Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Marvin Hudson: MLB Umpire

Since I have exhausted my wedding material: Interesting Hot Stove meeting last Wednesday night with 21 in attendance – the most since Phil Neikro spoke, I am told. Several people I hadn’t met. Two high school baseball coaches. I had met the North Forsyth coach last month, and as early arrivers had a chance to chat. The South Forsyth coach had pitched in the Pirates organization, getting a cup of coffee in the bigs.
A local college student big Johnny knew has landed a gig as a writer for a baseball website. Dillon Cloud has written four articles and recently attended the Winter Meetings in Nashville. After the meeting I chatted with him about some of the tricks of the trade. He was interested to know about my blog. He deemed himself a baseball nerd, so he was in the right company.
A man and his wife arrived just before the meeting began. Nondescript except for some nice shoes. Turned out to be MLB umpire Marvin Hudson. Looks younger than his 51 years. He told his story: Marietta High after Dale Ellis. Piedmont College, where the elderly Johnny Mize would stop by to give batting tips. After graduation he was denied a loan, so instead of opening a business he went into officiating and umpiring. He paid his dues in the minors, and told several bizarre stories about games in the Dominican Republic, of lights going out in the park and the like. Umpiring there gave him much cred later in the majors.
Marvin was the plate umpire in the famous game where Jim Joyce blew the penultimate call in the Detroit Tigers perfect game, and he was happy to share the story in detail. The play wouldn’t have been close had the rookie pitcher Amando Galarraga let the second baseman make the play. Immediately afterwards the Tigers were irate, though later they would comfort the umpire. Sensing trouble, after the next out Marvin and the second base ump escorted Joyce off the field.

In the umpires room Joyce couldn’t sit. He paced for three hours. The Tigers beatwriter, a friend, knocked on the door offering to serve as the pool reporter for the rest of the press. Joyce let all the reporters in, then first gave a statement before asking for questions. At that point the press didn’t have any questions. Instead they exited respectfully. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland came in to offer comfort. Joyce wouldn’t sit, have a beer, or smoke. Finally Joyce wanted “to talk to the kid” and Galarraga was summoned. The young pitcher came in and gave Joyce a big hug.

The next day when the umpires took the field, Marvin and his two fellow crew members surrounded Joyce, expecting the worst. Instead 95% of the fans stood and applauded. Then at home plate Galarraga came out to deliver Detroit’s lineup. This brought tears to Joyce’s eyes, and again they hugged. In the days and weeks following the call the crew was on the alert. On a Friday night in Houston a teenager in the stands was pointing a laser light at several players. Unbeknownst to Marvin, after the game Joyce received an envelope from the home office reporting several death threats to Joyce. The next day Joyce snuck into the crew’s SUV, though Marvin didn’t know why Joyce was acting so weirdly. When Marvin was told he broke out in laughter, angering Joyce all the more.
This past season Marvin was the spotlight after tossing MVP Bryce Harper from a game. Harper was being obstinate about stepping in and out of the batter’s box. Harper mouthed off, and eventually Marvin threw him out of the game. When describing Harper’s childish behavior Marvin paused, looked at the younger reporter in attendance, and asked  “You’re not going to write about this, are you?” He spoke about taking the Number 7 train with his crew to Shea Stadium shortly after John Rocker was in the news. The crew spread out in different seats, and a Mets fan seated next to him pointed to the crew chief and whispered to Marvin “I think that’s the umpire!” Marvin whispered that he thought the guy was right, and encouraged him to get the ump’s autograph. Others heard the buzz, and when the train stopped at the station the crew chief was surrounded by autograph seekers. The chief loved the attention, and told the fans they should get the rest of the crew’s autographs as well – except Marvin and the rest of the crew had bolted away.  
Once in Detroit hall of fame announcer Ernie Harwell, a native of Washington Georgia, came down to meet the umps. When he got to Marvin, Harwell exclaimed “So you’re the one!” Harwell had learned that Marvin was now a resident of the small town east of Athens. Marvin’s wife runs an eye clinic in Washington.
Marvin was the plate umpire in the NLDS when Smoltz faced Clemens. I was at that game. Brad Ausmus was the Astros catcher. Brian McCann came up to bat. The pitching coach game out. Marvin heard him say to keep the ball away from McCann, to not give him anything to hit. Clemens threw the pitch right down the middle, a watermelon. McCann turned on it, launching it over 400 feet into the right-centerfield stands. Ausmus and Hudson stood up to watch. Marvin quipped “Didn’t keep it away from him, did he?” Ausmus said “Nope.”
After the meeting Marvin and his wife stayed to talk. She proudly mentioned that Marvin had been ordinated as a minister and had conducted his first wedding, of a minor league umpire. Host Johnny (also an ordained minister) had Marvin autograph a chest protector (above). I noticed the Bible verse.

Later given the chance I clumsily asked Marvin about his faith. Hudson brightened, eager to share. He’s been a Christian all his life but acknowledged being on the roller coaster. While not a polished speaker, he was thankful most of the few speaking opportunities he had often led to even more chances to share about his relationship with Christ. Marvin said that during one particular speaking engagement a struggled for words to say. He had never opened shared about his faith before, but he came to a point in his speech where he didn’t know what to say. It seemed like God gave Marvin the words, so Hudson said them. After that breakthrough it was easier for Marvin to share. Decent guy, that Marvin.

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