Called Out but Safe: A Base­ball Umpire’s Journey

Al Clark & Dan Schlossberg
  • Review
By – November 6, 2014

Al Clark, vet­er­an major league umpire and the only Jew­ish umpire in the Amer­i­can League, main­tains there are three teams on the field at every base­ball game — the home team, the oppos­ing team, and the umpir­ing crew. Part inside look at the third team, part mem­oir, Called Out but Safe sums up Clark’s career on and off the field. 

Clark spent twen­ty-six years as a major league umpire, and he gives read­ers a wide-rang­ing view of the pro­fes­sion, from train­ing to the World Series. A life­long base­ball fan, I learned about the role of the stop­watch, how umpires scout teams, the appli­ca­tion of the strike zone from crouch to bat­ting stance, and many more aspects of the umpire’s job that sel­dom come to a fan’s atten­tion, as well as the umpires’ con­trac­tu­al terms and negotia­tions. Clark even offers help­ful trav­el advice based on a career that requires con­stant trav­el dur­ing the base­ball sea­son, as umpires don’t have home games. Hav­ing served as umpire in many dra­mat­ic games and a def­i­nite pres­ence on the field, Clark also recounts many memo­rable anecdotes. 

Off the field, how­ev­er, Clark’s pro­fes­sion­al side yields to the per­son­al. Clark has strong opin­ions about base­ball man­age­ment, sev­er­al play­ers, man­agers, and even a fel­low umpire or two, and he dis­pens­es them freely and some­times gra­tu­itous­ly. A respect­ed umpire, Clark ran afoul of Major League Base­ball when he for­got to report a change on an air­line tick­et and was ter­mi­nat­ed a year and a half short of his planned retire­ment. He ran into even more trou­ble authen­ti­cat­ing base­balls sup­pos­ed­ly from Nolan Ryan’s three hun­dredth win, a game he umpired. Because the let­ters were mailed, Clark was con­vict­ed of mail fraud and served a four-month term in jail. The clos­ing chap­ters of the book are de­voted to Clark’s expla­na­tions of these events, as well as his reflec­tions on incar­cer­a­tion, and his per­son­al res­o­lu­tion and out­look on his life. These are the final impres­sions a read­er takes away from Called Out but Safe.

Parental warn­ing: This book is def­i­nite­ly not a bar mitz­vah gift. Clark uses X‑rated lan­guage lib­er­al­ly through­out. Appen­dix, photographs.

Relat­ed content:

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions