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Mudville: April 13, 2024 9:24 am PDT

Dale Scott

"Until you experience it, you really don’t know."

Here at BallNine, we aren’t going to steer you in the wrong direction when it comes to baseball.

So when we say that umpires have the best stories, we aren’t misleading you.

If you need proof, you could revisit Al Clark’s Spitballin’, Kevin Kernan’s feature on Phil Cuzzi or Ted Barrett’s recent appearance on Totally Baseless with Chris Vitali and Will Ohman.

As the 2024 Major League Baseball season gets underway, we’re celebrating with another feature on an umpire as 32-year Major League umpire Dale Scott joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.

Scott has such an incredible story that we’re dividing it up into two parts. This week, we’ll discuss his career path and his interactions with some notable managers. Next week, we’ll get into the historic games that he worked; and there are many.

Simply put, Scott is one of the most accomplished umpires to ever work in Major League Baseball.

His 3,892 games worked ranks 28th all time, ahead of Hall of Famers Nestor Chylak and Jocko Conlan and familiar names you’d remember like Frank Pulli, Jim Joyce, Terry Tata and Don Denkinger. He’s in the top 20 for most postseason games and has worked the second most Division Series ever.

Scott also ranks 40th all-time with 77 career ejections and we’ll get into that as well.

His book, The Umpire is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self was published in 2022 and is still being lauded as a fantastic baseball book today.

It’s the opening weekend of the 2024 Major League Baseball season and you can’t start a game without the umpire saying, “Play ball,” so join us today as we go Spitballin’ with the one and only Dale Scott.

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Scott! We love our umpires here at BallNine, and I can’t wait to dive into some of the games you worked. But first, let’s go back to your childhood. What was baseball like for you as a kid?

I grew up in Eugene, Oregon and from an early age I enjoyed baseball. My mom’s dad lived in LA and he was a big Dodgers fan, so I was going to be a Dodgers fan too. In the early-to-mid 70s, the Dodgers had that infield of Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey and because I loved playing first base, I was a Steve Garvey fan. The 1974 World Series where they lost to Oakland, I was just devastated. Now in Oregon there are a lot of Mariners fans, but they weren’t around when I was growing up. It was obvious to me as a kid that eventually I was going to be the first basemen for the Dodgers one day. The only drawback to that was when I started playing baseball, it became obvious that I wasn’t going to be playing first base for anybody. I enjoyed playing though and played about five or six years, but when I got to high school it came time to figure out whether I was going to be on varsity or JV and truthfully, I was several levels below that.

As someone who loved baseball and the Dodgers, what is that like to have to umpire for a team you rooted for your whole life?

When you start umpiring, you’re not a fan of any team. I do get asked if being a Dodgers fan effects the way I called their games. My very first year in professional baseball I was in Bellingham in the Northwest League for a game and they were the Dodgers A Ball team. They yelled at me just like anybody else, so I figured I don’t like any of them now! But seriously, there is a professionalism about the job so all teams are the same to us.

Home plate umpire Dale Scott #5 prepares to get back behind the plate after he was hit with a foul ball and then examined by trainer Rob Nodine of the Seattle Mariners during the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Safeco Field on August 7, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Good point. How did you get your start in umpiring?

At 15 years old, I wanted to try to figure out a way I could still be involved in baseball. I was too young to coach, but a friend of mine who was a year older told me I should try umpiring. He said he did it the previous summer and it was a great way to make some money. I had spent so much time on the bench watching umpires, so I thought that was intriguing. I convinced the Commissioner of the Umpires to give me a shot and I just fell in love with it. I enjoyed officiating so much I started working football and basketball too, but baseball was what I enjoyed most. I did that in high school and a couple of years in community college. I worked as a DJ at a radio station too while umpiring. Sometimes I would work a freshman game on a Friday afternoon then that night I would be the DJ for their dance! I’d say, “KBDF personality Dale Scott here, playing some tunes,” and kids would look up and be like, “Hey! Didn’t you strike me out today?!”

That’s so awesome on so many levels. How did you make that jump up from local umpiring to the professional level?

A friend of mine thought I was pretty good and told me to look into umpiring school. He had gone to umpiring school but didn’t get a job out of it. He told me he thought I would really enjoy the experience. He also said that I could come back and it would look great on my resume and maybe I could work some more college stuff. So I went to the Bill Kinnamon Umpire School and was part of the Class of 1981. I ended up getting a job out of it and the rest was history.

I always enjoy asking the players what it was like to get called up to the majors, and it’s no different with umpires. What was it like for you to get the call that you were coming up to work Major League games?

I had gotten promoted to AAA in May of 1984 and worked the rest of that season and the playoffs in the American Association. Then I went to winter ball in the Dominican Republic and in the spring of 1985, I went to my first spring training with the American League in Florida. I worked the whole season in AAA except in August. Sometimes for umpires, the call up is similar to what happens with players. You can get a call that someone blew out a knee and you can get a call late at night or there might be a message waiting for you after you worked a game that says you’re needed in Detroit tomorrow. Mine was a little different because I got a call a few days ahead of time. There was a makeup game on August 19, 1985 between the Tigers and Royals. It was supposed to be a day off, but they had this one game series where both teams were flying into Kansas City.

The umpire crew was myself, Ted Hendry, Jim Evans and Dan Morrison. Nick Bremigan had been part of their crew, but he was off the week before, so instead of calling him in for that one game, they had me fill in for the one game. I was supposed to be in Omaha, but they called and told me to go to Kansas City. They said I didn’t need to bring my plate equipment and I’d be working third base. I was thrilled. Even if I didn’t get hired after that, umpires always want to get that one game to be able to say they worked in the big leagues. That’s something you can’t take away.

“Both managers said, ‘Hey Dale, welcome to the American League!’ I was thinking, ‘Wow, they know my name!’ Then I realized that they had it posted on their lineup cards in the dugout.”

What was it like working the game? I hear a lot of players say they have nerves, and I have to imagine that might even be the same for umpires. You guys are only human!

It was a thrill all-around. I remember getting dressed in the locker room and Jim Evans came over to me and he has a really dry sense of humor. He came up to me and said, “Are you a little nervous about your first game?” Of course I was nervous as hell, but externally I was like, “No, I’m excited to get out there!” He responded, “You’re not nervous? Do you always wear your shirt inside out?” I looked down and had put my shirt on inside out. I said, “I set the trends here, this is what I always do!” Then I started laughing and said that yeah, maybe I was a little nervous.

That’s a great story! I looked that game up and it was Bret Saberhagen in his Cy Young year against Jack Morris who had just started the All-Star Game for the American League. That’s some game to start with!

The Royals would end up being World Champions that year and the Tigers were the defending champions. The Royals had Dick Howser and of course Sparky Anderson was with the Tigers. You had two pretty good ball clubs right there. I remember when we came out for the ground rules, both managers said, “Hey Dale, welcome to the American League!” I was thinking, “Wow, they know my name!” Then I realized that they had it posted on their lineup cards in the dugout. Then we break and I went to third base and was just looking around. Kaufman Stadium was a beautiful stadium and I was taking it all in thinking, “How the hell did I get here?” Then I heard someone say, “Hey Dale!” I looked over and it was George Brett, who was of course playing third. He asked me if it was my first game and I looked down at my pants to see if I had a wet spot or something. I asked him if it was that obvious and he laughed and said that he just hadn’t seen me around. Then he welcomed me too.

That’s an awesome story. It’s cool to hear guys like that have that kind of respect and interact with the umpires that way. How did the game go?

It was an easy game. It went ten innings, but I only had two calls. I had a check swing on Brett that I called him out on and then I had a fair-foul call on what ended up being the winning run in the 10th. That was my first major league game, then I went right back down to Omaha thinking, “Wow, that really just happened.”

Home plate umpire Dale Scott calls a strike during the game between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Sunday, May 22, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Moving forward to 1986, that was your first full season in the American League. How did you make that jump from the minors to full-time in the Major Leagues? How does that work for umpires?

There were two openings for American League umpires going into spring training in 1986. I had one Major League game under my belt and Tim Tschida had about 30 games. There were two guys ahead of us with more Major League experience. We figured those jobs would go to them and Tschida and I would move up and we’d get a lot of fill-in games. I had no notion whatsoever I would get hired with just one game’s experience. At the end of spring training, they made a decision to hire Tschida and myself over the other two guys. The truth was that we had less games, but we were about a decade younger than the other guys. They told me later that they rolled the dice on us because they thought we had potential. We might not have had the experience, but we were equal to or above the other two guys with room to grow. It was an unbelievable thrill. It’s unheard of now to get hired in the big leagues with just one game under your belt.

I looked at the managers in the AL at that time and you had some real characters. Sparky Anderson was still around, as was Earl Weaver, Gene Mauch and Dick Williams. Lou Piniella and Tony LaRussa were just getting started too. What was it like dealing with those guys your first time through the league?

It was a whole new world. A rookie umpire has zero credibility with players and managers. You have to prove yourself; they don’t care where you came from. It was an education. I was going into new cities and working with umpires I didn’t know. I knew the names, but I was just meeting a lot of them. It takes a good two or three years before you really get established. You have to go through trials and tribulations. Sometimes one of the veteran umpires will have a call and you’re looking across the field thinking, “Whew, I don’t know about that. That was close.” Then the players and managers won’t say a word. Then I’ll make a call as a rookie and both dugouts get going on me because I’m new.

Earl Weaver had retired and then came back; I had him when he came back. I never really had any situations with him though. I remember one time at the old Memorial Stadium where he had gone out to talk to his pitcher and as he came back he came to me and said, “Those pitches aren’t high.” I said, “I got them up.” He didn’t agree with me, so I said, “OK, so when you’re hitting those are strikes?” He said, “I didn’t say that!” I didn’t have any confrontations with him but he always let you know he was watching. He used to whistle in the dugout to get your attention.

It sounds like you got off a lot better than Bill Haller did with Earl Weaver.

That’s such a great video. It was all because they were doing some story on Haller and that’s why he was mic’d up. Bill Haller hated that going out. He felt that the on-field altercation stuff shouldn’t be public. That was a different time. Umpires used to be able to say a lot more to players and sometimes wouldn’t eject someone because they were giving it as good as they were getting it. Nowadays, you can’t do that. I got burned my first year in the big leagues. There were a couple of times I was in an argument and you could read my lips. I would say something like, “There’s no f-ing way that happened!” Dick Butler was one of our supervisors and kind of chewed me out a little bit. He showed me a couple of videos and then from then on, for over 30 years in the big leagues, if I had a situation with the manager or coach, I put my hand over my mouth because I had gotten burned. Today, you have to assume you’re always on camera and always in shot of a microphone.

It’s amazing to think there is such attention paid to foul language when it seems like it has always been so prevalent in baseball and all sports really. In the heat of competition, it’s bound to happen. 

Well a player or manager can always cuss. If they weren’t able to, we’d have a lot of mute people on the field. You just can’t make it personal. You can say, “That’s the worst blanket-blank call I’ve ever seen” and that’s fine. But if you say, “You’re the worst blanket-blank I’ve seen,” you’re probably going to be ejected. Then you have times where someone will start saying, “That’s the worst blanket-blank call,” and cussing up a storm. Then I’ll say, “He missed the f-ing tag!” All of a sudden, they turn around and say, “You can’t cuss me!”  

By the time Billy Martin came back in 1988, you had already been around the American League for a few years. What was your relationship like with Billy?

I was the last guy to eject him from a game! It was on Memorial Day in Oakland in 1988. He kicked dirt on me and got suspended. That was the first time I was in the whirlwind of the media cycle for anything I was involved with on the field. When you’re a new umpire, those first couple of years you’re learning cities, stadiums, teams, partners and how things are done. When you’re in AAA and done well, you’re pretty confident and think you can just make that jump to the majors. You can have guys tell you what it’s like, but until you experience it, you really don’t know.

This has been phenomenal and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. You have so many incredibly historic games that you worked, so I have an idea to dedicate next week’s article talking about those. For now, let’s wrap up part one with a reflective question. When you think about starting off that first game in Kansas City and then think of what your career became, what thoughts come to your mind?

When I got hurt in the 2017 season, it was only the fifth game of the season and I never came back. If I stayed healthy, in mid-September I would have reached 4,000 games umpired. It would have been in San Francisco. That’s a huge milestone for umpires. Nowadays, they get four weeks off plus replay duty two or three weeks a year, so they’re not on the field as much. That number of 4,000 games will be reached by less and less people. There’s only [23] to have done that. I missed it by 103 games and I was disappointed about that. But then again, someone once told me that unless you’re an umpire, nobody would even know that.

When you’re in your career, you’re always in season or preparing for the next season. You don’t have a lot of time to reflect. Sometimes I would see something on the field and think, “That’s cool! That’s history right there.” But you move on because there’s more games. Once I was officially done, I had more clarity. Now I think, “Oh my God, I was on the field for that!” It really helped me digest what had gone on the previous 30-plus years. At times I’m even baffled. Sometimes MLB Network runs classic games and I’ll come across one where I was on the field that had some milestone. At times, I find it incredible how lucky I was to be a part of such an enduring legacy, which is baseball. When I watch something like Ken Burns’ Baseball, they didn’t talk about me on it, but I watch it and say, “Wow, I was part of this” It’s very humbling.

Dale Scott was a Major League Baseball umpire for 32 years. His book, The Umpire is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self has been widely praised by baseball people and literary critics. It is available in print and on audiobook through www.umpiredalescott.com or anywhere books are sold. 

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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