Sweeping off the Plate – Umpiring Stories Told after the Dust Settles, by Jim Smith
Review by Bob Spangler
This is a book about one man’s journey through the baseball and basketball worlds as a player, an official and an assignor.
I read the book with great interest as Jim’s path was similar to mine – player: I was only a sandlot player, Jim played college level; umpire: high school and amateur for me, college level and below for Jim; and assignor: I hold my own at this level as I have assigned over 150,000 contests at all levels and sports.
What is an assignor? Assigning is covering all scheduled games within one’s contract with officials and making sure everyone, from teams to coaches to officials are happy. I currently assign five sports. My favorite attitude about assigning sports officials is that I have a job every official thinks they can do better, but a job that nobody wants. Did I say the job is impossible?
Smith tells his story in 259 pages, and the method he uses is fascinating. He has hundreds of stories to illustrate what he has learned from a lifetime of sports. We always advise new officials to keep a journal to record their officiating successes and failures and to use the journal as a learning tool. Smith kept copious notes regarding playing, umpiring and assigning or else he has a photogenic memory because he gives detailed accounts of all facets of his life.
His story is told chronologically. He grew up in the Carolinas, moved to Virginia and tells how he started down the path to umpiring and on to his dual officiating roles in baseball and basketball. Smith had great success in both, particularly in Virginia. If you participated in baseball or basketball in the Hampton Roads area circa 1971-2004, run out and buy a copy because this book is a who’s who of players, managers and umpires from that time period. What a great resource for future officials in Virginia, I know of no such resource in northeastern Ohio.
What I especially liked about the book is that the stories are not just “war” stories that have no real purpose but to sensationalize. Often in official’s meetings, when someone is telling a situation or play that they had to rule on, no one makes the leap to explain the underlying principal the story illustrates.
In Jim’s story, “Set the Alarm Clock Game,” he relates an experience that all umpires have had at one time or another: The ball comes right down the middle of the plate and as the umpire, inexplicably, you call it a ball. When the pitcher’s team coach complained as expected. Smith’s reply was, “It was right down the middle, set an alarm clock for me and I’ll wake up.” Using language can defuse a situation and Smith gives several helpful examples of the right word or body language stopping a possible explosive game situation.
Smith had several interesting stories about assigning. My favorite was the variety of excuses umpires use for getting off games, especially if the game involves travel. He discusses umpires who “lose a close relative”. I can relate – one of my umpires had five grandmothers die over a 10-year period! Some fibbing involved? Ya think! Then there are always officials who call off because they receive a closer game from another assignor. Every day brings a new twist in the world of scheduling officials
This book is a very useful addition to officiating literature. The best use would be as an officiating “devotional” where you read a couple of stories a day, before going to bed, or before games as a stimulus to get motivated to work a game.
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Sweeping off the Plate – Umpiring Stories Told after the Dust Settles, by Jim Smith, 259 pages
You can purchase the book directly from Jim Smith’s website which contains interviews and other information. jimsmithbook.com
From Jim Smith: If you purchase it from me then all the proceeds will go to the following charities: Alzheimer/Dementia Association, Heart Association, American Cancer Society and The Multiple Sclerosis Association. He might even include the Roy Hobbs Foundation if you say you are a Roy Hobbs member.
Email Jim, at firstname.lastname@example.org or text him at 757-377-1616. The book comes in two forms, paper back ($25) or hard cover ($30). This covers all shipping & handling, including taxes.
Please send the check to: Jim Smith / 5401 Challedon Drive / Virginia Beach, VA 23462.
With your check please include the following information: 1. The name of the person you want the book autographed for, AND 2. Complete mailing address where you want the book sent.
Editor’s note: Bob Spangler was the Roy Hobbs World Series assigner for 10 years until his retirement. He resides in Barberton, Ohio, and he still is the assigner for Summit Umpires Assn., and for all sports at several county high school leagues surrounding Akron