In horse racing terms, we're at the quarter pole this baseball season, and I've had quite enough of some things.
Analytics, computer print-outs, the pitch tracker "strike zone" superimposed on my TV screen . . . this junk drives me crazy. Isn't it enough that life depends on one's cell phone nowadays?
Sparky Anderson managed one of the best teams ever in the 1975-76 Reds and all he did was fill out the lineup card. Now every move in every game seems scripted, often by the front office folks. Managers fly out of the dugout to remove a pitcher to get a "better match-up" then watch as it blows up on them, they put on insane looking shifts because the hitters now can't hit the ball to the opposite field. My head spins. I feel like I'm watching some sort of video game sometimes.
One more thing, when are there going to be standards set and applied towards major league umpires? The vast majority of these guys are darned good at their job but a few of them are woeful. We know everything there is to know about the players but little to nothing about the umps.
Umps aren't in the rarefied salary range of the players but they typically earn from $120,000 to $300,000 per year with a per diem that covers travel, lodging, meals etc.
Now to the matter at hand. Massac County probation officer, Shawnee College assistant basketball coach and weekend "Lyft" driver Carl D. Johnson has made a name for himself as an umpire in western Kentucky. So much so that he was recently nominated as the baseball official of the year for 2019.
The award was handed out in March in Lexington, Kentucky at an event hosted by the KHSAA. Johnson didn't win [Terry Carter did] but he was one of only three in the final running. Johnson said he was asked about umpiring by his late uncle Jeff Johnson in 2004. Jeff was an imposing figure in blue and was highly regarded around here as an official. No partiality and no frivolity. That described him to a 'T.'
Carl said the brief time he umped with Jeff meant the world to him. Johnson said that there was a brief time [in college] when he called a couple of years that he didn't enjoy. "The guys that I was with, their egos were too big and I can't stand that in an umpire." Amen, Carl.
Most coaches want an official to carry himself well, know what he's doing, make calls with authority and confidence and stay out of the game.
Carl explained that while he has a certain "arrogance" to him when he's on the field, that "arrogance" is more accurately confidence. Confidence in his ability and certainty that he is prepared to deliver his best. That attitude has earned Johnson a lot of kudos from his peers.
Western Kentucky coaches used to give out an "Umpire of the Year" award and he got it three times. Johnson has called 13 District and Region tournaments, 11 Region finals and called in the State tournament three times.
Johnson said he still feels his uncle's presence when he steps on the field and that fuels his passion for the game.
"I have too much love and respect for the game to give less than my best." He also said he has one more ultimate goal and that is make the KHSAA Hall of Fame and he will continue to work toward that goal. He also said that he's sure he will know when to walk away.
"I don't want to ever hear, 'Carl used to be good, but….' I'll know when it's time." 'Til that day comes, Johnson said, "When I step on the field I will make the call as I see it and be my best that day. If that happens, everything else will take care of itself."