CWS: My Interview With An Umpire

It seems like every reporter or media honk wants to get a one-on-one with one of the head coaches, or one of the hottest players, or even the guy behind the grill in Dingerville. Not me.

One thing I've always wanted to do was talk to one of the more unheralded people involved in the College World Series, an umpire.

So with the help of the CWS Media Director J.D. Hamilton, I was able to score a face-to-face with Scott Graham, one of the more experienced umps working this week at the College World Series. We met up in outside the umpires locker room about 30 minutes after he called Tuesday afternoon's game between North Carolina and Louisville. Graham had the "easy" assignment of working the 3rd base bag in that game.

Here's how it went.

Me:
How many years have you been in the business of being an umpire?

Scott Graham;
I think, this is actually my 30th year of umpiring. I did seven years of professional baseball, the last three in triple A and then started doing college baseball in 1981 and have been doing D-1 baseball ever since.

Me:
How does an umpire go about being assigned to work the College World Series?

Scott Graham:
Well it's a very detailed process. Most of us work in a conference during the regular season and the conference coordinators of the 31 D-1 conferences around the country submit a list of where they have the umpires ranked and the recommendations about Regionals, Super Regionals and College World Series qualifiers. Dave Yeast and his committee of umpires review the list, they have their own observations and what they've gone out and observed. Then Dave submits a list for recommendation to the D-1 baseball committee and they approve us from there.

Me:
So it's kind of like a performance ranking inside your own conferences?

Scott Graham:
Yeah it starts in the conference because they recommend who they feel is qualified to go and it goes from there.

Me:
How many years have you been doing the College World Series? Because it seems like I've heard your name a number of times over the years.

Scott Graham:
This is my fourth World Series.

Me:
Okay, seems like ten or twelve or so (laughs).

Scott Graham:
(Laughs) Generally speaking, we take two years off before we come back. I mean, it's not etched in stone that has to happen, but as a general rule, with the pool of guys that are qualified you want to make sure to keep it rotating and moving them around.

Me:
What conferences do you usually work during the regular season?

Scott Graham:
I work primarily the ACC and I work a little in Conference USA as well.

Me:
Have other umpires from your crew gone to the World Series?

Scott Graham:
We generally are working with different crew members within our conferences. Quite frankly, working in the ACC, we're pretty proud of our umpiring staff. We've had several ACC umpires come to the College World Series. In fact, this year Steve Manders is an alternate here as well as Scott Erby, who is on the crew and he worked 1st base today.

Me:
And I remember Randy Harvey from last year and Al Davis has been here over the years.

Scott Graham:
Yes. Randy Harvey and Al Davis have, but also Paul Gillie, Tony Walsh, Tony Maners.

Me:
Oh, those are all guys I recognize. That's weird.

Scott Graham:
Believe it or not, in '04 I was here with both Gillie and Walsh.

Me:
Really? It seems like they should spread it out a little bit?... but I guess you guys are the best of the best, right?

Scott Graham:
(Laughs) Well I won't say that. But we are very proud of the crew we have.

Me:
Okay, about umpiring in general, what's the hardest call to make in a game?

Scott Graham:
Making any decision is. (Laughs). It's great job. But if you don't like making decisions, it doesn't work real well for you. I think check-swings are always the ones that are kind of open for interpretation, they're pretty difficult to get right every time.

Me:
Do you actually hear the audience bitching at you at any point in the game? Or do you hear them all the time?

Scott Graham:
It depends upon where you are. It you're at Clemson during a conference weekend, it's a little hard to not hear them. But one thing that is really nice about coming to Omaha is that you have 25,000 people in the stands and only about 2,000 of those are supporters of each school, the rest of the people here are just fans of college baseball. So you don't have nearly the partisanship, you just get people that enjoy college baseball and are pulling for both teams and kind of leave us alone, thank goodness.

Me:
(Laughs) So this is probably your favorite assignment then, right?

Scott Graham:
Oh, for a LOT of reasons, this is my favorite assignment. That's for sure.

Me:
Okay, you don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but do you have a favorite coach? Or a favorite group of fans? Or some place you favore... And not favor call-wise, but places you like to go to umpire?

Scott Graham:
I have to tell ya', I feel very fortunate where I am in the ACC, because there's not a place in the ACC I don't enjoy going to.

Me:
Oh, that's great.

Scott Graham:
Every place has its own different personality. The crowds are different, I mean they're all very partisan for their schools. The coaches all handle themselves very professionally. I think we're very fortunate in that we have a very good professional relationship between the umpires and coaches throughout the conference. I'm just very glad to be in the ACC, quite frankly.

Me:
When you kick a coach out of a game and you're on a three-day weekend in the ACC, I've always wondered what it's like to be in your shoes to have to shake the guys hand at home plate the next day and work with him again. How do you get treated after something like that?

Scott Graham:
Well the fact that we have such a good personal and professional relationships... We are doing a job. We're doing a job today, tomorrow, the next day, and if what happened requires my job to eject a player or coach, they understand that. It's almost always an emotional situation. But when the emotion cools down, most of them will say, "You know what? I deserved to be thrown out. He still kicked that call, but I deserved to be thrown out." We go out the next day and it's almost like it never happened.

Me:
Really? That's interesting.

Scott Graham:
Oh yeah. It really is. It's really just another day on the job. And that's the way it should be for all umpires and all coaches because who's served by anything carrying over? I mean, it hurts everything.

Me:
I guess I think about guys like Elliot Avent at N.C. State who are just really firey and might hold a grudge.

Scott Graham:
Elliot is firey and emotional, but he let's it go as well. It's the emotion of the situation and the emotion of the play or what just happened that fuels it. And sometimes the emotion gets the better of it and we have to excuse them for the rest of the day. But when that emotion cools off, it's back to business. They've got a job to do coaching their team and I've got a to do umpiring the game and we both respect that.

Me:
Last question, is there really such a thing as a make-up call?

Scott Graham:
(Laughing) Ohhh. No. No. Absolutely not. Listen, I'm not that good to be able to make up calls. I mean, I've got to try to get the calls in front of me right. I can't say, "Gee I missed that one, so I've got to make this one up." The way I look at it, if you're thinking about making up a call then you've just missed two calls.

Me:
I understand there's some congratulations involved, because there was a sign in the stands that said something like "Love you Graham" or "Way to go blue". So congratulations.

Scott Graham:
I believe I heard something about that... (laughs) Yes, I am very fortunate that I met the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with and we're getting married in August. And Amanda kind of surprised me with the sign in the stands last night.

Me:
So you did see it then?

Scott Graham:
Yes. Actually, I have to admit that the Oregon State catcher saw it first. It was during the warm-up pitches and he said, "Hey, you've got a sign up there." And I looked and I saw it. It was really quite a surprise and it really felt good. It always feels good to have someone say, "Hey blue, you're the man."

Me:
That's what it was... "Hey blue, you're the man."

And thanks to the high level of his umpiring this season, it appears that yes, indeed, Scott Graham IS the man. 'Coz he's made it here to Omaha as part of the top umpiring crew in the country.

Comments

Freakin' brilliant idea. You got the one angle that no one's come close to thinking of baseball-wise. Great job.

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert