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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 598

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This is the grave of John McSherry.

Born in 1944 in New York City, McSherry became a Major League umpire in 1971, working the National League. He was very successful at the job. His first National League Championship Series was in 1974 and he would work eight of those. He also umpired two World Series: 1977 and 1987. He worked three All-Star Games too: 1975, 1982, and 1991. As a long-time ump, he witnessed a bunch of big things. He was behind home plate for Larry Dierker’s 1977 no-hitter with the Astros was the first base umpire for an 18-inning game on September 2, 1986 that was split over two days and set the major league record for most players used in a single game, with 53.

Unfortunately, most of why McSherry is remembered is that he became the prototype for the obese umpire with a sizable ego (though most always considered him a fair and certainly very good umpire), when he died in the middle of the Reds-Expos opening day game he was working behind the plate of cardiac arrest in 1996. McSherry definitely struggled with one big part of the traveling life of the umpire: healthy eating. He was listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 328 pounds, but he was probably closer to 400 pounds at this time. He had to leave a 1992 NLCS game he was working due to dizziness, but any health scare he had before this was not listened to properly. It turned out McSherry had a doctor’s appointment the next day, but who knows what would have happened. He also had a serious stress issue. In the aftermath, his union president, Richie Phillips said,

He was far and away the most intense umpire I ever knew, the way he got himself worked up before a game, especially when he was working the plate. He got to the point where he didn’t want anybody to go near him or talk to him for at least an hour before the game. He made it a more stressful situation than it had to be.

This was the era when I was watching the most baseball in my life–really the period between 1987 and 1996 and slowly tailing off from there to the point that I barely watch the game on television today, except for the playoffs. So McSherry was kind of a big figure in my life at this time and his death was, OK not surprising, but sad. In the aftermath, Major League Baseball got serious about the physical fitness of umpires. Mostly it worked. Sometimes it did not. Eric Gregg, another of this era’s big ego umpires, tried to get into shape. But he resigned in 1999, gained it back, and died in 2006 of a stroke.

John McSherry is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

If you would like this series to visit other umpires, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Doug Harvey is in San Diego and Bill Klem is in Coral Gables, Florida. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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