What I just said sounds a little crazy, but it has already happened in the world of umpires. The fact that the quality of umpires has been so watered down added to the fact that their jobs are being taken away by instant replay has made it very difficult for the best of the umpires to stand out. Some umpires, such as Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion and Joe West, think the way to be known as a great umpire is to get your name in the newspapers (or internet). Even though most people familiar with MLB know who the three mentioned are, none of the above are considered good at what they do.
Looking back at the days of yesteryear, umpires were known for the great work they did. Hank O'Day was recently selected into the Hall and in 2011, the more contemporary Doug Harvey entered. I have talked about some of the best over the last several years on both my show and through my blog, including Bill Klem and Jocko Conlan. But to me, there was not a better and more impact-full umpire in the history of the game than Tom Connolly. He umpired in the NL from 1898-1900 and in the AL from 1901-1931. He saw the game go from a single umpire, to two, to three to four. Four was considered too many, according to Connolly. He was the single umpire of the first ever AL game on April 24, 1901. Connolly also umpired the first ever games at Commiskey Park, Shibe Park (later known as Connie Mack Stadium), Yankee Stadium as well as Fenway Park. Connie Mack was influential in Connolly getting the job in the new AL. Umpires were treated as subhumans, often having to deal with violence and in some cases, having to fear for there own lives. Where Connolly came from in the NL forced him to have to live with the same fear. A fear that would have to exist because Major League Baseball and the National League often sided with the players and the managers as opposed to the umpires.
What Connolly had looked for was a league that had his back and that would be willing to enforce his (and the other umpires) decisions. That was the reason Connolly quit being an NL umpire in 1900. American League President Ban Johnson assured Connolly he would be respected for the job he had to do and his decisions would be back by Johnson's office. That started Connolly's 31 year run as an umpire in the American League.
Exactly 100 years ago today, during a complete game shutout thrown by Boston's Dutch Leonard, Connolly threw eight players out of the game, all from the Boston Red Sox bench, as he grew tired of the steady jockeying from the bench. This was not a common occurrence for Connolly, who unlike West and Davidson, never made the game about himself. Though in his first season as an AL umpire he ejected more players and managers than other umpire (10), he once made it through a stretch of 10 seasons without ejecting anybody. He changed the perception of umpires as whipping boys and commanded and earned respect of most everybody among players and managers.
Due to the mass resignation of umpires in 1999 and its acceptance by MLB, the game has seen a watered down version of overseers of its game. With the emergence of instant replay and its recent expanded version, umpires have less to do with its outcome. It is difficult to name the top umpires in the game today. Perhaps they are the ones who don't get their names in the postgame reports. I find it very difficult to see any of the umpires in the game today getting consideration for Baseball's Hall of Fame. Partially because their impact has been taken away. For all the reasons I have mentioned, unless the Veterans Committee elects another umpire from the past generations, we have seen the last set of umpires enshrined in the Hall.