Froemming's storied career winds down
Umpire announces plans to retire after 2007 season
SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Froemming, an umpire of admirable longevity and expertise who for 37 years has worked baseball's biggest games, chose the showcase of summer's biggest stage to announce his impending retirement."This 2007 season will be my last year on the field," Froemming, struggling to control his emotions, said in a Tuesday afternoon media conference at AT&T Park. "And it's been a terrific 37 years. "This is tougher than anything I've ever done on the field. I've had a great run, but you've got to step aside sometimes." Then, Froemming returned to that field, settling behind home plate as the crew chief working the 78th All-Star Game. It was just another notch in a record-long career that began a half-century ago in an Iowa bush-league town and has unfolded on manicured big-league lawns since 1971. Froemming's 37 seasons are unmatched, although at 5,095 games and counting, he will fall a couple hundred shy of another legend, Bill Klem. "But, you know, in his day, umpires were never off," Froemming said. "We got four weeks' vacation [starting] in 1979, and for the game record, I'd never give up those 28 days. It's an incredibly important tool, because you just can't be away from home from April to October. "Even as it was, I couldn't have done it without the support of my family -- my wife Rosemarie and my sons Stephen and Kevin. She did the job of mother and father during the summers." A stocky curmudgeon with a liberal belly, Froemming vividly recalled his first day as an umpire, 50 years ago in Waterloo, Iowa. "I can remember standing for the national anthem," he said. "I was 18 years old, and I thought the good Lord came down and took me to heaven." Mike Port, Major League Baseball's supervisor of umpires, reminded people of how a young Froemming supplemented his pay as a Minor League umpire. "For 13 years, he supported his family by picking up bodies for a local mortuary," Port said. "At $20 each. So two bodies was a good day, right Bruce?" Starting in 1971 and with a snow-abbreviated game in Shea Stadium between the Mets and the Expos, Froemming has been a mainstay on Major League fields, since the mid-'80s as a crew chief. He was never taken for granted and always appreciated by on- and off-the-field baseball personnel, who for the next three months will be keenly aware of his long farewell.
Froemming said he began contemplating this decision a couple of months ago, at which time MLB immediately began to explore means to keep him involved with the sport."After I put my shirt in the bag for the last time, I'll be doing something in the game," Froemming said. "It'll be spelled out later." "On behalf of [Commissioner] Bud Selig and [MLB executive vice-president, baseball operations] Jimmie Lee Solomon, I want to congratulate Bruce on 37 terrific years of umpiring Major League Baseball," said Bob DuPuy, MLB president and chief operating officer. "He has been the consummate professional throughout his career. "All of us salute him, and we're really happy he's going to continue with us going forward, and we wish him nothing but the best." At a time some umpires draw occasional criticism for being confrontational and conceited, Froemming never has considered himself more important than the game. He recalled an anecdote from early in his career that captured that perspective. In 1972, he was behind the plate as the Cubs' Milt Pappas bid for a perfect game against the Padres. With two outs in the ninth, Froemming called Pappas' close full-count pitch to Larry Stahl ball four. Garry Jestadt then lined out to preserve the no-hitter. The next day, interviewing Froemming on his pregame show, Cubs broadcaster Lou Boudreau asked him, "Do you realize you could have been the 12th umpire to be behind the plate for a perfect game? You would have been famous." "Oh, yeah?" Froemming said. "Who was No. 11?" "Well, I don't know," Boudreau admitted. "Yeah," Froemming said, "that's how famous I would have been." He has always maintained that selfless attitude. Following Cal Ripken Jr. into the room used for All-Star related press conferences, Froemming called out with a twinkle in his eyes, "Don't everybody leave. Or I'll just be talking to my family." Upon being introduced by Port, Froemming canvassed the room of reporters from behind the microphone and said, "Usually when I'm in this situation, you guys are ready to kill me because of some questionable call or something." MLB already saluted Froemming a year ago, as he was calling his 5,000th career game in Fenway Park. The memory of that occasion stays with him. He doubtless will form more indelible memories the next three months, on a last voyage that figures to be observed and celebrated throughout the Majors.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.