to make the call. Those
are two different things.

DAVIES: Let’s take one example. It happens a dozen times in a game, ground ball
to an infielder, third baseman, shortstop. They throw it across the diamond,
and these guys run fast. The batter crosses the base right about the time as
the ball gets there. Now where does that first-base umpire need to be to hear
and see what he needs to to make that call accurately?

Mr. WEBER: Well, if there’s nobody on base when the ball is hit, the first-base
umpire is lined up about – along the right-field line, about 15 feet behind the
first baseman.

When the ball is hit to an infielder, he races into the infield and tries to
assess from where the throw to first is going to come, and he sets himself up
at a 90-degree angle to the anticipated throw, about 15 feet from the bag.

At that point, he stares at the bag, listens for the ball hitting in the
fielder’s glove. That’s the chain of events that an umpire goes through.

DAVIES: All right, so when the ball hits the glove, it’s either pop, step,
which is to say he’s out, or it’s step, pop, in which the runner is safe,

Mr. WEBER: Correct.

DAVIES: Right, right. Now a major league umpiring crew has four, right?

Mr. WEBER: That’s correct.

DAVIES: And you’ve got three on the bases. And calling plays in the field and
on the bases is one thing, working behind the plate is something altogether
different. Now tell us a little bit about what struck you when you had to learn
to call balls and strikes. What were some of the toughest things about that?

Mr. WEBER: Well, the first thing that happens when you get behind the plate is
that you realize that you’re not watching TV, and the yellow box that is
superimposed on the screen that tells everybody where the strike zone is, the
first think you realize is you can’t see that. It’s not there - that the strike
zone is a box of air. It’s invisible, and you have to find it and recreate it
in your mind literally on every pitch.

It’s interesting to me when people talk about umpires having particular strike
zones, as if they can take it out of their pocket and set it up in front of
them, but in fact you have to view each pitch individually. The strike zone is
recreated in your mind on each pitch.

And for whatever reason, discovering that the strike zone is invisible was a
revelation to me. I thought, oh. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing is that, of course, it’s shape changes depending on the
hitter, the hitter’s size, the hitter’s stance, the distance the hitter is
standing from the plate. I mean, you think that shouldn’t change the strike
zone, but it does because it often affects where you, the umpire, stand in
order to view the strike zone.

If the hitter is a long way from the plate, he gives you a nice alley between
himself and the catcher with which to watch – through which to watch the pitch.
But if you are watching from that slot, you get a slightly different view of
the plate than you do if he’s crowding the plate and you have to stand straight
up and look over the catcher’s head to watch the strike zone.

DAVIES: You said that the strike zone actually changes depending on who’s at

Mr. WEBER: Yes.

DAVIES: In what way? What do you mean?

Mr. WEBER: Well for one thing, players are different sizes. You know, the
strike zone is defined in the rulebook as a pitch that passes over the plate
above the hollow below the knee and below a line at the midpoint between the
top of the uniform pants and the top of the shoulders. I mean, if you can
believe it, that’s what the language is in the rulebook.

(Soundbite of whistling)

Mr. WEBER: That distance, that slot, is going to be smaller for a guy who’s
5’6” than it is for a guy who’s 6’2”. It also depends upon the player’s stance.
I mean, one thing that I think is not generally known about the strike zone is
that it’s not only fixed in space, but it’s fixed in time. The rulebook also
goes on to say…

DAVIES: You mean defined in time.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah, that it’s called at a moment when the batter is prepared to
swing. So it’s as he begins to take his stride. So if a player is in a crouch,
and he comes up to take his swing, the strike zone opens up like an accordion,
and it’s at that point that his strike zone is defined. And if he’s stepping
forward, if he’s standing straight up and would stride forward to swing at the
pitch, the strike zone - his strike zone accordions down just a little bit.

So an umpire’s got to take note of all of these things. The strike zone is not,
you know – I’ll go back to the, you know, the superimposed yellow box on the TV
screen. It’s a very misleading thing.

DAVIES: When you get behind the plate and have to call balls and strikes, what
about just seeing a ball coming at you at 80 or 90 miles an hour - these guys
throw hard, and you’re right, you know, you’re right in the path of their

Mr. WEBER: You do place an awful lot of trust in the catcher, who is, after
all, a guy who might not like you very much. And it is something that you need
to get over - the fear that you might get hit with the ball.

One of the ways in which I was taught this at umpire school, was Jim Evans -
who ran the school that I attended and was a major league umpire for 28 years -
was watching me one day in the cage as I was practicing calling balls and
strikes, and he said you’re flinching.

You know, I was just calling pitches from a pitching machine, and there was a
catcher in front of me, and he wasn’t throwing very hard. The machine wasn’t
throwing very hard, but Jim said look, you’re flinching. The ball’s coming in,
and you’re flinching.

Here’s how we’re going to cure you of that, and he took a basket of baseballs
and took me aside. He said look, you have to learn to trust your equipment, and
from a distance of about four or five feet, he started throwing baseballs at
me, hard, hitting me in the mask - bang, bang, bang - and they were glancing
off in all directions.

By the time he got to, you know, the 12th or 15th ball, I was beginning to
absorb the idea that, you know what, these things are not going to hit me in
the eye, and I had stopped flinching, and I was cured.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with Bruce Weber. His new book about umpiring is called
“As They See 'Em.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, we’re speaking with New York Times reporter
Bruce Weber. He’s a lifelong baseball fan who’s written a book about the world
of umpiring. It’s called “As They See 'Em.”

In other sports - when a football referee signals a touchdown, it looks like
any other football referee signaling a touchdown. His hands go up. Umpires, you
note, each have a signature strike call, a certain way of yelling strike and
extending that arm.

Mr. WEBER: Yes.

DAVIES: This is something they kind of take some pride in and kind of develop

and make their own?

Mr. WEBER: I think so. There is such a thing as umpire vanity. I have been in
locker rooms where these guys have been practicing their calls in front of a

In the minor leagues especially, they try out different things, and they
comment on each other like judges at a fashion show, you know. That was – you
know, I noticed you went to the pistol shot as a strike call.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: Oh yeah, yeah. How did it look? Oh, you know, not too bad.

DAVIES: And what’s the pistol shot?

Mr. WEBER: The pistol shot is you feign shooting a pistol, bang. You know, you
shoot out your right hand from the elbow with a finger pointing out, bang.

DAVIES: Right, and then the sounds aren’t uniform, either. Each has their own
way of calling a strike, right?

Mr. WEBER: That’s right.

DAVIES: Now, I’m going to – I don’t know if you feel comfortable doing this,
but could I ask you to, like, maybe back off the mike just a little bit and
give us your strike call?

Mr. WEBER: Sure, sure.

Mr. WEBER: (Shouting) Strike.

DAVIES: All right. Now let’s say it’s a third strike. A curve ball drops in,
and the batter freezes. He’s out.

Mr. WEBER: (Shouting) Strike three.

DAVIES: Oh yeah, that takes me to the ballpark. All right, let me do one more.
Now you’re on the bases. There’s – a runner breaks for second. It’s a steal.
It’s a very close play. You call him out. What does it sound like?

Mr. WEBER: (Shouting) Out.

DAVIES: And what are you doing while you’re saying that?

Mr. WEBER: Pumping down with my fist at the runner, and you pump – when it’s a
really close play, when it’s a really close play, you want to be demonstrative
because you want to sell the call. You want to let everybody know look, I know
it was a close play, but I saw it. Don’t argue with me.

DAVIES: Right, and then maybe you turn on your heel and walk away, right?

Mr. WEBER: Exactly.

DAVIES: Except when somebody argues, and that brings up a whole other great
subject in baseball. You know, it’s the one game where, except for on balls and
strikes, you’re allowed to run onto the field and get in the umpire’s face.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah, it’s the only sport where non-participants are actually
allowed on the field of play.

DAVIES: Did they teach you in umpire school how to handle an argument, and…?

Mr. WEBER: Oh yeah, I mean, it’s very much a part of umpire school. In fact,
there’s a whole kind of slice of umpire school that reminds me of acting
school. One of the things that they – they set up plays for you that are
virtually impossible to call, that no matter what you call, there’s going to be
an argument.

So you’ll make the call, and one of the instructors posing as a manager or
coach will come on the field to object to the call. The idea is they want to
see how you, as an umpire, are going to handle this kind of situation, which
happens all the time in the, you know, in both the minor leagues and the major
leagues. And these instructors are generally using the kinds of arguments that
they themselves hear, because they themselves are minor league umpires.

DAVIES: Yeah, it’s angry and profane, I assume.

Mr. WEBER: It is, and manipulative, and you know, if you’re going to make that
kind of call, you’re going to die here in single-A. You think you’re going to
get promoted? Forget it. You can’t make a call like that – that kind of stuff.

DAVIES: And how are you taught to respond? I mean, what’s a good way of
handling the ump’s end of an argument?

Mr. WEBER: Well, the thing about umpires and arguments is that an umpire goes
against his instincts as a human being. Most people, they get in an argument,
and they try to win it, but an umpire’s job is not to win the argument, it’s to
end the argument.

If the guy just wants to come out and yell and scream, you fold your arms, and
you let him yell and scream a little bit, and then you say okay, okay, you’ve
had your say. That’s enough. If he keeps going – you know, you sort of have to
read your opponent.

If he starts kicking dirt on you, well you know, get off the dirt and onto the
grass where there isn’t any dirt to kick. If he wants to go nose to nose with
you and start yelling and screaming, don’t let him do it if he’s chewing

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: Don’t let him get his – the bill of his cap underneath the bill of
yours because as he bobs his head, he’ll be knocking you in the forehead with
it. I mean, these are – and in the end, don’t do things like bait him. Don’t
try to get the last word in. Don’t insult him. You know, don’t do anything that
is going to perpetuate the argument.

Now this is all easier said than done. When a guy is calling your mother all
kinds of different names and questioning your ethnicity and your heritage and
your manhood and all the other things, all the other really important issues
that come up in an argument like that, it’s kind of hard to keep your head and
remember that really – and forget that what you really want to do is punch this
guy in the nose.

DAVIES: Well, just as arguing is part of the game, so is tossing a manager or a
player out of the game, and I’m sure they also gave you practice at ejecting
somebody. How do you know when to give somebody the heave-ho?

Mr. WEBER: Well, there are certain guidelines for this. There are certain
explicit guidelines. In fact, there are 13 explicit reasons that you are
allowed to throw somebody out of the game, and you know, some of them are
pretty self-evident.

I mean, if somebody throws equipment out of the dugout, if you slam your helmet
down in evident displeasure with an umpire’s call, if you make contact with an
umpire or spit at an umpire, those sorts of things.

DAVIES: Now what about profanity? I mean, can they…?

Mr. WEBER: Well, you can use all the profanity you want, as long as you don’t
make it personal. You know, as one umpire said to me, people always want to
know what the magic word is. Is it, you know, is horse-bleep, is it mother-
bleep, and no it’s not. It’s none of those words. The magic word is you.

So you can say that was a horse-bleep call, but you can’t say you’re horse-

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. WEBER: If you know what I mean. I’m speaking in code.

DAVIES: No, it’s clear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right, right. It’s the ad homonym attack that will get you run, as they
say. That’s why I run him. You’ll hear that expression.

Mr. WEBER: That’s right.

DAVIES: What’s the right way to run somebody, to get them out of the game?

Mr. WEBER: As demonstratively and authoritatively as possible. You know, you’re
taught to throw your right arm over your head and say something like - you’re
out of here, or that’s it, you’re done, or enough, goodbye - something like

DAVIES: Bruce Weber’s book about the world of umpiring is called “As They See
'Em.” He’ll be back in the second half of the show. Here’s a memorable argument
on the diamond from the film “Bull Durham.” Catcher Crash Davis, played by
Kevin Costner, thinks the ump has missed a call at home plate. I’m Dave Davies,
and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of film, “Bull Durham”)

(Soundbite of baseball game)

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As Umpire) Safe. That’s it.

Mr. KEVIN COSTNER (Actor): (As Crash Davis) No, no, I got him. Oh, I got him. I
didn’t miss him. He still ain’t touched the plate. Oh (censored), (censored)

Unidentified Man: (As Umpire) Did you call me a (censored)?

Mr. COSTNER: (As Davis) No, I didn’t. (Censored).

Unidentified Man: (As Umpire) You can’t call me that.

Mr. COSTNER: (As Davis) Well, you can’t run me for that. Well, you missed the
tag, buddy.

Unidentified Man: (As Umpire) You just spit on me.

Mr. COSTNER: (As Davis) I did not spit on you.

Unidentified Man: (As Umpire) (Unintelligible). You’re pushing it, buddy.
You’re pushing it. Do you want me run you? I’ll run you.

Mr. COSTNER: (As Davis) Well, you want me to call you a (censored)?

Unidentified Man: (As Umpire) You called me a (censored), and you’re out of

Mr. COSTNER: (As Davis) (Censored).

Unidentified Man: (As Umpire) You’re outta here.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Back with New
York Times reporter Bruce Weber who has a new book about the world of
professional umpiring. Weber attended umpire school, called amateur games
himself and interviewed dozens of umps, players and managers. His book is
called “As They See ‘Em.” Let’s talk just a little about how umpires get into
the business. D you have to go to one of two Florida umpiring schools to get
into – to become a professional umpire, is that right?

Mr. WEBER: That’s correct. Major League Baseball sanctions two umpiring
schools. One is the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Kissimmee,
Florida, the other is the Harry Wendelstedt Umpiring School and that’s in
Daytona. They run simultaneously. Their curricula are largely the same with a
few – with a few small differences in philosophy. And every year between 100
and 150 students go to each school. So they are usually between 200 and 300
aspiring umpires every season.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. WEBER: And at the end of the session each of the two schools takes their
top 25 or so graduates, you know, selects the best students and sends them to
an umpire evaluation camp that is run by the Minor Leagues. And they evaluate
these, say, top 50 students and they rank them one to 50. And however, many
jobs that come available that season, in the lowest levels of the Minor
Leagues, they simply hire from the top of that list.

DAVIES: So if you’re a good umpire and you go to school and you prove yourself
and you’re among the elite. You get to start at the bottom of the rungs of
professional baseball.

Mr. WEBER: Right.

DAVIES: And the hope is to spend a few years moving from A to AA to AAA. Tell
us a little about the life of one of the – of an umpire at that level of the
game, hoping – chasing the dream as you say, hoping to get to the Majors.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah, well I, you know, I like a lot of these guys that I met and I
wouldn’t wish this life – I wouldn’t wish this life on them. First of all,
Minor League umpires get paid almost nothing. They are - their working
environment is incredibly hostile. They have – the travel is grueling. They
often - they travel together at the lowest levels. They travel in their own
cars and they have to drive 300, 400, or 500 miles between cities to do games
on consecutive nights. They stay in second rate motels.

They’re away from home, in places where they don’t know anybody but each other.
And you know, and every night they go out and do this job when everybody is
screaming at them. It’s really, you know, it’s really a grueling existence.

DAVIES: And they’re constantly being evaluated. And if they’re good – really
good - they move up the ranks and finally reach AAA where they stand a chance
of getting a big league job, right?

Mr. WEBER: Right, except that the chance is really not all that - larger ones.
There are only 68 big league jobs, and these guys hold on to their jobs with
the tenacity of Supreme Court judges. They, you know, they think of -
professional umpires think of their jobs as lifelong tenures and they stick
around for 20, 25, 30, sometimes 35 years.

DAVIES: So if you make it to the big leagues what kind of salary do you make?

Mr. WEBER: First year umpire makes 90 something thousand dollars a year but it
rises, rather steeply according to seniority. And so the guys who have been in
the game for more than 30 years are up around 400 grand a year.

DAVIES: And you’re at least staying in decent places and you get to fly from
one city to the next.

Mr. WEBER: That’s correct. You – the - in addition, Major League umpires – who,
by the way make their own hotel reservations. They figure out where they want
to stay. They get $383, I think, per diem on top of their salaries.

DAVIES: Is it stressful? I mean – you know, I think a lot of people feel that
umpires make the call and then they don’t worry about it. Is that true?

Mr. WEBER: It’s actually an interesting question. One of the things that makes
a good umpire is the ability to accept the responsibility for making decisions
and then the ability to live with them. If you – if it was going to drive you
nuts to make decisions and live with them you’d make a terrible, terrible
umpire. So that’s a quality that I think umpires actually share – is a, you
know, is that ability and that willingness to make decisions. At the same time,
their mistakes do eat at them.

They talk about them years later. I mean, when I was doing interviews, these
guys, I – you know, I would ask about mistakes that they’d made. They could all
recall - oh yeah, there was that play at Montreal and Tim Foley was the base
runner and I just got too far behind, you know, I didn’t move quickly enough
and I didn’t get – I didn’t have the right angle and the guy slid his, you
know, he slid his hand under the tag and I didn’t see it. They can recall in
huge detail the mistakes that they’ve made and they go over them in their minds
quite a lot.

DAVIES: And the mistakes tend to come, I think, from being out of position,
right? But you simply can’t anticipate how every play is going to unfold,

Mr. WEBER: That’s right. I mean one of the things that umpires will always tell
you is that – it’s when the player screw up that they are most – that the
umpires are most in danger of screwing up, because the umpire knows what a
player is trying to see ahead of the play, to figure out what the players are
going to do, where a throw is going to go so that he can get there in time to
make the call. But if the player drops the ball or throws to a base that you –
and throws to the wrong base or makes a bad throw. All of the things that you
can’t anticipate, you still have to make a call but you’re not in – you’re not
necessarily in the right place to do it anymore.

DAVIES: What happens when an umpire has to make a call like on the basis – on a
base and they just can’t see it, and they’re just out of position and they just
don’t know?

Mr. WEBER: Well, it happens frequently – well maybe, I don’t want to say it
happens frequently. It happens from time to time. You just make the call,
you’ve got a 50 percent chance of getting it right. You make the call and you
sell it as if you had seen it. There is - there really is no alternative, you
know, it’s – and if you blow it, you blow it. But admitting that you have –
admitting that you can’t see it is not an alternative because once you do that
you’ve completely lost your authority in the game.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. WEBER: And every decision from then on is open for question.

DAVIES: Nobody’s happy then.

Mr. WEBER: Right.

DAVIES: But can you look for help, can you look at another ump and say did you
get it? I mean…

Mr. WEBER: In certain situations you can. In certain situations, even if you
didn’t see it, even if you could you wouldn’t. I mean if it’s just, say, a call
at first base say on a pick off throw and, you know, you just didn’t see it and
everybody’s yelling, get some help, get some help, get some help. You won’t do
it because if - what you’re saying is I didn’t do my job. I can’t do my job. I
need some help. There are certain situations in which you – there’s a
legitimate reason for your not being able to see the, you know, see - to have
the proper angle, say, on a spectator interference on a foul popup, or
something in which another umpire might have a better angle, in which case you
can ask for help, or another umpire might say, you know what, I had a better
angle. I saw it this way. That does happen from time to time.

DAVIES: Yelling at the ballpark is a part of the tradition of going to a
ballgame. Can you think of some of the more memorable things you’ve heard from
hecklers of umpires?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: Well, let’s see. One that I just heard last season - you know, the
the problem is most of them are…


Mr. WEBER: …most of them are dirty.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Well, if you can clean them up then do so and if we can’t, you know…

Mr. WEBER: You know…

DAVIES: …it’ll be our little secret.

Mr. WEBER: You know, bend over and use your good eye.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Oh gosh. Right.

Mr. WEBER: You know, it’s usually it’s that level. But to be honest with you,
most of the - and this is I think one of the great shames of baseball. And
baseball fans should be ashamed of themselves for this, which is that the
imagination of the fans and their abuse to the umpires is sorely lacking. I
mean it mostly it’s just, hey poke a hole in the mask, or you’re blind you bum,
or you stink. And most - one of the things that umpires say is that they never
hear it anymore because they’ve heard everything 10,000 times and that they
only notice when they’ve heard something that they haven’t heard before, which
is only maybe once or twice a season.

DAVIES: You know, in addition to doing all the interviews you did with umpires
and going to umpire school, I know that you’ve done umpiring. I mean at, I
guess, high school level and, you know, community game – leagues.

Mr. WEBER: Right.

DAVIES: And there’s a moment that you describe in the book which illustrates
what’s appealing about the craft. It’s a game I guess at a community league
game in Tallahassee.

Mr. WEBER: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: Describe that play and what was special about it.

Mr. WEBER: Well, It was one of the very first games that I ever umpired. And it
was just - I was in Tallahassee, Florida, and the players were I think 13 to 15
years old. It was an ordinary game, maybe a couple of hundred people in the
stands, mostly parents and relatives and friends and everybody was screaming.
It was a beautiful day. And it was a middle inning, it was a close game and
there was a man on - there were two men I think, men on first and second. And
the batter hit a line drive down the left field line. And I was the home plate
umpire so I did what the home plate umpire is supposed to do. I pulled off my
mask without upsetting my hat, raced on to the - up the third base line as far
as I could before the ball landed and strattled the line, because what I was
going to have to do was decide whether the ball was fair or foul.

And what was happening in the park was quite interesting. I mean, the runner on
the second was rounding third, the runner on first was rounding second. And at
that point I really had one of those moments where, you know, time begins to
slow down and you can sort of see things as they’re going, you know, as if the
clock is ticking, you know, one thing happens and the next thing happens and
everything is going more slowly. And I, sort of, was aware of all of the action
going on in the ball park: the fans yelling and the third base coach waving his
arms, you have to score, you have to score. And at the same time I was focusing
on the ball that was curving towards the foul line, and I knew it was going to
be a close call. When the ball finally landed, I saw it. And it hit foul. And
in that moment, all of the turmoil on the field - it stopped for just a beat.
And everybody turned towards me: the people in the stands, the kids on the
field, the coaches – it was just a beat, just a breath in which everybody is
aware that I was going to have to make this call and I made the call, foul.

And there’s this, like the air going out of a balloon, the game slows down, it
rewinds itself and everybody goes back to their position and, you know, and
gets ready for the next pitch. And I had the sense at that moment that the game
belonged to me, that this is my game. And it was only - but it was - and it was
an incredibly heady feeling, that like, my game. And I realized that this is
both the thing that umpires crave and that they need and it’s also the most
dangerous feeling that an umpire can have, because if he decides that the game
belongs to him, then it no longer belongs to the players.

DAVIES: Well, Bruce Weber thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. WEBER: You are very welcome, I enjoyed it.

DAVIES: Bruce Weber writes for the New York Times. His new book about umpiring
is called “A They See ‘Em.” This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
New Tunes From Rudd’s ‘Trombone Tribe’


Trombonist Roswell Rudd started out in Dixieland in the 1950s, then got into
another kind of collective improvising free jazz in the 1960s. Back then, he
also played the music of modern jazz pianists Herbie Nichols and Thelonious
Monk. Later, Rudd kept a low profile, setting the stage for a triumphant return
in 1990s. On his new album, Rudd plays with his new band, Trombone Tribe, and
sits in with some other groups as well. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Roswell Rudd is a warm, enthusiastic guy, who enthuses mostly about
the trombone, his fellow trombonists, and brass ensembles featuring trombone.
So, Rudd’s really in his element on his new album ‘Trombone Tribe’. Half of it
is by a sextet of the same name where he’s reunited with an old colleague
enjoying his own big comeback, bassist Henry Grimes. The Tribe’s other
trombonists are Steve Swell, an extrovert like his boss, and ex Frank Sinatra
sidewoman Deborah Weisz, who is handy with a plunger fluegel.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: The ‘Trombone Tribe’ channeling a Duke Ellington train song with Bob
Stewart on tuba and Barry Alstchul on drums. On record, as live, the band gets
a little shaggy around the edges, as irrepressible as its leader. The other
half of Roswell Rudd’s new album ropes in still more trombone players. He
throws together a couple of numbers with five slip horn colleagues, including
big band vets Eddie Bert and Sam Burtis, wild man Ray Anderson and open-for-
anything younger colleagues, Josh Roseman and Wycliff Gordon.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Roswell Rudd’s tune ‘Astroslyde’ inspired by the percussive role low
brass plays in East European bands. On one number on the trombonist’s new
album, he sits in with Steve Bernstein’s sextet, Sex Mob, to play the tune
‘Twelve Bars’ by Rudd hero Herbie Nichols. Bernstein plays slide trumpet here -
a smaller, higher trombone.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Rudd also hit the road to meet with like-minded players. In New
Orleans, he joins the four trombone unit Bonerama, and in Belgium, he
rendezvous with a favorite West African sextet the Gangbe brass band of Benin.

Rudd wrote them a short suite with echoes of his old boss Carla Bley, composer
with her own brass band influences. As with the other groups Rudd saves some
solo work for himself.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Roswell Rudd’s album ‘Trombone Tribe’ is a grab-bag, skimming from a
few different projects. But that all-over-the-globe quality is a strength. It
helps explain Rudd’s enthusiasm for so many kinds of brass music. To him it’s
all one big thing.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for He reviewed
“Trombone Tribe” featuring Roswell Rudd, on the Sunnyside label. Coming up, a
classic vampire story. John Powers reviews “Let the Right One In,” now out on
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
‘Let In’ The Swedish Vampires


To judge from the best seller lists American culture is currently obsessed with
vampires. But we aren’t the only ones. Last year, the Swedish director Thomas
Alfredson scored a critical and box office hit with the “Let the Right One In.”
The movie has just been released on DVD by Magnolia Home Entertainment and our
critic at large John Powers says you’ll want to sink your own teeth into its
compelling story.

JOHN POWERS: It’s an essential feature of vampires that they’re able to live
forever. The same is true, it seems, of vampire stories. Almost two centuries
after John Polidori wrote the first vampire tale in English, these blood
drinking fiends are bigger business than ever. Last fall, as our financial
firms sank, the blue chip cultural stock of vampirism was soaring, with the
blockbuster film of Stephanie Meyer’s bestseller “Twilight”, the launch of the
hit HBO series “Tru Blood” and last but not least, the art-house cult favorite
that’s invariably described as the Swedish vampire movie.

Its name is “Let the Right One In.” The title comes from a song by Morrissey.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s probably the best vampire movie
of the last 75 years. Because it originally appeared in limited release, most
of you wouldn’t have had a chance to see it. But now it’s out on DVD and anyone
can marvel at how Tomas Alfredson’s brilliant film manages to inject new blood
into what seems like an anemic old story. The scene is a wintry Stockholm
suburb in the early 1980s and the hero is Oskar, a frail, ghostly pale 12-year-
old boy played by KÃ¥re Hedebrant.

Oskar is an outsider who’s alienated from his distant, divorced parents and
from the schoolmates who cruelly torment him. He seems hopelessly alone until a
potential savior moves in next door. She’s a vaguely androgynous, exotically
foreign looking girl named Eli, played by the haunting Lina Leandersson, and
her own solitude dwarfs Oskar’s. Eli, you see, has been 12 for the last 200
years. By night, she must feed on her neighbors, an odd assortment of boozing
oafs and cat ladies. Drawn together by mutual loneliness, Oskar and Eli become

She offers him companionship, love and the possibility of revenge. That school
bully better watch out. Oskar, in turn, offers her acceptance. He’s charmingly
unfazed when she says she’s a vampire. But we’ve all seen horror movies, so we
keep wondering if and when his feeling for her will exact a higher price. Now,
with its under-age heroes and flipped gender roles, usually it’s the male that
has taste for blood, “Let The Right One In” is already something special. But
the most memorable vampire movies, be it Murnau’s “Nosferatu” or Dreyer’s
“Vampyr”, are also triumphs of style.

Here, Tomas Alfredson gives us a vampire picture that looks like no other. He
has a surgical eye for chilly Scandinavian exteriors and is a real master of
shifting tones. He tells Oskar and Eli’s story with a gripping sleekness that’s
by turns spooky, romantic, shockingly hilarious and filled with deep compassion
for the pain of adolescent isolation. It would be going too far to say that
“Let The Right One In”, for all its originality, is doing something
unprecedented. We’re living, after all, through the great era of woman-centered
Dracula revisionism launched by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, the most
unexpectedly subversive show ever on American TV.

Charged with teen sexual anxiety, today’s ruling versions of the vampire story
offer something new and sentimental. They feature vampires who, yearning to be
human, fight their demonic nature, most famously in “Twilight” where swoony
Edward Cullen refuses to bite, or make love with, the hot to trot heroine
Bella. Perhaps I’m just being a middle aged man, but I find this trend

I don't want my vampires to be domesticated or self-sacrificing or, dare I say
it, de-fanged. Which is part of what’s great about “Let The Right One In” - its
ferocity. Despite looking like a small, harmless child, Eli is never less than
a killer whose need for blood remains unabated. She is, in human terms, a
monster and cannot escape her eternal fate. And in this, the movie is a classic
vampire story. Although it officially has a happy ending, Oskar and Eli’s tale
carries within it a built in sense of doom, even tragedy, and not only because
when he’s 62 she’ll still be 12.

No, the story is all about the giddiness and solace of finding a soul mate only
to have it be a creature who’s inalterably different. “Let The Right One In”
takes its sting from the fact that the one you let in your door may, in the
long run, not be so right after all.

DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue. He reviewed “Let The Right One
In” now available on DVD. You can download Podcasts of our show at I’m Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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