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.
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.