Ron Luciano

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Ron Luciano, a showboating baseball umpire and tireless self-promoter, might have been amusing if his constant need for attention wasn’t a sign of desperation. His emphatic out calls and (relatively) outrageous book, The Umpire Strikes Back, made him a well-known figure in the ’70s and 80s. In a game of rules, he made his own, openly mocking a sport that was often taken too seriously. But he had no second act. When his routine grew tired and the beer commercials ran out, Luciano returned to his hometown and sadly committed suicide in 1995. From Matthew Callan at the Classical:

“As Luciano began his slow, undignified climb to the major leagues, he compensated for his lack of knowledge about the game by constantly chatting up players, managers, and even fans, as if hoping to acquire their expertise by osmosis. He developed theatrical calls, aiming hand-pistols at runners and screaming OUTOUTOUTOUTOUT as he emptied an imaginary clip; the hope was that, even if he was wrong, he’d at least be remembered. Luciano made sure to volunteer for every dumb stunt local owners put on both so he would be seen as a good sport and team player, and so he would be seen, period.

Once in the bigs, he constantly got in trouble with league American League president Lee MacPhail, usually for engaging in behavior that dared suggest baseball might be fun. Even if MacPhail wasn’t a fan, Luciano’s antics brought himself attention immediately, at a time when the average fan would have struggled to name even one umpire. A 1974 Sports Illustrated profile painted Luciano as ‘a rebel, an individualist,’ which says more about the staid atmosphere of baseball at the time than it does about the umpire. (His birdwatching hobby was counted among his acts of wanton individualism.)

By the end of the decade, he became president of the umpires’ association through what amounted to determined nudging, positioning himself nearest to the door during union meetings so he could be the first man to talk to reporters waiting outside, and therefore appear to be important; he understood this, correctly, as the most important factor in being important. Luciano’s tales from behind the plate made him a favorite on the winter banquet circuit, a hot stove tradition that’s nearly gone the way of the dodo, and eventually landed him a gig doing color commentary and profiles for NBC’s Game of the Week. The Umpire Strikes Back was the culmination of all this, a huge bestseller that blazed the ‘wacky sports’ trail of the 1980s later trod by The Hall of Shame series, Miller Lite commercials, and an infinite loop of blooper reels.”


Luciano, at the end of his fame in 1991, selling diet cream soda:

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