- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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There was a man dressed up as a giant hot dog on the third-base line. The team mascot was a giant frog wearing swim fins. There were water balloon contests between innings.
So last Wednesday's Everett Aqua Sox game was a long way from Bob Davidson's days as a major-league umpire. But at least this was a major step up from where Bob was recently. After all, this was the Class A Northwest League, a real professional baseball league with major-league affiliates. Prior to the Northwest League gig, Davidson was umping slo-pitch softball games for $20 a pop, the first time he had to tell players to keep the beer cans off the field since working one of David Wells' starts. Sure, $20 doesn't sound like much but he could knock off three games in an evening and make $60.
Which is about what he earned Wednesday.
Compare that to the $160,000 annual salary Davidson earned as an 18-year veteran major-league umpire -- he worked the 1992 World Series and was behind the plate for Kevin Brown's no-hitter in 1997 -- before he committed career suicide by following his union leader off a cliff in 1999. "This was a mistake that money-wise, pretty much cost us everything,'' Davidson said.
In a strategy that Davidson now admits was "asinine,'' Richie Phillips had his union members submit their resignations that summer, figuring that the move would force major-league executives to meet their demands. Instead, baseball gladly accepted the resignations and hired less expensive replacements.
Many umpires withdrew their resignations and got their jobs back. Davidson didn't. He took the field the day before his resignation took effect knowing that it might be his last game for a while and he was right. He just didn't know "a while'' would last as long as the Yankees dynasty.
"I remember everything about that game,'' he said. "I wore my mask between innings so people wouldn't see me crying.''
Through arbitration and lawsuits, all but nine umpires eventually got their jobs back or agreed to retirement settlements. Davidson is one of the nine, and though they still have a lawsuit pending, he's essentially given up waiting for a court remedy. He needs to pay his bills and there aren't a lot of companies hiring 50-year-old former umpires.
"I made a mistake and it cost me my job,'' he said. "I could sit here and feel sorry for myself. But the way I look at it is I've got a second chance and I'm going to take it. I've gotten past the point where I beat myself up. And I did beat myself up for a couple years. I was very angry, very resentful, very mad. But I'm over that now.''
So he decided to work his way back to the majors the same way he got there two decades ago. Through the minors, beginning here in Everett, Boise, Bellingham and the rest of the Northwest League cities.
If Davidson does well, he'll move up to a full season Class A league next year. Then to Double-A and Triple-A. He says if all goes well, he could be back in the majors by 2008 when he is 55.
"I'm willing to do that,'' he said. "I just don't want my career to end because I threw it away.''
Davidson qualified as a minor-league umpire this spring and threw his luggage into a car with 21-year-old umpire Scott Jarrod, who was born the year Davidson first reached the majors. The two drove 20 hours to Everett to begin the Northwest League season, where Davidson will earn $1,800 a month with a $20 per diem. He and Jarrod will share a car and a room the entire summer.
"I wanted to see a different side of things,'' Jarrod said of rooming with a man old enough to be his father. "Nobody my age can tell me a lot more about umpiring that I already know while Bob can tell me more about umpiring than I probably should know.''
There were several reporters and an ESPN TV crew following Davidson when he umpired his first game last week and he was in good spirits, happy to be back on the field. But the difficult part will be in a month when no TV cameras are focused on him, when no reporters are calling him and when it seems as if no one cares about him outside his immediate family. Those seven-hour road trips from Boise to Everett are going to get very long and very tiring, very quickly.
Baseball gleefully accepted his resignation years ago. It has gone to court rather than hire him back. So what makes Davidson think the league will ask him back when he's even older in a couple years just because he worked his way up through the minors?
That answer is simple. He has no other choice but to hope.
"A darkhorse? I'm a three-legged horse,'' he said. "I know that it may not happen. There are no promises, no guarantees. But I know that if given a fair shake -- and I know baseball will give me a fair shake -- then I can do it.''
Davidson's quest may be quixotic and it would seem sad if it wasn't so admirable.
He's an umpire. This is what he does for a living.
"I've learned one thing,'' Davidson said. "I need baseball a whole lot more than it needs me.''
Boxscore line of the week
It was a big week for Roger Clemens last week. He won his 300th career game two Fridays ago. Then he appeared on the David Letterman show and read off his Top 10 list of things he learned in the major leagues, including, "No. 8, There's not a damn thing to do in Milwaukee,'' and "No. 6, You can melt an umpire's gruff exterior with a simple hug,'' and "No. 4, Best practical joke? Tell a teammate he's been traded to the Devil Rays,'' and "No. 1, Adjusting your cup doesn't do anything; just makes you feel good.''
Apparently, the crack about the Devil Rays irritated Tampa Bay owner Vince Naimoli, who has a lousy sense of humor in addition to a lousy ballclub. Lighten up, Vince. If you don't want to be the league's official punchline, try winning some games.
As if to punctuate the joke, Clemens pitched against Tampa Bay on Wednesday and nearly filled in the only thing missing from his resume. Clemens held the Devil Rays hitless before Marlon Anderson singled with one out in the eighth inning. The Rocket's line:
8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
Had Clemens been able to complete the no-no, he would have joined Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers to throw a no-hitter after winning their 300th game.
Of course, ol' Cy is the sole resident of a much more exclusive club: the only pitcher of the modern era to throw a no-hitter after his 400th victory.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Detroit entered Tuesday with an 18-55 record and a .247 winning percentage, making the Tigers just the second team since the 1962 Mets to be on pace to match the Amazin's record for losses in a season (120) after the first official day of summer (June 21). The 1982 Twins were 18-56 (a .243 winning percentage) on June 28 before winning nine of their next 11 games. ... How bad are the Tigers? Cleveland has won almost as many games in Detroit (five) as the Tigers have (six). Detroit also has three pitchers with at least 10 losses -- Jeremy Bonderman (2-11), Mike Maroth (2-11) and Adam Bernero (1-10). ... In between John Smoltz's losses (May 30, 2002-June 18, 2003), Glendon Rusch lost 22 games. ... The Mariners played their first Monday game since April 14 last week and the only one on their original schedule from mid-April to late July. It's a rare scheduling quirk and one the team thinks has helped it keep the same five starting pitchers all season. "At first I wasn't real happy about it but my body has gotten used to it and taken a liking to it,'' Jamie Moyer said. "If there's anybody it's helped, it's Gil Meche (who is back in the majors after missing almost three years with arm injuries). ... Sammy Sosa missed seven games for corking his bat and it was nice so many Cubs fans welcomed him back with a big ovation (amid some booing). But if the Cubs miss the postseason by one or two games, will they feel as happy about his absence during a 3-4 streak in which Chicago lost two games by a run? ... And compare Sosa's suspension to Edgar Martinez's unofficial suspension. Thanks to interleague play in National League stadiums, Gar missed four games and was limited to five pinch-hit appearances in the others. Due to that layoff and a slump, he has just six hits and two RBI since June 2, but the Mariners are 12-7 during that span. ... I know Jose Canseco violated his probation yet again and needs to finally learn a lesson, but doesn't facing 15 years for taking steroids seem a trifle extreme? I mean, it's not like he killed anything other than his own career. ... A sad farewell to Leonard Koppett, who died over the weekend at age 79. Koppett was one of the first baseball writers to take an analytical, unconventional and usually right on view of statistics, and he kept on doing so right up until his death. He'll be missed. ... The same is just as true of Larry Doby, who deserved far more credit than he ever received. He had just as many lonely nights and difficulties as Jackie Robinson did and he should have been in the Hall of Fame much earlier than his 1998 induction.
Win Blake Stein's Money
This week's category: Sadly, He Hit On 18 And Failed To Reach The World Series Of Poker.
Question: Who is the only player to play in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and the actual World Series?
Answer: Ed Vosberg played for Tucson in the 1973 Little League World Series, for Arizona in the 1980 College World Series and for the Marlins in the 1997 World Series.
"... Baseball to allow crying ...''
-- headline on the IronicTimes.com news ticker
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.