Crawford, Reilly, Meriwether retiring

Updated: February 23, 2011, 8:26 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Jerry Crawford, Mike Reilly and Chuck Meriwether are retiring, the second straight year a significant number of veteran umpires are leaving work.

The announcement was made Wednesday by Major League Baseball.

Crawford, head of the former MLB umpires' union, joined the major league staff in 1977 and had been the senior umpire since Ed Montague retired last year after 34 seasons. Crawford worked the World Series in 1988, 1992, 1998, 2000 and 2002.

Reilly had been on the major league staff since 1983 and Meriwether since 1993. Meriwether was on disability and missed last season.

In 2010, Randy Marsh, Rick Reed and Charlie Reliford retired, in addition to Montague.

Crawford on Wednesday recalled his major league debut and could recite every detail.

Tom Gorman had broken his leg, so Crawford got called up from the minors and filled in at third base in St. Louis on May 15, 1976, as part of a crew with Paul Pryor, John McSherry and Art Williams.

His first call came in the third inning, when pitcher John Denny was thrown out going from second to third, with Ken Reitz applying the tag.

"I have a picture of my first call," the 63-year-old Crawford said. "My first one, I got right.

"I would probably still be out there if I could physically do it, but it just became too much of a hardship. My back just wouldn't hold up to the wear and tear. My back has been bothering me for a couple of years now. It's just the degeneration of the discs."

Crawford spent from 1970-76 in the minor leagues and wound up seeing 40 years of professional baseball up close.

"The players are bigger, stronger," he said. "Or maybe I was getting older and slowing down, and it just seemed like they were going faster."

In addition to five World Series, Crawford also worked 12 league championship series, five division series and two All-Star games. His favorite game was when he had first come up as a fill-in. On May 22, 1976, he worked home plate in the major leagues for the first time, part of a crew that included future Hall of Famer Doug Harvey, Terry Tata and John Kibler.

Jim Kaat pitched for the Phillies and John Curtis for the Cardinals. The game was in Crawford's hometown, at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. His entire family was there, and his brother-in-law at the time, Jack Marshall, even caught a foul ball.

"It was the only game my mother ever saw me work in person," Crawford said. "To be honest with you, she never watched the game on TV."

Crawford's father, Shag, was an NL umpire from 1956-75 and Jerry's brother Joey is an NBA referee.

When Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run at Dodger Stadium in the 1988 World Series opener, Jerry Crawford watched from the left-field line -- it was his first World Series game. He was behind the plate for Orel Hershiser's four-hitter in the Game 5 clincher.

While he never worked a no-hitter behind the plate, he came close on May 12, 1984, at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The Reds' Mario Soto had a no-hit bid and a 1-0 lead with two outs in the ninth inning against St. Louis,

George Hendrick was at the plate, and Soto got two strikes.

"All he had to do was throw George a slider or something," Crawford recalled. "And you know what he did? He dusted him. He knocked him down. And George got aggravated and he said, 'Just give me a little time.' And he got back up in the box, and he hit a home run to tie the game up."

Years later, Crawford asked Hendrick about it while Hendrick was coaching first base for Tampa Bay, a job he's held since 2006.

"He remembered that," Crawford said, laughing.

Crawford does have one disappointment -- his actions while president of the Major League Umpires Association in 1999.

A mass resignation used as a labor negotiating tactic led to 22 umps losing their jobs. It took six years of litigation to sort out the issues, and only half of the group was rehired.

"Men lost their jobs," Crawford said. "When you have second thoughts, that is a regret. But that's the only regret I have."

MLB also said Wednesday that Scott Barry and Brian Knight have been hired as additions to the big league umpire staff. They follow the hirings last year of Rob Drake, Chad Fairchild, James Hoye and Adrian Johnson.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.