In umpiring school, Kaiser said, he learned that players and managers were the enemy, although his son said that he developed friendships with players like George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Don Mattingly.
Another lesson: “Whatever call you make is the only right call,” he wrote in his memoir. “Never explain, never apologize.”
Like many umpires, Kaiser detested Earl Weaver, the diminutive, cantankerous manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who frequently battled umpires. He also loathed Eddie Murray, a power-hitting first baseman who played for the Orioles and other teams. Near the end of his career, Murray protested a strike-two call by Kaiser.
In his memoir, Kaiser recalled his response: “We ain’t talked in 15 years. Don’t start now.”
When Murray tossed his bat in the air after Kaiser had called him out on the third strike, Kaiser ejected him (one of 75 players or managers he tossed out in his career). Murray, a future Hall of Famer, challenged him to a fight. Kaiser agreed, telling him, “Eddie, you can even bring your bat with you because the way you’re swinging this year, you couldn’t hit me with it anyway.”
Umpiring was not an easy life, especially during Kaiser’s years in the minor leagues and the early ones after he was called up to the American League. Salaries were modest, the travel was grueling, the long seasons took him away from his wife and children for weeks at a time, and umpires generally could trust only one another.
“An umpire will only take criticism from another umpire,” he told The Washington Post in 1978. “It’s your job to change other people’s minds, to bend them to your way of thinking.” In the off-season, he said, his family told him that he could calm down and stop telling them what to do.
Kenneth John Kaiser Jr. was born in Rochester on July 26, 1945. His father was a military policeman in North Africa during World War II and later became a security guard at Eastman Kodak. His mother, the former Annette Moyer, ran a television repair shop.
In 1964, after graduating from high school, Kaiser tagged along with a friend who was heading south to Al Somers’s umpiring school in Daytona Beach, Fla. — attracted more by the warm weather than by any clear ambition to calls balls and strikes.
“Umpire school was definitely not part of my fantasy,” he wrote. “I had never umpired a game of baseball in my life.”
And while he did not excel in school, he got a job…