Jun 24, 2015

Legendary Italian / American Umpire: Ron Luciano (1969-1980)

Ronald Michael Luciano was born June 28, 1937 in Endicott, New York. Endicott is a village in Broome County, located in the Binghamton area. 

He attended Syracuse University and was a standout offensive line man, getting drafted in 1959 by the Detroit Lions, as a third round pick. His football career didn’t work out and Luciano turned to baseball.

He began his professional umpire career in the Florida State League in 1966. By 1969 he was promoted to the American League. He became a celebrity Umpire with his flamboyant style over the next 11 years.

He would shoot players out with his fingers, , shout out or safe calls repeatedly, make multiple signals of safe calls with his arms waving, stand on one leg making out calls, and many other theatrical episodes. 

He never backed down from confrontations, especially with Orioles manager Earl Weaver. They had legendary arguments, and once through Earl out of both ends of a double header. Their hatred for each other was so intense the league made sure Luciano didn’t cover any more Orioles games. 

After all his arguments he had with manager Billy Martin, Luciano paid homage to him by naming his dog after him.

Among his most memorable games was calling balls & strikes for Nolan Ryan’s second career no hitter in July of 1973. In that game Ryan struckouk 17 Tigers, & in the 9th inning first baseman Norm Cash came to bat with a piano leg. Luciano as well as Ryan laughed, & forced him to go get a real bat. 

He got to umpire in the 1973 All Star Game, the 1971, 1975 & 1978 ALCS Series’ & the 1974 World Series.

In the ’74 Series the A’s beat the Dodgers in five games, so Luciano didn’t get a chance to work behind the plate. He appears in the 1974 World Series highlight film, umpiring third base & reacting to Tommy Lasorda’ nonstop chatter. Lasorda was equipped with a mic by MLB for the film. Luciano was featured in the pre game show of the 1975 All Star game; doing an interview with Joe Garagiola. There he revealed he was an avid bird watcher, loving the peace & quiet of the woods, away from the ballpark.

Luciano was a good umpire who really loved the game. He was possibly the only umpire in history that some of the fans actually paid to come see. He retired from umpiring in 1980 .

He said of his time in baseball: "When I started, the game was played by nine tough competitors on grass, in graceful ball parks. But while I was trying to answer the daily quiz Quiz-O-Gram on the exploding scoreboard, a revolution was taking place around me. By the time I finished, there were ten men on each side, the game was played indoors on plastic, and I had to spend half my time watching out for a man dressed in a chicken suit who kept trying to kiss me."

He briefly worked for NBC as a broadcaster and then became a bestselling author.

He authored four witty baseball books with stories from his umpiring days: The Umpire Strikes Back, Strike Two, The Fall of the Roman Umpire, & Remembrance of Swings Past. The books sold well, some making the best sellers list. I remember reading The Umpire Strikes back as a teenager, one of the better baseball books in my huge library still.

In that book Luciano revealed many secrets, like how umpires will rush a game by calling more strikes if the game is a blow out, or if there is flight to catch or even dinner reservations. He said he never called a balk because he never understood the rule.

 He said any umpire who says he never missed a call is ..well an umpire & being an umpire is like being king, it prepares you for nothing.

Tragically in 1995, Luciano committed suicide at his home in Endicott. He had a plastic pipe, set up from his exhaust pipe into his car window, running as he sat in it in the garage. He was 57 years old, and survived by his mother & two sisters.

1974 World Series Dodgers vs. A's

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